Bill Condon knows Breaking Dawn is the trickiest Twilight book in the series to bring to the screen, but he's so ready for the challenge, he agreed to do it twice. Breaking Dawn Parts I and II are the emotional climax of the saga of Bella, Edward and Jacob as the three teenagers (well, two teenagers and one teenage-looking centenarian) confront marriage, pregnancy, war, birth and eternity. Oh, and the complicated business of imprinting, which Condon admits was "definitely a challenge." How did he pull it off and make Breaking Dawn PG-13? Condon tells all, and opens up about casting the perfect Renesmee, how the Volturi aren't really villains, and why he hired a midwife to make sure he got the birthing scene exactly right.
This must be the first time in your career that there are videos of people crying after watching your trailer.
That is true! [Laughs] I love them, I love them all. They're so great.
What was it like to get that call that you were chosen to direct the climax to the huge Twilight franchise—word is you beat out Gus Van Sant?
It felt like a process more than a call. I was into it and it felt like we had a connection, especially with Stephenie. All of us felt like we were on the same page about it, which was good. It was good—that's the main thing I can say.
Well, you're about to become a lot more popular with teenage girls. Even your future projects will get a boost—Chris Weitz [the director of New Moon] was saying that the Twilight fan base was invaluable in getting the word out about his new indie film A Better Life.
That's interesting. That's good to know. I was curious about that, whether anything extends beyond Twilight. But that's good to hear from him.
You're on their radar for life. We interview Robert Pattinson a while back and he said the only other director he could imagine handling the blood of Breaking Dawn was David Cronenberg [The Fly, Naked Lunch].
And then he went to work for him! [In 2012's Cosmopolis] But I know what he means because it is very, very intense in the last part—it's almost like a horror movie. And he's certainly delivered the most intense images in the last decade or so. I tried to get my Cronenberg on a little bit and I think within the confines of a PG-13 rating, I think we've got something that's pretty powerful.
Everyone has been saying for years how hard it would be to make Breaking Dawn PG-13. How did you pull it off?
The whole movie is very immersive, kind of like in the book, which is in the point of view of Bella and Jacob [Taylor Lautner]. We tried to do the same thing in the movie—there's a whole chunk where you get inside the head of a wolf. And in terms of the birth, it was, "Let's do it from Bella's point of view. Let's see whatever she can see." Once you decide on an approach like that, it's amazon how powerful you can be without being overly explicit. She gets glimpses of a lot of things—and hears everything—but it's not the cutaway to teeth clawing through flesh. But you certainly know what's happening.
Between this and the MTV show 16 and Pregnant, teen pregnancy is going to go way down.
Oh, I know! It's so true—they're such cautionary tales. And poor Bella has a ring on her finger, so I don't know why she gets punished.
I heard that you had a midwife on the set to figure out the birthing scene?
A midwife and a nurse, yes. It was because it was a c-section, in it's own strange way. I wanted to make sure we were doing everything the right way, even though it obviously has vampire elements to it that we couldn't get much advice on.
What were you concerned with getting right? The location of the organs?
Mostly that, yeah. Where the baby would be and where you'd pick it up.
Are you a father yourself?
I am not, no.
So you've been spared watching the birth of a baby in person.
Having babies on set was enough for me.
You must have nieces and cousins who now think you're the coolest guy ever.
There aren't that many target audience girls in my life who feel that, but kids of friends I know, I'm really eager for them to see it.
Do they pester you about what Bella's like in person?
There's been a few of those, definitely.
You had a quote that I liked: you said you "imprinted" on the book right away, using the word Twilight uses for when a werewolf falls in love.
It's true. There was a moment when I was like, "Oh, wow." I think it was so interesting that this love triangle had been set up, and Bella's dilemma—her desire to be with Edward and her questions about being immortal—and the fact that my god, she actually does become a vampire. That was the first surprise. And then Stephenie's really imaginative way of solving the romantic triangle by introducing the Renesmee character [Bella's daughter, who the thwarted werewolf Jacob imprints on as a child], all of that was just so wild and completely original.
How do you pull off that imprinting where Jacob, who's been this hunky male lead, now falls for his ex-love's baby?
That's definitely a challenge, but I think that hopefully people understand what the basic idea of imprinting is, you know. The merging of souls. So I hope we were able to capture that on screen so that it doesn't become reduced to something that's more mundane.
You definitely picked the most challenging book in the series to take on.
I know! It's true. I feel that. But also, the wonderful thing about it is if you look at all of the movies as being one story, I got to do the third act, I got to do the part where everything comes together. Which does bring its own advantages.
When you started making this film, what was the learning curve?
The cast taught me so much. Kristen Stewart knows this character better than anybody in the world, and it's so much made up of the Bella Swan of the book and Kristen Stewart and what she brings to it. That, for me, was just a lot of hanging out and talking before we started shooting. A lot of discussion, especially of the script. We took a few weeks where we just went through it page by page with all the actors. That completely helped me to get inside it.
