Team What and Taylor Who? You might not know the name Alex Meraz, the Mexican-Native American who plays Paul, a werewolf, in “The Twilight Saga.” But he’s proof that one need only be hunky and shirtless to garner the same kind of squealing adoration initially reserved for the franchise’s starring love triangle of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner. Though he wouldn’t mind if his character’s human form got more than one line. Meraz, in human form, talks with Tricia Olszewski about his work ethic, hanging with his costars, and why this third installment is not to be missed.
OLSZEWSKI: How does “Eclipse” compare with the first two “Twilight” movies?
MERAZ: It’s the best out of the three. There’s just so much more action. Of course, it’s the culmination of what’s transpired in “Twilight” and “New Moon,” but it’s richer. “Twilight” builds the relationship between Bella and Edward and introduces the vampire family. And then in “New Moon,” you see Jacob develop his relationship with Bella, and you get introduced to the Wolf Pack. You see the tension that both families have toward each other, and you learn about the treaty between us — as long as they don’t turn people into vampires, then we won’t come after them.
And then you see that tested in “Eclipse.” They actually have to rely on each other and put their differences aside to join forces and fight a new threat. That’s what makes it really exciting. You get to see the Cullen family do what they’re meant to do — they’re animals, they’re meant to destroy things. It’s just a really exciting film. It still has the relationship in there, and what’s made this such a successful franchise is that the audience can relate to how grounded in reality the love scenes are. David Slade did an amazing job. The graphics are just phenomenal. Beautifully directed.
OLSZEWSKI: Do you have more screen time than in “New Moon”?
MERAZ: God, I thought I would, because in the book my character and the other Wolf Pack members have a lot more to do. And then you realize, “Wait a minute, we’re in wolf form the whole time!” Obviously, I can’t go out and physically fight vampires — I’m too weak in my human form. But I didn’t realize until I was reading the script — I’d see my [character’s] name, Paul, but then it’d say “wolf” in parentheses: “Paul, (wolf), runs and bites the head off a vampire.”
Luckily enough, I was able to talk to the special-effects director — and give him a good shoulder massage — so he’d do cool stuff with my werewolf.
OLSZEWSKI: Even with all the attention you already get in your small role, would you trade places with Rob or Taylor?
MERAZ: Yeah! Who wouldn’t? Anyone who says no, they’re damn liars. [laughs] It has nothing to do with the fans. It’s just me wanting to work. That was the biggest thing for me: Going on set and thinking, “Yeah! I don’t care how much I make, I don’t care about any other stuff. I just want to be here.”
It is kind of depressing that I’m in my trailer for most of the fight scenes, and I see the other guys going, “This is so hard!” And then they’d tease us that we have it easy. And I’d think, nah, I’d rather be in your shoes. I’d rather be fighting. I’m just a workhorse. And all around it’s a really fun experience.
OLSZEWSKI: Do you get along with everyone?
MERAZ: I have a really great relationship with the rest of the cast, which is so fortunate. I’ve done other films where I didn’t really enjoy who I was working with, and that’s always hard.
OLSZEWSKI: Is there any downside to being part of this huge phenomenon? Did you expect it when you first signed on?
MERAZ: Well, you gotta expect certain things. Downside? The only downside may be how big it’s gotten. I remember I used to be able to hang out with Kristen and just walk down the street. Same with Rob, same with Taylor. I used to be able to go out with Taylor, he’d text or call me: “Hey, do you wanna get something to eat?” “Sure, let’s go!” Or we’d just go to the gym, you know? And it wasn’t a big deal. No one would say anything to us. That was still during [the filming of] “New Moon.”
But once the promotional machine really put Taylor in the forefront, showing off his new body — then he became Taylor Lautner. And by the time we were filming “Eclipse,” Kristen wasn’t walking around the streets anymore. I couldn’t even walk around. It was really hard; I became a little sheltered. And we couldn’t go out together anymore. We’d have to go out of our way to rent out a space to go eat. And that was pretty weird. I couldn’t just casually be spontaneous about something. Everything had to be a huge production. So that was the only “bad” thing about it, but whatever. It’s part of the business. I can’t complain.
OLSZEWSKI: With your female fan base, has your management ever suggested you play down your family?
MERAZ: Oh, no, it’s never been like that. I mean, I’ve purposely played it down just because — it sounds like a funny thing to say — I want to protect [my wife]. Because the thing is, a lot of the fans are very young, and very protective of what they’re so passionate about. But the moms, the women! They totally appreciate it, they respect it. They’ll say, “That’s amazing, congratulations”…and they’re really supportive.
The young girls, though, they’ll find out and sometimes make rude comments. So for those reasons I don’t really go out parading my wife and son. I keep that on the back burner. I just take my shirt off and do my job!
OLSZEWSKI: You have a martial arts and dance background, so I bet you didn’t have to prepare quite as much as the rest of the cast.
MERAZ: Yeah, a lot of the other guys had to really work to get their physiques. But I had to bulk up; I was very thin. I’d lost 45 pounds for the lead in a Larry Clark film, so for “Twilight” I had to bulk up a lot more. And it was hard! I had to eat so much. I hated it. It gets to a point where it’s not food anymore. All the flavors become bland, you’re eating so much protein and steaks and thinking, “I can’t wait until this is over.”
OLSZEWSKI: I saw your beautiful artwork on your website (www.alexMERAZ:.com). Is that something you spend a lot of time on?
MERAZ: I do. When I’m on set, there’s so much downtime — we’ll be there for 14, 16 hours when we‘re not working — so I bring a canvas or a sketchbook to my trailer and draw.
OLSZEWSKI: I also read that you’re into comics. Any favorites?
MERAZ: Spider-Man — it was an artist that I loved, Todd McFarlane, who did Spawn and took up Spider-Man in the late ’80s. I love, of course, Wolverine. A lot of my favorite painters are graphic-novel artists. Frank Frazetta, Simon Bisley. They do a lot of cool stuff.
OLSZEWSKI: How about movies in general? What are some of your favorites?
MERAZ: My favorites are foreign films. A lot from Brazil. One’s called “Carandiru.” It’s a film about a riot in the biggest prison in the world, which was in Sao Paulo, based on a true story. Beautifully shot film. And “City of God.” “Amores Perros.” You gotta see it, it’s so amazing. And everyone who’s in it, it made their careers. Gael Bernal Garcia, Adriana Barraza. Even the director (Alejandro González Iñárritu) went on to do “21 Grams” and “Babel.”
OLSZEWSKI: Have you seen anything good this summer?
MERAZ: I haven’t been able to watch that many films. Though I saw a film a few nights ago called “Love Ranch” with Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci.
OLSZEWSKI: I love Helen Mirren.
MERAZ: Oh my God, she’s so sexy. And I have two friends who are in it. I even saw Kristen at the premiere. She was like, “Hey, what’s up, what are you doing here?” And I said, “I love hookers!” [laughs] It was a great, great movie. And Helen, she’s so amazing. Pesci was a throwback to “Goodfellas.” But he was good, really solid. Really fun film, but you just know it’s not going to hit a demographic, and not that many people are going to watch it. Which is kind of a bummer. Hopefully it will get nominated for a lot of great things.
OLSZEWSKI: What’s next for you?
MERAZ: There’s “The City of Gardens,” a drama that’s based on a true story about an American surfer wrongfully accused of drug trafficking and sentenced to a Peruvian prison. I was one of the leads in it and said more than one word!
OLSZEWSKI: No wolf?
MERAZ: No wolf — it’s all me, baby! I finished that movie two weeks ago and then hit the ground running to promote “Eclipse.” And now it’s back to trying to get another job.