As with the previous films of The Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn welcomes a new director to the vampire love story fold. Bill Condon, writer/director of the Oscar-winning Dreamgirls and the Oscar nominated drama Kinsey, takes on the most complex book of Stephenie Meyer's trilogy, a book with so much going on that Summit Entertainment chose to break it up into two films.
Shot concurrently, Condon had the task of steering the franchise through the pivotal final chapters of the blockbuster saga with Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2. And in our exclusive interview during the LA press day for Part 1, the well-respected Oscar-winning filmmaker (Gods and Monsters) talked about what attracted him to the franchise, satisfying fans, and keeping the film PG-13 rated.
Exclusive Director Bill Condon The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Interview
Did the fact you're taking on a franchise with so many passionate fans who will watch your every move run through your mind when you first signed on to helm Breaking Dawn? It's difficult to satisfy them all.
Bill Condon: "Totally. [Laughing] You never can satisfy everybody, I know that well having done Dreamgirls or Kinsey, right? I think what you want to do is you want to be absolutely aware of the fact that this means so much. That’s the great excitement of it too, that it means so much to so many people. Every decision you take seriously because when you do feel like, 'Oh my god, I feel we do have to make this adjustment from the book,' because it just isn’t cinematic or something - or a different way to tell the story - you really ponder it."
Did you visit fansites to help figure out what you could change without angering the diehard Twilight fans?
Bill Condon: "I wouldn’t go and ask people. Then I'm surprised because it turns out I thought that it was important that the Denali sisters, who are originally from the steps of Russia, have a real, real white blonde look to them. In the book, one of them had a strawberry blond hair color and I didn’t think that was right. I liked the way the actors look together with this hair. When that was in the first trailer, there was an image of them and there were a lot of people who were like, 'What has he done?!'"
You've ruined the movie by changing the hair color!
Bill Condon: "Right, and that did surprise me because I hadn’t thought of that as being a big adjustment. It just felt like visually that worked better."
There are a lot of new actors in Breaking Dawn, but the main cast was in place before you came on. How do you adjust to that, because that's a big change from the norm?
Bill Condon: "It is, but it was true of all the directors who've done them. But that’s about getting in and I think they are all very welcoming actors, which I really appreciated. I think because they have worked with different directors too, I think they kind of looked forward to, 'Well, what’s this one going to have to say about this?' It's sort of like the first day of school, it’s a little scary and then you just settle in to work and you have your relationships with them."
But your main core of actors know these characters so well, was there ever a butting of the heads over how things should turn out on screen?
Bill Condon: "I don’t think so. They know it well. I was often, often, embracing ideas of theirs because they do know it so well and so many of them are so smart."
And they do know the fans. Did you have to deal with many fans on the set for this one?
Bill Condon: "I did. I had little interchanges with them, and then you get so busy, it's like you don’t have that much time to check in on all that. But we had a set visit I believe. Certainly in the editing room, it was a great day when the major blogs came in. That was fun."
Did they give you any input?
Bill Condon: "They did actually! Someone caught a misspelling on the invitation, which I won’t tell you about, that not even Stephenie Meyer had seen. So that was cool. It was interesting. It was impressive because they were completely like hawks and they could see everything."
How do you take on a franchise that already has had three directors and make it your own? You are still making your own movie.
Bill Condon: "You totally are. That’s the thing, and that’s why I was open to it obviously because the other three had been so different. I had proof in front of me that there was room for each director to make his or her own movie. I think if there had been a more kind of dominate tone, a dominate approach that you were trying to fit into, I would have been probably less interested."
All of them do have a very specific tone that differs from the one before.
Bill Condon: "Very different. Really, really different."
And in the books, the change in tone isn't that obvious until you get to the fourth book.
Bill Condon: "Right, exactly. Then it's crazy different."
How familiar were you with the Twilight phenomenon?
Bill Condon: "I’d seen the movies."
These aren’t books you'd normally read.
Bill Condon: "No, I hadn’t read the books."
Why do you think it is that four books down the road and millions and millions of dollars being made on the films, people are still so passionate about every single thing about it all? What is it about the series that inspires that much passion?
Bill Condon: "I know this for myself. When your imagination hooks into something and you get lost in that world, it becomes incredibly satisfying, especially to see how it turns out. I think that’s part of it. I think there is a great fantasy element to movies in general. And I think that women don’t get to fantasize as much as teenage boys do."
That’s true. We don’t get these fantasies on screen like they do. Everything is served up for them.
Bill Condon: "It's true! Especially in these bigger tentpole movies, they are all boy movies. I think that’s part of it."
