Elizabeth Reaser, or Liz as she insists we call her, is dressed to the nines at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons and eager to discuss the sensation that is Twilight and its latest chapter, Eclipse. Eclipse arrives in theaters June 30 and Reaser’s Esme Cullen is front and center in a war that will determine the course of the vampire family’s future.
Prior to the Twilight phenomenon, Reaser was widely known as a go-to independent film actress. Elizabeth Reaser earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance in Sweet Land. Considering her Juilliard conservatory training, her acting attention to detail is hardly a surprise.
Elizabeth Reaser: Revealing
SheKnows: How do you think the classical training of Juilliard has helped you over the years?
Elizabeth Reaser: It has really helped me over the years in weird ways. A lot of times when I’ve gotten a last minute job where I have to do an accent, and they don’t have the money to pay for someone to help me, I can transcribe it myself phonetically. All these things that drove me crazy and at the time I felt were so tedious and useless when I was at school, were incredibly helpful and great skills to have. And, also I was never intimidated by that type of work because I know I can break this down very technically if I have to, so that’s been helpful. Also, just being embarrassed in front of people for four years and sort of humiliated and beaten down and ashamed and feeling like an idiot, all those things that at the end of the day make you really unselfconscious. That is a really helpful thing as an actor.
SheKnows: You wanted to be an actress from an early age — almost four I believe.
Elizabeth Reaser: Yeah [laughs]. My parents used to take me on trips to New York to see shows, and I remember seeing Dreamgirls and I remember seeing Pirates of Penzance and Les Mis. There was this legendary performance of Evita that Patti LuPone was in, that I didn’t see, but my older sister got to see. I was taunted by [laughs] stories of this legendary performance. That is what really captured my imagination to go to Juilliard. Patti LuPone went to Juilliard. I thought, “Patti LuPone went to Juilliard and she did Evita with this legendary performance.” Keep in mind I was a four-year-old at the time [laughs]. I was obsessed with Patti LuPone.
Elizabeth dishes Eclipse
SheKnows: You are a big fan of David Yates, the Eclipse director. After following his work over the years, what most surprised you about him as a director once you got on set?
Elizabeth Reaser: [Laughs] He’s very irreverent. I love people that are irreverent and purposely. I think I’m kind of inappropriate sometimes because I am nervous, or dorky or whatever it is that has me say inappropriate things, but I love other people like that who don’t always say the right thing. He just struck me as very real. He’s very passionate. He really cared about the movie. He really cared about the characters.
SheKnows: Initially, when you read the script for Twilight, was the matriarchal nature of your character one of the biggest appeals for you? You’re in charge of this family that was just put together.
Elizabeth Reaser: I love that we’re a chosen family. The thing that drew me, I remember reading the script and I didn’t know it was a book at the time. This woman on the page, I thought, “Wow, she’s a vampire. She’s cooking and she’s warm and this wonderful idea of what we want a mother to be.” That captured my imagination and I think that captured the imagination of Twilight fans about Esme. I’m moved by her. It’s been a really wild ride.
Elizabeth’s surreal moment!
SheKnows: I recently saw the clip of you shooting the scene running through the forest with a green screen behind you. I know you do a lot of independent movies, but a movie like Eclipse, do you have to pinch yourself, like is this real?
Elizabeth Reaser: I remember getting on the set that day and thinking, “This is a movie. This is a real, huge, crazy movie.” I’ve mostly done independent films and some bit movies, but not this big and not with these kinds of effects. The scope of this is huge. I’m so blown away by it. I’m blown away by the amount of money they get to spend on these movies. What a wonderful thing for these directors — they have these imaginations and get to do this — it must be so incredible for a director. It is for us, but really for a director, to shoot your vision at that high of a level, must be amazing.
Elizabeth Reaser: We have her material, the source material. I remember when I met her, I was really nervous to meet her and I had already been cast. She just said, “I was happy that you were cast.” I just said [deep breath], “Thank you.” When the writer is alive [laughs] and it’s a book and it’s this book, this huge bestseller that has captured the imaginations of people all over the world — that was a nice vote of confidence. She’s very confident. She doesn’t need to bust in all the time with her opinion. But, when she has something to say, she says it. She’s very clear. She knows what needs to happen. I love that she is very confident and is respectful of the process.
Inside the family Cullen
SheKnows: With the family Cullen, it almost seems like you went through a family boot camp, you are so tight. Was that there from the get-go? This group of actors had been brought together to act like a family, and in fact did.
Elizabeth Reaser: It was one of those things. Catherine (Hardwicke, Twilight director) knew what she was doing when she casted. Clearly she knew what she was doing. We’re having this interview now, years later. I think there’s something about being dropped down in a location as actors. You’re away from your family. You’re away from your friends. It forces you to interact, to go to dinner and hang out. That’s a great thing for movies, but it’s really hard on your personal life. It was great for us as a family. There really was no, “Let’s hang out because we’re playing a family.” We just hung out all the time, period. We just had so much fun. It was before this Twilight thing blew up, so it was really innocent, honestly.