From 'Abduction' to Art House: Inside Taylor Lautner's Movie Makeover (Analysis)

Taylor Lautner
Taylor Lautner
 Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Last year, Taylor Lautner was anointed Hollywood's next big thing, pulling in offers for $7.5 million per movie and attaching himself to several big-budget potential blockbusters. But when he underwhelmed with his stab at becoming an action star in September's Abduction ($71.7 million in worldwide box office), some industry insiders began wondering whether the 19-year-old who sets so many teen-aged hearts aflutter in the Twilight series can find mass audience outside of his core franchise.

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Now Lautner is making his next move -- and The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that he will be stepping into art house territory. Forgoing the big bucks, Lautner hopes to begin production in the first quarter of next year on a film to be helmed by indie auteur Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk). While details are still emerging, the drama is to be based on a New Yorker magazine article that Lautner optioned. Lautner is said to be determined to work only with top directors and writers from now on, as he strives to define himself as an actor.

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The challenge when it comes to Lautner is clear. "He is an action guy with a really female audience. It's a little weird," says a top studio executive. "I have a hard time figuring out what he should do and what the world wants him to do." This executive describes Lautner as "a super-sweet kid" who also is "very ambitious," adding, "he wants to be Tom Cruise."

Despite his reputation for being good-natured and hard-working, in the past couple of years Lautner dropped in and out of so many projects -- with his price tag ratcheting up all the while -- that he actually provoked producer Joe Roth to paddle him in the press in March 2010. "I've never heard of anything like this in my whole life," said Roth after Lautner bailed on a project that Roth thought the actor had agreed to do. 

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Sources say one issue that comes up in negotiations is that Lautner's father, Dan, a partner with his son in their Quick Six production company, serves as an executive producer on many of the projects the duo develops together. Just a few months ago, says a source involved in talks with the pair, Team Lautner was asking $9 million for Taylor and another $750,000 for Dan.

The project that had Roth feeling "jerked around" was Max Steel, based on a Mattel action figure. Roth said Lautner "sat in my office and said he was destined" to do the movie. But then it seemed that he was destined instead to do Stretch Armstrong, based on a Hasbro property, at Universal. Now that project has lost momentum at the studio, though it has not been killed.

Previously, Lautner also had dropped out of Northern Lights, a project from producer David Ellison about extreme flying, to do Abduction for Lionsgate and director John Singleton. But that movie pulled in just $27.2 million in the U.S. It managed another $44.5 million overseas, suggesting Lautner's name does carry value overseas, but that was hardly enough to have studios salivating for another Lautner action pic. He was attached to Incarceron, a sci-fi project at Fox. According to an insider, that project is headed into turnaround, but Lautner is still attached. Talk of collaboration on a film with Transformers director Michael Bay seems to have faded.

Hollywood is certainly hungry for a new, bankable young star, which explains the burst of interest in Lautner. But like with his fellow Twilight actors Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, there remain questions about whether his career will extend far beyond the billions-grossing blockbuster series, the penultimate installment of which, Breaking Dawn: Part I, opens Nov. 18.

Given that Lautner's primary appeal has been to younger girls, one veteran producer questions the choice of Abduction, which looked to him like "some old adventure movie that would have starred Harrison Ford." A better move for Lautner, he says, would be "something innocent but sexy for young girls. Not a comedy with romance but something like The Notebook."

Now, by associating himself with Van Sant and his indie accolades, Lautner seems to be heading in a different direction -- and only time will tell if it's the right move. "When a Twilight comes out, he has a moment," this producer adds. "He has to be very careful about this moment."

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