Evan Smith: Could you ever have imagined when you first saw the script for Twilight that it would earn $70 million in its first weekend—the highest-grossing opening by a female director in history? Could you have imagined that it was a phenomenon in the making?
Catherine Hardwicke: At the time there were only two books out in the series—there was this passionate fan base, but it was much smaller than it is now. Stephenie [Meyer, the author of the Twilight series] is such a crazy-fast, prolific writer that she churned out two more books in the last two years. The books got people excited about the movie, the movie got people excited about the books, and it just built and built into this frenzy. So I think it was kind of a magical convergence.
ES: It’s remarkable how not only kids but also grown-ups have responded. It really has cut across demographics.
CH: When Stephenie wrote the first book, she didn’t expect it to go into the Young Adults section. Someone else decided that’s where it should go. She and I joked that, yes, you’ve got Romeo and Juliet, the two young lovers, but it doesn’t mean no one else can appreciate the play. It started out with the teenagers, but then it expanded—you know, you have the Twilightmoms and the Twilight grandmoms. I’ve met tons of people older than teenagers who loved the book and confessed that they’ve seen the movie three times, four times. And I’ve met boys who’ve seen it. Some of them had to sneak in; they didn’t want to tell their friends.
ES: What’s that about?
CH: They didn’t know much about the book. They loved the trailer—it’s about a vampire—and were ready to go see the movie. But they got to thinking, “Oh, it’s based on a book that young girls love so much.” And then they got a little embarrassed: “Wait, am I supposed to like it?”
ES: The girls didn’t need to be convinced.
CH: We toured malls the week before [the movie] opened. When we went to Dallas, there were one thousand girls screaming like it was Beatlemania and yelling “I want to have your baby” at Rob [Pattinson, the male lead] and all that.
ES: He was best known previously for the Harry Potter movies?
CH: He had done two—in the first one [ Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire], his character [Cedric Diggory] dies. So he wasn’t that well-known, really. He had done a few indie movies since then, and a play, and this and that. He had been unemployed for a little while. His career wasn’t exactly shooting for the moon.
ES: Well, that’s changed.
CH: Oh, yeah. [Before I cast him] I was pretty desperate. I didn’t think I had found the right Edward. It’s a tall order: He had to be the most handsome guy in the world, and he had to have pale skin, and he had to be believable as a high schooler, and he had to be a really good actor, and he had to feel otherworldly. A lot of the kids who [auditioned] were really cute but looked like they could be the prom king.
ES: What about Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella?
CH: I had seen Into the Wild—I thought she was so good in that. There’s the moment where she’s sitting on the bed and is so vulnerable. You can just feel what she’s feeling. She wants to connect, and Emile Hirsch is great: “No, I can’t do it—you’re underage.” I loved her from that scene, and I thought, “I just have to meet this girl.”
ES: Her career has also been helped enormously by this.
CH: She’s an incredible actress. She’s been doing small roles in indie films, but even though that’s where her heart is, she can now get movies green-lit, because she has star power.
ES: Has this film had a similar effect on your career? Thirteen [Hardwicke’s directorial debut, in 2003] was big as far as it went, but it didn’t succeed on the scale that Twilight has.
CH: Oh, no. I mean, [ Thirteen] was only in one hundred theaters total, so it made nothing compared to [ Twilight]. On opening weekend we beat Thirteen by $65 million!
ES: So what’s the practical impact?
CH: Right now I’m sitting in my office with my assistant making a list of all the scripts coming in. Every day there are these possibilities: Do you want to make a movie in South Africa? Do you want to do a female-action Bourne Identity kind of thing? Are you interested in a remake of Grease? A remake of West Side Story? Another horror movie?
ES: Any of that stuff appeal to you?
CH: A lot of it doesn’t. But I’ll try to read the script all the way through to see, because the truth is that when I got the script for Twilight, it wasn’t even close to what we filmed. It was a whole other script that had been developed at Paramount before the book was released. Somebody read the novel in galleys and said, “Oh, I think this could be a cool movie.” It took extreme liberties. There was an FBI agent involved, and girls were on Jet Skis by the end, like Charlie’s Angels, and Bella was a track star—she wasn’t just a clumsy everygirl. So I read that script, and I read the book, and I went to my meeting with the studio and said, “You know what? This script should just be thrown in the trash. We have to start over and make it like the book. Because that’s where the heart is. That’s why these kids around the world are connecting with it.” And that’s what we did.
ES: Has that been the case with your other films—you started out with something vastly different from what you ended up with?
CH: Well, Thirteen was something