While in Berlin last year shooting Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous, Xavier Samuel decided to take advantage of a rare night away from set to hit the clubs with his younger brother, Benedict, who was visiting from the suburbs of Sydney. Samuel, who plays vampire Riley Biers in the galactically popular Twilight saga, wanted to cut loose, unnoticed, among the crowds. “We walked up to the door of one bar, and people started screaming at my brother: ‘Jamie! Jamie! Jamie!’” says the 27-year-old actor.
“So he started posing for pictures and signing autographs.” The throngs had mistaken Benedict for Jamie Campbell Bower, Samuel’s Anonymous costar, both of whom boast long, meticulously tangled heads of hair. “The next morning, there was a photo of Benedict and me in one of the papers over a caption that read, ‘Jamie Campbell Bower and friend in Berlin.’ And friend? Come on!” From the shrub-encased patio at Culina inside the Four Seasons Los Angeles, the Australian shakes his head and lets out a laugh.
It seems mistaken identity was in the air in Germany, where Samuel spent three months perfecting his British accent while channeling the Third Earl of Southampton, the man to whom, according to many Elizabethan scholars, Shakespeare addressed his sonnets. As the film’s tagline, “Was Shakespeare a fraud?,” suggests, Emmerich’s thriller centers on the popular theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, played by Rhys Ifans, ghostwrote many of the famed wordsmith’s plays. “It’s a bit elitist to argue that Shakespeare, a man from the working class, couldn’t have done it himself, but there are some strange coincidences that could make you lean toward de Vere as the writer,” says Samuel, who took the stage in productions of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream during his studies at Rostrevor College and Flinders University Drama Centre in Adelaide. “There are so many theories,” he adds. “I’m sure that if you wanted to, you could find a reason to believe that Muhammad Ali wrote the plays. What’s more interesting to me is the tension between art and politics. Back then you put on a play to overthrow the government. Now you do a movie to get famous.”
A drama about authenticity and authorship set in Shakespearean England doesn’t exactly scream Emmerich, the German special effects enthusiast behind Independence Day, Godzilla, and 2012. But Samuel wasn’t worried about the director trying to arm Ben Jonson with an AK-47. “Sure, he’s a bit of a dark horse, but people seem to forget that the reason Independence Day worked so well was because we cared about those characters—even as everything around them was blowing up,” he says. “Explosions on their own don’t really matter if the audience doesn’t care about the story.”
No franchise in recent history has catapulted a cast of unknown actors into superstardom with as much velocity as Twilight. In 2009, Samuel traveled to Vancouver to star alongside Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner in Eclipse, the second installment of the sunshine-averse saga. Although fans of the Cullen clan “never needed to be handcuffed or anything,” their advances were aggressive enough to force the cast out of their hotel and into a private residential compound. To enjoy their spare time, the actors had to get creative. “We’d have these strategic text conversations, like, ‘Okay, in 30 minutes let’s all meet at this place,’” Samuel says. “We even had lookalikes. When we’d all get to the meeting point, it was like, ‘Yes, we escaped!’”
Samuel, whose parents are teachers (“My dad used to say, ‘You can always go into law as a backup’”), has been acting professionally for almost a decade now, ever since appearing in an episode of the Australian series McLeod’s Daughters. Still, he talks about his recent films with the enthusiasm of a newcomer. He refers to his costars as “just-add-water families.” He describes Anonymous as a “totally awesome film—really, really awesome.” Working opposite Ifans was a near-ecstatic experience. “Acting is like sex,” he says. “It’s possible if your partner is bad, but it’s better if they’re good. And Rhys, well, he’s probably one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with.”
Minutes from now, Samuel will drive out to Venice Beach, where he’s learning to carve waves for Drift, a surf movie he’s soon to start filming alongside fellow Aussie Sam Worthington. “What’s next?,” however, is a question he’s come to loathe, even though he’s already got two more films—A Few Best Men (a wedding farce he likens to Bridesmaids) and Bait (a horror film about vicious tiger sharks and tsunamis)—in the can. As it turns out, this aversion to looking to the future stems from his recent past. “I was doing a play in Sydney, and David Field, a really respected Australian actor, came to the show. I made the fatal error of saying, What are you doing next? He was like, ‘I’m fucking changing nappies, you fucking cunt. What are you fucking doing?’” Samuel reclines in his chair and lights the cigarette he’s been rolling. After exhaling a thick cloud of blue smoke, he asks, “Why look ahead when you can stop and appreciate the moment?”
XAVIER LIKES Four Seasons