There’s Something Taylor Lautner doesn’t want to talk about. He’s biting his nails. He’s having trouble making eye contact. He’s looking down at the table. And then there’s the nervous laughter, the kind that betrays a young man ill at ease.
“Oh boy,” he says.
Lautner is dressed in skinny dark jeans and lived-in black boots. His check flannel shirt is spread wide, revealing what appears to be the 19-year-old actor’s very first crop of chest hair. His smile is Cruise-like, packed with the kind of porcelain that has never been stained by a lick of red wine. Lautner is flashing those teeth, shifting in his chair, because he’s uncomfortable.
We’re sitting down to lunch at L’Ermitage, a swank hotel in Beverly Hills that Lautner likes for its privacy. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows your name, but pretends they’ve never seen your face. He needs that, these days, that kind of protection. Because Twilight’s Jacob Black — the teen wolf — is mobbed wherever he goes.
“It comes down to what kind of mood you’re in,” he says. “You have to make a decision before you go out: are you willing to sign autographs and take pictures, say hello and meet new people?”
Is it upsetting?
“I wouldn’t say I get upset about it. I asked for this,” he says. “It gets frustrating. But during that frustration you say, ‘OK. Why am I frustrated? I’m doing what I love.’ But sometimes you really just want to go do whatever you want to do.”
Losing your anonymity sure pays well. $7.5 million was what Lautner — now officially the highest-paid teenager in Hollywood — made for his current thriller Abduction, about a high-school student who finds his baby photo on a missing-persons website the same night he watches his parents get killed. The film is his first as a leading man and comes without that built-in Team Jacob fan base, but he’s already had a pay rise. He’s expected to earn $10 million for the time-travel film Incarceron, in development now. (Blake Lively, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson have all reportedly met with producers about playing the female lead).
If Lautner is embarrassed today — and it certainly seems that way — it’s not about wearing flannel in the middle of summer, nor the rumours about his sexuality (more on that later), or even that he’s four minutes late for our lunch. (“My football coach always said, ‘If you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late.’ If I show up on time I’m freaking out.”) No, what he’s embarrassed about is his car. Shortly before we meet, the news breaks that he bought a silver, 2012 SLS AMG Mercedes-Benz. The car has a 6.2 litre V8 engine, runs with the power of 563 horses, does 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds and has a top speed of 317 km/h. True, it gets Hummer-grade fuel economy, but that’s not why he’s squirming. What he’s embarrassed about is the price tag: the basic model starts at $175,000 but I’m guessing he didn’t leave the dealership without dropping $250,000.
“As you know, I’ve been driving the same car [a BMW 5 series] for the past four years. But I’ve always been a huge car fan. And I would always go to dealerships and drool. And I definitely always had my eye on this car. And it was a long process before I even considered getting a car like that. It’s a childhood dream.”
Did he drive the new car here today?
So, where does he drive it?
“I don’t know. It’s just definitely a car that, I mean, this car…” he breaks off, flustered. “My original car is the one I drive everywhere. I mean, I’ll occasionally take it for a spin. But it’s more me just being a car fan.”
“There you go.”
And, just to check, he still lives with his parents, right?
No offence, but what the f*** is a 19-year-old kid who’s yet to move out of home doing with a $250,000 car?
How Taylor Lautner came to afford such a car is, perhaps, a better story. Lautner was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan — a nondescript city known for a heavy concentration of office furniture companies. And if not for a bizarre string of coincidences, Lautner might still be living there.
It was a karate coach with a short-lived acting career of his own that turned a seven-year-old Lautner on to Hollywood, and the kid was soon making frequent trips to Los Angeles for auditions. Lautner’s father was a commercial airline pilot, which helped; he could fly at a moment’s notice for next to nothing. When Lautner’s mother was laid off from her office job at a furniture factory, the family took it as a sign they should move.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid.
“At that age,” he says, “I wasn’t thinking about that. I was like, ‘My family wants to move to California! Wahoo!’ Looking back, we risked everything. If me and my family had known how competitive this business was, I don’t think we ever would have given it a shot. We came out here green, not knowing anything.”
Lautner and I first met a year ago. We had lunch at a cheap chain restaurant (his choice) in Valencia, California, the decidedly unglamorous suburb where he and his family first lived when they moved to LA. (They still live there, actually, albeit in a much nicer place than the two-bedroom apartment they used to rent).
Valencia is 45 minutes outside of Hollywood. Lautner was excited to show me around; to show me the gym here he trained for the Twilight series, to show me the high school where he played football. Before we could really talk that day, a waitress walked over to say hello.
“Hey,” she said. “It’s been a long time!”
It was clear Lautner didn’t recognise the girl in the oversized, black-frame glasses. She reminded him she’d been a few years above him in high school. “I remember he’d put on my sunglasses and run around,” she told me, while Lautner blushed.
“I’m embarrassing him now — he’s getting red,” she said. “But everyone was like, ‘Oh my God! He’s famous!’ He was Sharkboy to us. He’d be like, ‘Don’t call me that.’”
Yes, Lautner was Sharkboy in some movie called Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D. But for every success, there was another audition, another heart-breaking disappointment. These were some of the longest days of the kid’s short life.“ For commercial auditions,” he says, “you’ll show up and there will be 200 kids. It’s all about looks. You walk in the room, the casting director looks at you, they say, ‘Say this line.’ You say it and you walk out. Then you’d get a callback, and you’d show up and there would be 40 kids sitting there and they all look like you.”
Read the full article in GQ's October.November 2011 issue.
Photographer: David Slijper