Before taking over the "Twilight" franchise for its final installments, "Breaking Dawn Part 1" and "Breaking Dawn Part 2," Bill Condon was best known for his contribution to modern movie musicals: He wrote the Oscar-nominated script for 2002 Best Picture winner "Chicago" and wrote and directed the 2006 film "Dreamgirls." Why did he want to tackle the vampires and werewolves of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling global phenomenon?
"What I looked for on this, and the reason I did get involved, was that it was a series that was open to drastically different interpretations," Condon, a native New Yorker who won an Oscar for writing "Gods and Monsters," told HuffPost Entertainment in a recent interview. "If there had been a stronger template, I don't think I would have been interested. For me, this was a full-on, non-ironic romantic melodrama. That approach appealed to me."
It seemed to appeal to fans as well: "Breaking Dawn Part 1" grossed over $700 million around the world, and "Part 2" is on track to have the biggest opening weekend of any film in the series.
Condon spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about the complications with making "Breaking Dawn Part 2," where stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson go from here, and why he decided to change the book's ending.
You've been with this franchise for a few years now. What was the biggest surprise you encountered?
I had never done a big visual-effects movie. There are twice as many visual effects in the second film -- there are over 2,000 shots -- than there were in the first. We started cutting that when the first movie got released -- so, a year ago. I didn't know how intense that process would be. We were just finishing up a few days ago. It feels like being in production for an entire year. There's such a big pile of work to do. It's long days and six-day weeks. The thing I learned is movies like this get made more in post-production than they do in production.
The other tricky thing is that today's audiences are conditioned to spot bad effects. I imagine that makes the task even more difficult?
There are so many shots where there are five different vendors working on it at the same time. Guys are putting in wolves, other people are putting in Bella's power, other people are putting in background and snow. It's crazy. Also, doing some beauty work on some of the actors. It's unbelievably intricate. The thing that sort of kept haunting us was the fact that you just know when something doesn't feel right. You can get 1,900 shots right, but if a few really stick out, people will say, "Oh, it had cheesy effects." You don't really get a pass too much. Again, because this is really different in scope and style to the other movies -- this really is a full-on action movie -- I think the pressure was on to really step up our game.
You also had to rapidly age Mackenzie Foy, who plays Renesmee.
It's exponentially harder, because this is a character who every time she goes out of the room and comes back, she's grown a few inches. It's all these subtle changes. Then imagining what Mackenzie Foy would look like at age 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Also, it's not just that it's Mackenzie -- she's playing a creature that's half-human and half-vampire. So, adding that aspect to it. She's not an entirely real person. And anybody's face changes from shot to shot based on the angle. People's faces -- what we know about them -- evaporates quickly. So, doing all that an applying it to an imaginary person who then has to emote and connect and speak -- it was the next-level kind of challenge.
Was casting Renesmee difficult?
I was terrified about it, and it turned out to be remarkably easy. Mackenzie Foy came in very early and just seeing her initially -- she's still beautiful, but she could be the child of [Robert and Kristen]. Meeting her and seeing that she's so sweet and open and not someone corrupted by a lot of child acting -- we found her and said, "This is it."
When you're working with such an effects-heavy film, is it hard to get the performances you want from the actors?
Luckily, they've been doing this for a while. But, their character have powers in this film. There's a beautiful idea in here that the reason Edward was interested in Bella in the first place was that he couldn't read her. She's a mystery, in other words. Which is what draws us to people, you know? But that quality she had becomes more developed when she becomes a vampire: she has an actual shield around her, and she's able to project it to protect other people from bad powers. So, something like that, it's just counting on Kristen to suggest that the shield is being pushed out and the other actors giving a sense of where it is. It's all about having actors so good and committed, who really worked hard at making it feel real.
What kind of careers do you think Kristen and Robert will have, post-"Twilight"?
I think they're going to have extraordinary careers, both in front and behind the camera. Kristen has been on sets since she was a kid and she knows filmmaking so well that I could imagine her directing movies before long. Rob, I think, is probably a really wonderful writer. He's got an incredibly analytical approach to everything. He attacks things like a writer, and he did a little bit of rewriting for us and has done that on other films. I could see them both doing that. In front of the camera, they're just evolving and getting so comfortable with who they are. We've watched that happen during this series. I think we've just scratched the surface of what they're going to do.
This film will be interesting for Kristen, too, because as opposed to the other people in this series, she winds up in a very different place than where she started. Bella as a vampire takes qualities that Bella has and makes them stronger, so it is still Bella, but it's a very different performance.
One of the more controversial aspects of "Breaking Dawn Part 2" is that Jacob imprints on Renesmee and falls in love. Was it hard to convince Taylor Lautner, who plays Jacob, that it wouldn't wind up being creepy?
As with all of them, we talked about it tons, but the reason I felt pretty confident about it is, again, it comes from qualities he has. He's a very good actor. So when he looks at Renesmee he can express love without it having any kind of creepy overtones. It was intended and written as something pure and natural. It obviously became controversial and dissed as something creepy. But with him, I think you see that there's no creep factor at all.
One of the things that surprised me is how this cast has remained pretty tight, even in the face of massive fame and tabloid controversy. Why do you think that is?
I think it's because they all grew up together. Imagine something like this happening to three people at that age in life as they're becoming who they are? I think they're very bonded by their sense of having protected each other. I've always felt that. It's interesting now because for me, this movie has been something I've continued to work on -- I'm still doing it. For them, there's a big set piece on a field that we shot two years ago. We finished this movie in April of 2011. So, a year and a half ago. The vibe here at this press day is like the first high school reunion.
There has been speculation about a "Twilight" reboot in a few years. Is that something you'd like to see?
I have no idea, honestly. I know I won't be part of it, so it's not about me [laughs].
"Breaking Dawn Part 2" changes the ending of the source novel a bit. No spoilers, but why did you decide to make some adjustments?
It's a visual medium. Stephenie had an interesting idea which is that you can talk anything out, and I think it informs part of the way those books are built. When you're in a dramatic medium that's also visual, however, you need to bring things to a head a little more. So, you get to the same place but in a different way.