Twilight Stars Pattinson, Lautner, and Stewart Branch Out

They've monopolized magazine covers and encouraged moviegoers around the world to spend more than $1 billion at the box office. Surely, the three young stars of the Twilight franchise —Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart— have earned a break in between big-screen installments of their supernatural saga.

Not if they desire careers that require more than just being a brooding vampire, a hard-bodied werewolf and the sulky girl who loves them. When it comes to life after multi-part blockbusters such as the Star Wars trilogies, opportunity often awaits. But so does type-casting, poor decision-making and outright rejection. Only a chosen few rise to Harrison Ford heights.

That might explain why each of the Twilight trio has at least one film coming long before the third outing based on Stephenie Meyer's literary phenom, Eclipse, arrives June 30.

Not exactly newcomers

Lautner, 18, got a head start in the romantic comedy Valentine's Day, which has collected $87.4 million in 10 days. Fellow heartthrob Pattinson, 23, stars as a James Dean for the Twitter generation in the romantic drama Remember Me, opening March 12.

Meanwhile, Stewart, 19, leaves behind all traces of chaste heroine Bella Swan as she dons black leather as Joan Jett in the rock 'n' roll bioThe Runaways, due March 19 — but not until she joins William Hurt on a road trip in The Yellow Handkerchief this Friday.

It's not as if all three don't have a résumé of sorts. Stewart is the most experienced, playing Jodie Foster's daughter in the 2002 thriller Panic Room and appearing in Into the Wild in 2007. Lautner starred in 2005's Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D, and Pattinson was in 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

It helps that older male filmmakers tend to be clueless about Twilight mania. Valentine's Day's Garry Marshall had never heard of Lautner or werewolf Jacob when the studio suggested the ab-crunched lad for his ensemble cast. "I'm about 107," says the director, 75. "I don't know who is popping."

Lautner's schedule was free only after shooting began, so Marshall quickly checked out the trailer for last fall's New Moon. "I saw he could jump around and that his shirt was never on, which we turned into a joke. Who could guess he was a fine actor?"

Marshall soon realized the benefits of squeezing in a Twilight lead among the more established performers, who include Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher, Bradley Cooper and both McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) and McSteamy (Eric Dane) from TV's Grey's Anatomy. For one thing, the brief real-life relationship that developed between the two Taylors — Lautner and Swift — grabbed gossip headlines and produced pre-opening buzz.

Plus, "he gets the biggest yell-out during the opening titles," says Marshall, who wisely padded Lautner's part after noticing his flair for comedy — as well as after hearing the screams of the hundred or so fans on the film's high school set. "He's a sweet kid, unspoiled by Hollywood so far."

Pattison was 'limited'

Remember Me director Allen Coulter is relieved that he had little awareness of Edward Cullen, Pattinson's bloodsucking alter ego, when he signed up the British actor. Instead, he was impressed by how bright Pattinson is and his instinctive understanding of the role.

"If I had seen Twilight," he says, "I might not have hired him. He is so limited by the kinds of traits he has to express. It's not that psychologically complex."

Not only does Remember Me offer Pattinson a chance to play a mere mortal with a keener sense of irony and humor than his oft-tortured Twilight hero ("He shows his playful side," Coulter says), he also gets to hold his own with such adult actors as Pierce Brosnan as his distant father and Chris Cooper as a hard-nosed cop who misjudges him.

Considering the New York-based drama centers on a touching love story between Pattinson's emotionally adrift young man and a fellow college student (Emilie de Ravin of Lost), Coulter isn't adverse to capitalizing on his star's status as a messy-haired, swoony-eyed sex symbol. "I hope the rabid interest in Rob as a personality helps the box office. It would be foolish to say otherwise." And, unlike the Twilight films, in which Bella and Edward's passion remains unconsummated because of his vampire issues, Pattinson is free to engage in PG-13 boudoir action.

Stewart, who was hired for The Runaways the day after the first Twilight movie opened in 2008, immersed herself into her musical persona, from cutting her own hair into a '70s shag to assuming the perfect guitar-slinging slouch.

Flora Sigismondi, director of The Runaways, sensed Stewart was eager for an R-rated change of pace, even if it left younger Twilight worshipers behind. "Bella forces her to be more in her head and introspective," she says. "Joan is far more physical, and Kristen invested that energy in her acting. This is punk rock and primal."

Sigismondi adds, "She walked differently, acted differently. Her body changed. It was, 'Where is Kristen?' "

The director was taken aback when Twilight frenzy intruded upon her shoot in Los Angeles. "The paparazzi would follow Kristen into the production office and shoot her when she was just entering doors or exiting cars," she says of the actress, who has been linked off-screen to Pattinson. "It was overwhelming. But she was cool about it. She's got a handle on how to live her own life."

More on the horizon

No rest for the Twilight threesome yet. They all have other projects lined up in various stages of development — each hinting at the types of roles they see themselves doing post-Twilight.

If Bella idolizers think Stewart as an f-bomb-spewing lesbian rocker is a mind-blower, wait until they catch her pole-dancing hooker who is "adopted" by grieving couple James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo in Welcome to the Rileys, which was just picked up for distribution and is expected to open in the fall.

Pattinson will try his hand at being a Parisian social climber who uses sex to get ahead in Bel Ami, which is filming now and co-stars Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas. He is also in talks to join Reese Witherspoon and Sean Penn in Water for Elephants, based on the novel about a Depression-era circus.

Lautner is tied to not one but two potential franchises based on action heroes, extreme-sports enthusiast Max Steel and Stretch Armstrong, based on the stretchy boy toy from the '70s.

Marshall, for one, thinks the kid is moving in the right direction. "He has the presence and the firm jaw to lead an action film," he says. "He can say, 'Yo, secure the perimeter.' I didn't whisper 'Chekov' in his ear. I said, 'You can go run and save people.' "