An Oscar winner for 'Gods and Monsters,' the screenwriter behind 'Chicago' and the director of 'Dreamgirls' and 'Kinsey,' Bill Condon might not immediately spring to mind when thinking of 'Twilight.' Yet here he is, responsible for bringing the final chapters of 'The Twilight Saga' to the big screen. Condon directed both parts of 'Breaking Dawn' -- "He is one incredible director," said Taylor Lautner to Moviefone earlier this year -- and part of the reason he signed on was because of the rabid fan base. "There is something really appealing about knowing you have a very committed audience."
Condon rang up Moviefone on Friday to discuss 'Breaking Dawn,' his lengthy hiatus from the big screen after 'Dreamgirls' and when you can expect to see his Richard Pryor biopic.
This will be your first feature film since 'Dreamgirls' in 2006. I know you did a lot of television since then, but what made you step away from filmmaking for the last few years?
It's the same reason that anyone does, I suspect. I had a couple of movies that I was passionately involved with that I could never get made. Richard Pryor, I wrote for -- gosh -- over a year. That was close to getting made for two-and-a-half years after that. We're still pushing it, you know. It is weird. Suddenly you wake up and it's like, "God, five years have gone by." It's really a scary thing.
Is that what led to 'Breaking Dawn' or did Summit come to you?
They came to me. I was getting ready to do another movie -- and I worked on that for about a year, and some casting and a bit of financing fell out. Suddenly, there was this thing. The one thing I knew about 'Twilight' was that it would actually get made. [Laughs] But more than that, I was actually interested in it; they had come my way once before. So, I read it and thought about it and met with them, got excited about the possibilities and jumped right in. That was like March and we were shooting by November. There was only an outline for a script at that point.
Were you familiar with the books and movies, or did you have to do a crash course before shooting?
The movies -- the movies, then the books. But the movies I knew.
So, during that time when your were reading the books and watching films, did you stumble onto anything in particular that you thought you could bring to the franchise that wasn't done before?
I don't think it was about what hadn't been done before. What I did think was interesting is that these movies are really different, one from the other. Based on the director. And that excited me. It didn't feel as though you were fitting into any template, which would have been as interesting. For me, I was really turned on by the first movie, and how the first half is a real classic Hollywood romantic melodrama -- a kind that doesn't really get made anymore. Soulful and about a women's concerns, which are more interesting to me maybe than a teenage boy's concerns. Then it turned into a flat-out horror movie in the second half. I have a background of that and a love of that. Then the second movie is this epic story that was interesting in another way. It was on a canvas I had never been involved with before. A lot of things added up to make it appealing.
Franchise films have really become appealing to some pretty major filmmakers -- you, Christopher Nolan, Marc Webb, Sam Mendes. Why do you think these big blockbusters, which in the past might have seemed like a producer's medium, attract such talent nowadays?
It's interesting. I don't know. Part of it for me -- and I got a taste of this for 'Dreamgirls' -- is that there is something really appealing about knowing you have a very committed audience. It sort of feels like, right from the beginning, you're in a dialogue with them. I was, literally, on Facebook, but more than that, you kinda know how much people care. There's something exciting on the other end of that. With 'Dreamgirls,' you'd see that kind of buzz in the audience, and a visceral reaction in a theater. That is really thrilling. I've only seen this with a tiny little friends and family group of Twi-hards, and we kind had the same reaction and that was really exciting.
That intense fan interest can be a double-edged sword: I know you guys had some pretty serious security breaches this year that were very unfortunate. How do you deal with that?
I don't think the people who did that seemed to be fans at all; they just seemed to want to cause trouble. I think there's that typical, sort of 'Oh my God, there are people hanging around the set!'-thing, but that's built-in to the production of these movies. There was nothing new there. The idea of hackers working together, though -- and I think they figured out who they are -- and my computer was one of the computers that got hacked. Suddenly, the insides of making a movie get exposed. It's just terrible. It's terrible on so many levels, not least of which -- you know, they had their hands on dailies, and actors can get exposed trying things. Just really, really low, I thought.
You mention the performers experimenting in the dailies. I think it would be fair to call you an actor's director -- the films you've directed have gotten stars Oscar nominations five times, and Jennifer Hudson won -- but Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner grew up on these movies; they're maybe set in their ways and what they think the characters are. How do you come in and direct them for this last run?
I did not find any of them set in their ways. It felt like they were eager to explore. Part of the advantage I had was that after a lot of anticipation in three movies, now a huge number of things happen. These characters change so dramatically. When you think of where Bella stars, which is where she's been for all three movies, and by the end she's this fierce warrior-hunter-maternal-goddess. All the steps that get her there -- it's a huge amount of change. The same for Jacob and Edward. They grow up more than anything.
Catherine Hardwicke [who directed 'Twilight'] has a genius for getting inside the brain and is so in touch with what it's like to be a teenage girl. I couldn't imagine doing that first 'Twilight.' But I can imagine doing this one because it's more adult concerns happening in this story.
Bella has that big transformation, of course, but Jacob has to go through a lot of heady emotional stuff as well. Taylor is the least experienced and youngest actor of the main trio -- did you have to do any additional work with him to get him to where Jacob needed to go?
He is as serious an actor as anybody I've ever worked with. He worked really, really hard and wanted to get deeper inside the emotions of this character. Because, again, this character goes through things way beyond mooning over the girl he can't have. He was up to it, and really, really serious. He didn't walk through anything. Like any good actor it was a lot of talk, questions and trying things.
The final 'Harry Potter' films were split in two like 'Breaking Dawn,' and some criticized them for feeling like incomplete films. How do you guard against that?
It's a good question. I do feel like the first movie here is such a full -- how do I say it? You get a complete meal, plus dessert. It's so full emotionally. There's so much stuff that's happening, that I think you'll be kind of relieved that you get a break for the second part. It's a different structure to Harry Potter, which has been so intricate and so brilliant -- going along episode by episode. This has been a lot of second act, I would say. A lot of setting things up, setting things up, and finally everything explodes here.
You're obviously a successful writer -- did you sit down with Melissa Rosenberg to figure out where you were going to split it?
Oh, yeah. When I got in there, they were splitting it somewhere else. Melissa and I worked closely for six months; it was a great experience with her. She knows this stuff so well and she's so talented and just very clever. It was really, really good. We kept at it -- we sort of did it on our own for a long time.
I know you can't say where you split 'Breaking Dawn,' but what was it that made you decide to change where they were splitting it?
Well, it's a little hard to say without spoiling it. We'll talk about it after, right? [Laughs]
Gave it a shot! Before I let you go, you mentioned the Richard Pryor movie. What's the status on that?
We're going out, full steam ahead, trying to get it set up so I can do it this year. Marlon Wayans had a killer screen test. He's remained attached. He's doing stand-up all across the country, getting ready. We're all of us -- Jennifer Pryor, Richard's widow -- really hellbent on getting that movie made.
Did you get any pushback from casting Marlon?
No, no. I think once he sort of showed what he had, it became pretty clear.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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