Even after all this time, author Stephenie Meyer, the Mormon mother of three who became an overnight literary sensation with the 2005 publication of her young-adult novel "Twilight," can't explain the phenomenon that surrounds the grand romance between vampire Edward Cullen and human teenager Bella Swan, characters played on-screen by Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.
"I don't know what makes people love it, I don't know what makes people hate it," said Meyer, seated comfortably in a suite of a Beverly Hills hotel. "But I do know that the feeling of being in love is a good feeling. We want to feel that emotion."
"I've always said that," Stewart said to Meyer, sitting beside her. "It's so vicarious. It's not like you are watching two people or reading two people. You feel like you are doing it. It's rare."
There's no question that "Twilight" is that rare gem: a book and movie property that stokes a kind of unquenchable fire among its largely female fan base. That following has been so sizable and so fervent that the "Twi-hards," as they're called, have helped transform Meyer's supernatural tale into a $2.5-billion business, proving that girl-centric tales can be powerful forces at the box office.
With the fifth and presumably final big-screen entry, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2," due to arrive in theaters Friday, Meyer and Stewart seem to share a bond reminiscent of the connection between Meyer's two protagonists.
Their closeness stems from the unlikely duo's joint goal of ensuring that the beloved material, for all its melodrama, remained intact as it was translated to the big screen. That required them to battle nervous studio executives who wanted Stewart's interpretation of Bella to be less tortured, hardened detractors who railed against overwrought story lines and pop culture satirists who often turned the franchise into its own punch line.
Meyer had already made the leap from Arizona housewife to bestselling author when she first met Stewart, then an up-and-coming actress building her career primarily through roles in indie films. In the intervening years, Meyer's stature and influence as a young-adult author became comparable to that enjoyed by J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, though critics never responded to her writing the way enthusiastic readers did.
Stewart, however, has garnered plenty of acclaim — if not in the often tepidly reviewed "Twilight" movies, then in small challenging roles in films such as Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" or Walter Salles' upcoming adaptation of the Beat Generation classic "On the Road." She's also endured a tabloid celebrity she never planned.
Reaching the end of the saga was particularly satisfying for the actress, who seemed pleased to be able to take Bella to the happy if somewhat complicated conclusion of her journey — and to move on to the next phase of her career.
"I'm so ready to be done," said the 22-year-old.
A changed Bella
Directed like its predecessor by Oscar winner Bill Condon, "Breaking Dawn — Part 2" begins with Bella Swan as a newborn vampire and a new mother, whose half-human daughter, Renesmee, threatens to spark a war among various tribes of vampires from around the globe. The ruling class in Italy, the Volturi, wrongly assume that Bella and Edward have transformed a human child into a vampire, something that is expressly forbidden, and gather forces to take down the entire Cullen clan.
The story line gave Stewart the opportunity to bring a new dimension to a character who'd always considered herself ordinary and clumsy; with her supernatural powers, she could be graceful and beautiful, lightning-fast and lethal.
"I played her as human for so long, so the enhanced version of her made so much sense to me," said Stewart, her long limbs folded under her on the couch. "Everything so perfectly fit that I was so amped to do it."
Meyer recalled standing in front of the monitor on the set of the film when Stewart shot her first scene as vampire Bella, nervously anticipating the outcome.
"We were dancing by the monitors — 'Look at her go,'" Meyer said as Stewart pretended to leave the room, not wanting to hear the compliment. "It was such a huge weight lifted. It wasn't a different character. It was Bella, but it was a totally different Bella. It was so exciting."
Her newfound abilities also might help to dispel notions that Bella is too passive a character, a young girl too dependent on her boyfriend as a source of her happiness — though Meyer and Stewart flatly reject that view.
"Flip the roles. If Bella was a vampire and Edward was the human and you changed nothing but the genders, none of that criticism would exist," said Stewart. "It would be 'Wow, he just laid everything on the line for her. It's so amazing, and it must take such strength to subject yourself to that.' Also, the relationship is entirely equal."
"She gets what she wants," Meyer added.
