Taylor Lautner's acting template: Tom Cruise?
Taylor Lautner is currently shooting the final two films in the franchise that made him the most famous teen werewolf since Michael J. Fox put on a basketball uniform.
But despite no shortage of jokes about Lautner's abs and his lines as Jacob Black, the "Twilight" star has a more ambitious career, one filled with meaty and dramatic roles, on his mind.
To achieve that, he's looking at someone else who made the jump from teen pin-up to serious actor: Tom Cruise.
In 2011, Lautner will appear in his first major lead role with "Abduction," a film that, though a commercial thriller, gave the 18-year-old a chance to work with an auteur director, John Singleton of "Boyz N the Hood" fame.
Lautner already had admired Cruise, and Singleton coached him on how to follow in the A-lister's path (professionally). "I told him to watch the transition from 'Top Gun' to 'Rain Man' to 'Born on the Fourth of July,' " Singleton told 24 Frames of his sessions with Lautner. "To think about what he did as a young man and what he did later on. And then think about what you want to do."
Hollywood is rife with fresh faces who never become anything more. That's the far more common route, in fact. Can Lautner take the other path?
" 'Twilight' is a great stepping stone for his career. It's like, 'Wow, he's an icon already,' " Singleton said. "But now that you have this stature, it's a question of what you do with it. And that's what he's been working hard on." (Singleton is no stranger to developing performers famous for less actorly pursuits, having done that for Tupac Shakur in 1993's "Poetic Justice.")
For "Abduction," Singleton had Lautner watch "Minority Report" (as well as "The Fugitive") to show the actor the ways one can bring nuance to a traditional man-on-the-run part. Even though "Abduction" is a commercial thriller (premise: a teenager goes on the lam when he finds out the people he thought were his parents are something else entirely), that doesn't mean that Lautner didn't or couldn't flash chops, Singleton said.
"I think when people see this film they'll see a more mature Taylor," Singleton said of the movie he recently finished shooting that's set for release next fall. "He's doing this [thing] he's never done before. He's funny and charismatic. He has room to breathe that he's never had before."
Photo: Taylor Lautner at GQ's Men of the Year party. Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP