'Twilight' drivers have right-of-way, now they just need to pick their road

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Thanks to "Twilight," Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson are bona fide stars. They cause riots at malls, they need security guards, and Pattinson even gets asked to suck necks.

And now, with the movie making more than $138 million in 17 days, they are entering a new phase of their careers. The two actors find themselves at the helm of a gold-plated franchise, and the offers began coming in almost a month before the movie opened.

Both already have their next movies in the can: Stewart stars with Jesse Eisenberg and Ryan Reynolds in "Adventureland," Gregg Mottola's follow-up to "Superbad," which is due March 27. Pattinson is playing surrealist artist Salvador Dali in Paul Morrison's "Little Ashes."

The big question is where they go from there.

The choices they make can take them on diverging paths. One could take them down the road of the hard-partying starlet who has potential, like Lindsay Lohan, who is overshadowed by offscreen antics, or that of a heartthrob like Colin Farrell, who rises from the indie ranks only to make mediocre studio movies and seven-figure paydays.

Another path could follow the discerning road taken by Jodie Foster, who grew from a child star into a leading lady and embodies selectivity and class, and by Natalie Portman, who built her name recognition playing Senator Amidala in the recent "Star Wars" movies while also seeking out challenging work under A-list directors.

But what the duo doesn't want is to make choices that will lead them to a lonely table at Comic-Con 20 years from now, signing old headshots and paying the bills by appearing in cheap horror or romance movies.

"You have to pay attention for that kind of thing when you sign on for a potential franchise," says Ken Kaplan, Stewart's Gersh-based agent. "You look at the role and go, 'Is this the kind of role that is so specific that people are not going to want to see you as anything else?' "

He argues, though, that Stewart's role in "Twilight" needn't typecast her forever. "None of us felt that about Bella," he says. "She's more of an everygirl. There wasn't that fear."

There are several other factors that will influence the choices the actors make about their future. Summit is moving quickly on its "Twilight" sequel, "New Moon," which probably will shoot in the first quarter, so that squelches a few offers right off the bat. And with a possible SAG strike, few studio movies are being made, further limiting possibilities.

All of which suits Stewart just fine. The 18-year old might have made a splash opposite Foster in "Panic Room," but it's in the indie world where she has honed her craft and received exceptional notices in movies like "Into the Wild." She just signed on to play Joan Jett in "Runaways" and will shoot that after "New Moon" — which could become one of two "Twilight" sequels shot back-to-back.

There is little danger that Stewart will slip into Lohan mode (she is not about "the scene"), nor will she find herself in a bubbly Disney movie (they don't fit her persona). She likely will avoid horror movies, too. She did that once with "The Messengers" and knows that becoming a scream queen can be a trap.

No, "Twilight" has made it possible for Stewart to keep doing what she's been doing: pursuing movies based on the material or director involved rather than just the paycheck.

"The beauty of a franchise is that there's money there, and you don't have to be driven by money anyplace else; in a successful franchise there's the kind of money that can set you up for life," says Kaplan, who signed Stewart after "Panic Room." "If it's the right commercial project, then you do it. But you don't have to feel like you have to do it. And that's a great place to be."

Pattinson finds himself in a different position. The British-born actor already logged fan and franchise experience playing Cedric Diggory in two "Harry Potter" movies. But he soon will discover that not all movies are phenomena like "Potter" or "Twilight."

"Potter," though, offered a test case in actor Daniel Radcliffe, who appears to be successfully negotiating the beginnings of a post-"Potter" career by mixing comic cameos ("Extras"), stage work ("Equus") and smaller indie films.

"Potter" producer David Heyman thinks Radcliffe has proved to be an excellent example of how to survive the franchise trap and sudden-success syndrome. "The key is to maintain that curiosity, not for the celebrity and the fame but for the craft," he says.

Heyman also thinks that for newly minted stars like Pattinson and Stewart, a sense of humor about their newfound celebrity, as well as a dose of humility, is key.

"They need to remember," he says, "that people have been working a lot longer than they have without that success."

And don't forget those teen mobs, either. "They wouldn't have the success they have without the fans," Heyman says.

Borys Kit can be reached at borys.kit@THR.com.
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