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Fangoria Interview (June 2010)

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On the flipside of this undead dynamic is Jasper Hale, surrogate brother to lead bloodsucker Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Played by actor/musician Jackson Rathbone, Jasper has a mythology that dates back to the Civil War, where he was vampirized on the battlefield before being adopted by the pacifist Cullen clan and taught to keep his bloodlust in check… for the most part, anyway. He certainly slips up a few times, but her, to err is inhuman.

Rathbone has been keeping busy outside of the Twilight films. He has one of the lead roles in The Last Airbender, the latest from M. Night Shyamalan, as well as a couple of solid (and pretty gruesome) horror efforts under his belt, including the recent Clive Barker adaption Dread. Fango pulled the intelligent, articulate Rathbone away from his lust-crazed fanbase for a few minutes to talk about Twilight and its legacy.

Fang: The novels dedicate a lot of space to Jasper Hale’s backstory. Are we going to see more of that material in the films?

Rathbone: Definitely. Eclipse holds very true to the book, and we’re going to see a lot of that. Jasper was turned back in the Civil War when he was one of the youngest majors, a reall standup guy.

Fang: Jasper becomes a pretty ravenous vampire. What’s the best thing about playing a character like that, and what’s the most difficult?

Rathbone: You get to go to their animalistc side and explore that movement between extremes. Vampires have a connection to humanity, but they have to do this horrible tihng to survive. That’s a big draw for the audience – “Would I take someone else’s life to survive?” The question only gets deeper if you know that by doing so, you get to live eternally. And the hardest thing is playing a good vampire; you just don’t get to kill enough people…

Fang: A lot has been written about the moral movement of the movie vampire as a pop-culture icon. They began as symbols of evil and have slowly become more accessible and human.

Rathbone: Yeah, they started off with Nosferatu and Dracula in the ’20s and ’30s and then saw this huge leap with Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire. I love the book and the film. Really, vampires help us explore our humanity in different ways, and they put a face on our desires to live more exotic lives, to feel more deeply. It’s interesting that as the ages have fallen and technology has brought us closer together, we’ve been putting an increasingly human face on our monsters. That’s what the arts do; help us put our deepest fears and anxieties and hopes and dreams on display so we can work through them. That’s what Dread is all about.

Fang: Clive Barker has seen some extraordinary adaptions of his writing recently. Midnight Meat Train was criminally under-marketed and Dread has a similar idea; facing the unfaceable and the way it changes us. That seems to tap into the zeitgeist pretty heavily.
Rathbone: I would say so. Of course, that sort of stuff has always been around. Look at Dostoevsky and Notes From The Underground or Kafka. It’s a way of looking at the psyche, at how our choices shape who we become. Selfishness or righteousness and the difference they make and whether we are willing to become a conscious part of the process.

Fang: That certainly brings up the question of what the nature of dread is. Is it just biological? Or does it point us toward something other than that, like the idea of a soul?
Rathbone: Spirituality is something inherent in everyone, the sense of what we believe, what our tribe believes. I like to equate human emotional traits at their most basic level. At their most primal emotions seem to boil down to love and fear. But that stuff is buried, even for people who approach sprituality in an organized way. It has to do with how we talk about it. That’s why I love doing a lot of different creative things because it brings me into collaboration with others, and we draw on that stuff.

Fang: Are you going to keep working in fantastic film?
Rathbone: Ideas aren’t things I like to say no to. I have gotten other horror scripts that I’ve decided to pass on for some reasons or another, but I’m certainly open. Twilight is not really a horror film, it has vampires in it, but it’s more of a romantic action piece. Dread has horrific elements, but I’m not sure it qualifies as pure horror. It’s so based in reality, the horror is inside the characters. That’s what appealed to me most about it. It was a story worth telling. That’s why I love to make movies, make art, why I’m involved in music.

Fang: With things going so well right now, have you had the chance to think about the instability of the business? What happens when Jackson Rathbone isn’t as in demand as he is right now?
Rathbone: That’s a great question. When I was 14 I was in Grease, and that was when I fell in love with music and acting. I actually quit the football team to pursue drama which wasn’t a popular decision with a lot of my friends. I understand what it’s like to not be “in demand.” In fact, I understand what it’s like to be a little bit of a pariah! And when I went to LA, I was by myself, busting on Venice Beach, just trying to make money. There was certainly no demand for me [laughs]. I definitely remember the days when it was hard to get in a casting director’s door. It might be a different game now, but it’ll just keep changing. It’ll be a new game. My goal is to keep doing what I love and to surround myself with other artists who are like minded. Kurt Vonnegut talked about that. He said you have to surround yourself with people who cause you to be a better person and a better artist. Your life and your art have to feed into one another for you to enjoy both.