It's not just teenage girls you’re going after with Breaking Dawn, it’s every generation...
Bill Condon: "It’s true, right. That’s what’s cool about it."
Which is also hard for you because you have to make this sexy enough for the adults in the audience but not too sexy. So how do you walk that fine line?
Bill Condon: "Carefully. I think because it’s driven by the incredible love that these two feel for each other, that just set the tone of tenderness. It’s not the boy movie version of hot, steamy sex. It's great love-making. I think once you realize that it becomes easier."
I know when they were first talking about how they were going to adapt the fourth book, given its subject matter, there was that whole debate that you can’t make it more than PG-13, but the source material is nearly R-rated. What did you specifically have to do to make sure it didn’t go into the R territory?
Bill Condon: "Surprisingly, not anything having to do with the intense blood and childbirth and all that. For the sex, there was probably a little bit more a sense of some more heated stuff that we pulled back on a little."
Isn’t it bizarre that the MPAA cares more what you do sex-wise than they do about on screen violence? Why do you think that is? It isn’t the audiences out there that care, it’s the MPAA, right?
Bill Condon: "I guess so. I don’t know. It’s a tough thing. I don’t really understand it, but I have to say it was across the world. We had the same reaction in Germany, England or Ireland. No one seemed to bat an eye at the childbirth."
I think it was handled really well.
Bill Condon: "Oh, good."
I don’t see how you could do everything from the book. You have to make some changes. So, working with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, I understand she wanted you to do more of the writing but you didn’t want to do it.
Bill Condon: "No, no, no, she knows it better than I do."
But you are a screenwriter.
Bill Condon: "Yes, but still... I mean, so much of it was just in our conversations and the constant back and forth between us. She knows how these characters talk. That’s her thing, you know? She’s so good at it."
And you actually had Stephenie Meyer on the set for this, while the other ones didn't have her there all the time.
Bill Condon: "Exactly. I think she was [on the other sets] quite a bit. But here she was there all the time. We were doing inserts and it was like, 'Stephenie, I’m going home. Go home.' She was an incredible trooper."
Was it another weight on your shoulder, having the author of these bestselling novels there with you looking over everything?
Bill Condon: "Yes, but I have to say she was incredibly respectful. She was a great, open presence on the set. It's not a question of looking over or second-guessing. She was really appreciated."
Was there anything that she specifically told you while you were on set that you changed because of what she had to say?
Bill Condon: "Yes, I think there was a lot of things, but they were small by then. We'd had so many conversations in the development of the script and stuff like that, so we were all on the same page."
I know when they were initially talking about this movie because of the huge 3D craze they had considered perhaps going that way with Breaking Dawn. Were you at all wanting to go with that format?
Bill Condon: "When I first got involved, I wasn’t a huge fan but I did have one idea about it which was in the second of the two movies, it’s the first time we are inside the eyes and mind of a vampire - because these movies are told from Bella’s point of view. And to wake up and suddenly see the world as a vampire does might be a good actual use of 3D."
It would be justified.
Bill Condon: "It could be justified. I only every wanted to do it for the second movie and not the first. But the fact is, when you’re shooting two movies to then add the additional complication of, 'Okay, in an hour we finish up doing this and we're going to go do a 3D thing...' It was just to unwieldy. We couldn’t figure out a way to make that work."
And they were never thinking of just doing a 3D conversion?
Bill Condon: "Oh no, I hope not."
They don’t work. Audiences don’t like them.
Bill Condon: "No, they really don’t. They shouldn’t. It’s really great how they have been rejecting them."
You shoot both parts at the same time. What does that do in your mind as a director trying to figure out and concentrate scene to scene, how do you handle that?
Bill Condon: "I think it’s typical of any movie, honestly."
But this was two movies shot together.
Bill Condon: "Not really. It’s one movie that's a really long, very long 250-page script. I mean, the break...it just continues, you know what I mean? It wasn’t as complicated as you might think. Harder for Kristen, I think, who had to be vampire in the morning and teenage girl at night. I don’t know. I found it a very typical kind of movie experience."
Why did you even want to take this on in the first place?
Bill Condon: [Laughing] "That’s a tough one. A lot of reasons. I started out in horror movies. I wanted to do one again. I wanted to do something in the genre. Even the romantic melodrama aspect of it really appealed to me. I liked the book a lot. I think I liked the idea that there was this relationship with the audience and that there are people who are so into it. I think that was a big, big draw."
* * * * * *Additional Breaking Dawn Part 1 Interviews: Robert Pattinson / Kristen Stewart / Taylor Lautner / Peter Facinelli / Jackson Rathbone / Stephenie Meyer / The Cullens