Wednesday, July 7, 2010

::Team Riley:: USA Today profiles Xavier Samuel

When Australian actor Xavier Samuel shipped off an audition tape to Twilight producers, insta-fame seemed oceans away.

"It's kind of strange because you send them off into oblivion and you don't know if anyone watches them," says Samuel, 26.

That was last year.

Fast-forward to the Eclipse premiere, where thousands of fans are not only screaming but are screaming for him. "It's kind of 360 degrees of hysteria," Samuel says just hours before the Los Angeles premiere of the third film installment of Stephenie Meyer's blockbuster series. "The sound (of Twilight's fans) does really knock you off your feet."

BOX OFFICE: Nothing Outshines 'Eclipse'

Samuel steals not only the first five minutes of one of most anticipated movies of the summer, but much of its finale. He plays newborn vampire Riley Biers, who, alongside vengeful vamp Victoria, leads a bloodthirsty army of young vampires with one goal: killing human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and those who protect her.

Hailing from Adelaide, he now joins Hollywood's short list of hot young Aussie men in the spotlight, including brothers Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) and Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song), and Sam Worthington (Avatar).

There was only one problem en route to the Eclipse set.

"I was going through the book going, where's Riley?" says Samuel, whose character gets a major upgrade in the screenplay version of Eclipse. But director David Slade slipped him an early top-secret copy of Meyer's recent novella, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, in which Riley and Victoria's relationship is more deeply explained.

Joining the ranks of Robert Pattinson, Stewart and Taylor Lautner, "I ought to feel ostracized, but everyone was wonderfully down to earth," says Samuel, who found battling a CGI werewolf in the wilds of Canada more challenging than making friends. "You're just working with a piece of fur on the end of a stick just kind of poking you," he says with a laugh.

The son of parents who teach history and English, the dry-humored Samuel, whose younger brother Benedict is finishing up acting school and whose sister Bridget is an opera stage manager, cut his teeth playing Hamlet in college, later appearing in a smattering of movies on the film festival circuit, including Newcastle, September and The Loved Ones.

Mom Maree now keeps tabs on his Google status (a quick search for her son's name snags upward of 900,000 hits). "She's kind of made it her mission to monitor the info on me on the Internet, which is an impossible task," he says.

That includes the rumor that Samuel ditched his supposed band to follow his film career. "Completely untrue," he says, though he did tote his acoustic guitar to Vancouver to relax between shoots and workouts. "I don't have a burning ambition to be a rock star or anything," he says, instead listing other musical favorites: The National, the Very Best and the Magnetic Fields.

Fellow Eclipse newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard, 29, (who takes over the role of Victoria from Rachelle LeFevre) seduces young Riley in the film.

In real life, Samuel calls the two especially good friends. "She's so professional and she works harder than anyone I've ever met in my life," he says of Howard, who even offered the temporarily homeless actor her couch in L.A. once filming wrapped.

Samuel spent two weeks hanging out with Howard's young family, "really wonderful people," he says of her husband, Seth Gabel, and their young son, Theo. Although he's now renting in West Hollywood, he recently attended Theo's third birthday party and noshed on barbecue with Bryce's rather famous father, director Ron Howard.

Did he schmooze his way into a film? "I don't know if I'd be so lucky," he quips. "I haven't really broached the subject with Ron yet."

Famous friends aside, navigating a new career post-franchise can be tricky, but so far, Samuel is taking the offers as they come, having just returned from shooting historical thriller Anonymous in Berlin, which decodes the true author of Shakespeare's works.

"I went from playing an evil vampire to an Elizabethan aristocrat, which is a great thing to do," he says.

And now? "I don't have a plan of action," he says. "I just want an experience that challenges me as an actor and pushes me to get better."