The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 director Bill Condon is an Oscar winner brought on to film the final two films of the Twilight series. Arriving on a set inhabited by actors and a crew that had made three previous films can be a daunting task. But for the esteemed helmer of Dreamgirls, he found the work inspiring and looked forward to the challenge of filming what many thought would be the most difficult of Stephenie Meyer’s books to bring to the screen.
Condon sat down with Movie Fanatic to discuss Breaking Dawn and how to make two movies at once while simultaneously wrapping up the series in a way that would make fans proud. The director also dishes about the magic of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart and how working with Taylor Lautner gave him great hope about the future when young actors like Lautner have such professionalism.
Movie Fanatic: Being new to the franchise, did the cast aid you in the process of making Breaking Dawn?
Bill Condon: Oh, all the time, and right from the beginning. The first people who arrived were Kristen, Rob and Taylor (don't miss the Jacob trailer), and we spent two weeks sitting in a room like this, and we just talked through the script. At a certain point when an actor starts to embody a role, they know it better than you ever will, and certainly that was true here. For example, I met with Rob a couple of months before we started, and we were just having a general talk about everything about Twilight. He mentioned something that I had not known before, that one thing that had been playing throughout those first three movies was a man who was filled with more than regret, almost a self-loathing, because of an episode where he had gone and broken away from the Cullen family, when he was very young. This was in his early thirties in Chicago, and [he] decided to explore what it would be like to kill human beings. He finally went back, and he realized that he had turned into a monster. It was a guilt that weighed on him. He had been playing that across three movies, but it was barely mentioned in those movies. There is an unpublished novel, Midnight Sun, which tells a story from Edward’s point of view, where it is really explored. So just a conversation from that, I went back and worked with (screenwriter) Melissa Rosenberg and we put that into the beginning of the movie so you sort of understood where Edward was coming from.
Movie Fanatic: And how was Stephenie Meyer as a resource?
Bill Condon: Having Stephenie around was incredible, my God. Before she was there in prep week, we would be frantically going to Twilight Lexicon and other sites because they had a better timeline than anybody else. Any question you had about behavior, or certainly about back-story that any good actor relies on, she was there to help us out so that was great.
Movie Fanatic: Again being new to the franchise, what impressed you most about Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s ability to handle the fan frenzy of Twilight?
Bill Condon: We started filming in Brazil. So, it was right there in our faces, because they were staying on the beach at Copacabana. Then downstairs at the hotel, there were people all the time. They could not leave their room. It kind of amazed me just how gracious they were all the time. I think one thing that is so exciting about it is to be able to work on something where every decision is going to be studied and reacted to by a large group of people. It is something that means so much to people.
Movie Fanatic: And was their chemistry immediate for you?
Bill Condon: Oh yeah, right away, those two. It is crazy, just how close they are. It is wonderful. I feel as though because they are more relaxed with that it added something to the movie too, because this is the part of the movie that they are together and that is something that they didn’t have to act.
Movie Fanatic: What was the biggest challenge for you filming Breaking Dawn? Was it being the new kid on the block or making two movies at once?
Bill Condon: I think the biggest challenge is that these books are so beloved by so many people, that you want to make sure that you don’t betray people’s expectations, yet it still becomes a fully cinematic experience. I think that is the challenge with all of them. And making two movies at once wasn’t fun either [laughs]. It was such a big thing. Kristen, for one, she would be young Bella high school girl in the morning, and then a vampire in the afternoon, and then a pregnant mother in the evening. She had lots of days like that. It was crazy.
Movie Fanatic: This is a serious movie, yet there are some humorous moments. How did you make the decision to incorporate those lighter elements, such as the wedding toasts?
Bill Condon: Well, I think the wedding toast -- when you’ve got Billy Burke and Anna Kendrick, you just want them looking into the camera and being funny. So, Melissa Rosenberg went and wrote those and I just thought they were great.
Movie Fanatic: What did you think was the most important aspect of adapting the book Breaking Dawn?
Bill Condon: In terms of adapting the book, I worked closely with Melissa, but I do think again it is about the rules of visual storytelling. I will give you a little example: An invention of the movie is that Irina, who is one of the three Denali sisters, shows up at the wedding -- which doesn't happen in the book -- and then storms off. She has a huge back-story with vampire Laurent, who had been killed by wolves in trying to save Bella. She plays a big part in movie two. But you want all that, as opposed to “Oh god, she is there in movie two, and why is she annoyed?” You have to go into a flashback, all that stuff. You want everything to be happening in the present tense, you want to watch it. And that, I think, was one of our big principles when we were working on outlining it.
Movie Fanatic: Could you keep the two films separate in your mind?
Bill Condon: We didn't. Early on I put my script together and it was a 220-page script. Movie two opens the moment that movie one ends. So, basically, it is one story. I think we found the right place to end the first one.
Movie Fanatic: How was shooting in Brazil?
Bill Condon: First of all, it was great on so many levels; part of it was that we started this big movie very small. It was only Rob and Kristen. It was kind of a dreamy thing to do. I found it great. I mean the crew was great. I think you probably all heard we had some weather problems and got rained in and had to all sleep in bathtubs and things at the honeymoon house. But everything about it was magical. We based ourselves at this colonial town called Paraty, about five hours outside of Rio. It was great.
Movie Fanatic: What was the last day of shooting like for you? These people have been together for years. Tell us about those final moments.
Bill Condon: The last day was actually the middle of April, and it snowed, and I was like “Oh my God, it is hard to shoot in Vancouver.” I mean, it was always raining and snowing, but I could not believe it was snowing that late. There were two big moments. One of them was that dance with Kristen and Taylor, and Rob stayed for the whole thing. We ended at dawn. I think it took everyone by surprise how emotional that was -- that they wouldn't be playing those characters again. And in typical fashion, everyone got emotional, and Kristen cut it with a joke. Because, on the last take I shot, everyone runs off and it is just her and Rob. I call cut. She takes a beat, and then she starts running in that wedding dress into the forest saying “Jacob, come back! Come back! I made a mistake.” [Laughs] It was great. And then, the real final moment was that whole dance at the wedding, everyone is there. So it was weird. We call cut and everyone is hugging each other.