What did you take from each of the past three films in studying them to figure out what you wanted your own voice to be?
The big thing I took was how different they are from each other. That was part of the appeal of getting involved because I feel that within the template of twilight, those are three very different directors who made three very different movies, each of which reflected their interests. That really appealed to me. I always saw Breaking Dawn - Part I as being kind of a bookend to the first movie. Everything that gets set up there gets resolved in the last. I think it has it's own completely different style, but there are echoes of moments and musical references more to that movie than any of the others.
I think of the first one as having this youthfulness, the second as having this almost adult heartbreak, and the third as having this action and interest in vampire lore.
Where do you fit in?
First of all, these two movies I made are each very different from the other, but I would say Breaking Dawn I is a real immersion in romantic melodrama, but as a grown-up story. I feel like it's Twilight Grows Up. The actor's have adult concerns now. Take the vampires and the werewolves away and it's about what the first year of marriage is like, or for Jacob, after you've lost, how do you grow out of this and become your own person. I have to say, the last act of this movie is a horror movie, too. It's a flat-out horror movie. And that excited me because I have a background in that [with Candyman 2] and it's something I wanted to explore again.
Once of the things of Twilight that I feel goes overlooked is the almost-legal element added by the Volturi, the ancient vampire clan who enforces the rules. You have to wrangle with them a lot in your films.
I always think of them as being the Vatican of the vampire world. There is a strict set of rules that need to be obeyed and that's where it gets complicated—politically, they're not wrong about what they're trying to enforce. Except there's a power-grabbing element that corrupts it. As you know, the first movie hardly deals with them at all, but the second movie brings them into focus.
I bet you could make a movie from the Volturi's point of view where we'd think, "Why are Bella and Edward making things so complicated for everyone?"
Right, and also just the idea that the need for secrecy is to put the needs of the community before the individual. There's something to be said for that. That is why laws are made. They're just so nasty about it.
The government always has the right idea, but the execution—here, literally—is wrong. Tell me about picking Mackensie Foy to play Bella and Edwards half-vampire child.
That was so interesting. We were meeting a lot of girls and then suddenly this young actress walks in. First of all, she looks like she could be the child of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Renesmee is this very otherworldly creature—she's half-vampire, half-human—and there's a stillness and a confidence to Mackensie that makes her seem very ethereal.
It's a very adult role—she's basically playing an adult in a child's body.
It's very true. She is just an incredible natural. I was learning about motion capture and putting on helmets where she'd do the face when we had smaller bodies. It was complicated for me because I'd never done it before, and she just took to it all naturally. Very complicated technical stuff. In some early scenes, you'd have a 4-year-old girl-that's how big Renesmee was meant to be at that point-walking through the scene and doing the action. And then she would put on this helmet and have to move in a similar way. And she could do it effortlessly—she's really rather remarkable.
I heard that when you shot scenes on the streets of Brazil, you needed a wall of men with guns just to protect the set. What was it like to work under so much secrecy?
You know what? I liked it because I always find one of the more distracting things about making movies is that so many people show up to visit. Imagine people showing up at your office at work and standing there with their arms folded watching you. It just gets to be distracting. But we didn't have any of that. It was too hard for people to make even casual visits. It helped you to focus on just getting the job done.
Is there a scene in the film that just had that magical click where everything was working right and you thought, "This is why I took this job."
I felt that the wedding was really magic. Once we made that decision that it was going to be told from inside Bella's head, walking down the aisle and her just being so nervous until she sees Edward—he's just the point of light that she's going to go toward—telling it that way and revealing the dress slowly. We were at a beautiful location. It was cold and wet and all that, but it didn't matter. There was something very magical about it and the sun came out at the right moment. It felt like the real thing.
These are two young kids—well, at least in Bella's case since she's not undead-who as I was talking about with Kristen have been thought of as these naive Romeo and Juliet types who are now making this big commitment.
It's true, only they don't die. Well, they do die for a little bit. I felt the Romeo and Juliet vibe in the first film, but now there are different forces at work that bring people against them. It's not so much do with their love anymore. There's a real sense of resolution in the beginning of the movie that the love has finally forced its way past all those hurdles. You feel the difficulty of getting down an aisle, how much it took and how much willpower from Bella got her there, and I think that gets supported a lot through the movie. She's a great character and, my god, there are so many unbelievable touchstone experiences that this character goes through in this movie. Marriage and honeymoon and pregnancy and childbirth and death. It's amazing.
I heard that there was some talking of making Breaking Dawn Part II in 3D?
We considered it early on. The only reason I was thinking about it for a while was the Bella point of view thing. We are now seeing the world through the eyes of a vampire. That was a creative reason that it might have made sense, but because we shot the movies at the same time and in the morning, she'd be pregnant, and in the afternoon, she'd be a vampire, it just became too unwieldy of an idea.
Where do you go from here now that you've directed the last two installments of one of the biggest teen franchises ever?
I can safely say someplace smaller.