"Plus, she's the one that keeps the bus going the entire time," continued Stewart. "If it was up to Edward, they would have given up at the first movie."
A new ending
The 700-page-plus "Breaking Dawn" novel was released just a few months before director Catherine Hardwicke's adaptation of "Twilight" reached theaters in 2008. The book was met with controversy, even among Meyer's loyal fans. Renesmee's birth is an especially gruesome sequence — one that Condon had to carefully navigate for the previous PG-13-rated movie — and some readers complained about Bella's choice to carry the child to term despite obvious risks to her own health.
There was also grumbling about an ending that felt too soft, too anticlimactic.
"I had a lot of concerns about making 'Breaking Dawn' a movie," said Meyer, who holds final approval on the scripts for the "Twilight" films. "There were a lot of things they wanted to change. There were some serious problems."
Fealty to source material on beloved properties like "Twilight" is always a concern — deviate too much from the book and fans, even those who maybe weren't wild about what was on the page initially, will cry foul. But it was Meyer herself and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who has written each of the five scripts for the films, who devised a new ending over dinner one night in Vancouver while the second "Twilight" movie, "New Moon," was filming.
Of course, neither Meyer nor Stewart will reveal the new conclusion, but Meyer believes the solution is one fans will embrace. She and her star are somewhat less reserved in their elation for the digital trickery used for Renesmee, who in the book is born the size of a normal baby but whose unusual parentage results in rapid growth. (The character is played in the film by 12-year-old actress Mackenzie Foy.)
Stewart was initially asked to hold a robotic doll instead of a real baby for some scenes, but that approach didn't yield quite the right result.
"It was the most creepy, horrific horror doll you've ever seen — and it was mechanical," Meyer said with a laugh. "It's gouging her cheek and sticking to her hair. We reshot the whole thing. We didn't wind up using any of the footage, but that doll was so horrifying. I mean that doll comes to life and kills people."
"They should have had a real baby," Stewart said. "I really missed having a real baby. They were the scenes I looked forward to the most, and then I had this thing. It was really disheartening."
Instead, the filmmakers employed some techniques David Fincher and his team pioneered for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," projecting Foy's face on older and younger girls as the script required.
Life after 'Twilight'
Stewart and Meyer are ready for "Twilight" to come to a close. Its years of pop culture dominance have taken a toll on the women, particularly Stewart, who appears resigned to the glaring spotlight, though no more comfortable with it.
The two discussed the public's desire to put celebrities on pedestals only to knock them down and the reality of the 24-hour news cycle as the mechanism that's destroyed the mystery of the movie star.
Stewart compared the need-to-know frenzy to the public wanting another movie, one played out in magazines, on the radio and on television, based on the actors' real lives. Things turned especially personal for Stewart last summer.
"People are just going to write the movie version of your life and consume it the way they please. I get the inclination to be entertained by that as well, so go for it. Have at it. Take it. Take it," Stewart said, pulling at her cashmere sweater. "But you knew nothing about my relationship before. You know less now. How could you?"
Meyer sympathizes with Stewart's plight. Until the teenage stars came along, the author, a self-described introvert troubled that people felt that they knew her without ever having met her, was the one in the eye of the storm.
For Meyer, life after "Twilight" will involve more movies — Open Road will release writer-director Andrew Niccol's adaptation of her novel "The Host" in March, and she recently produced her own indie film, "Austenland," based on her friend Shannon Hale's novel.
Stewart is moving on as well. She just signed on to join Ben Affleck in the lighthearted film "Focus," in which she'll play a woman who falls for a veteran con-man.
Meyer said new tales set in the "Twilight" universe continue to rumble in her head, but she's not sure she's willing to write them down and reignite the firestorm of publicity and attention.
"The stories are there. I'm just not sure I'd want to get into the hurricane again," Meyer said. "Maybe on my death bed I'll gather everybody around and tell them what happens: who dies, who turns into a bad guy. And then I'll breathe my last breath and be done."
"What a perfect way to end it," Stewart added.