VANCOUVER — When David Slade appeared on the pop-culture dais in the wake of his breakout Sundance smash, Hard Candy, featuring a plucky would-be victim in Ellen Page, the last thing you'd expect to learn about the man was his deep conviction in the concept of romantic love.
A story that hung on the threat of sexual assault involving a minor, Hard Candy seemed like such a testament to the baser elements of the human animal that its director assumed the shape of a next-gen Neil Labute — a creator capable of balancing absolute contempt for the human species with an arid sense of humour.
It's a dicey endeavour, but one Slade pulled off with a dramatically elegant sleight of hand.
Slade reached into the same bag of tricks when he called the shots on The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which hits DVD and Blu-ray on Saturday.
The story of a young woman named Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who falls madly in love with a vampire stud named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), only to be hounded by a lovesick werewolf named Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the whole Twilight Saga deals with a young woman at risk.
In this case, Stewart is at risk of losing her mortal soul. In Hard Candy, Page was at risk of losing a similar chunk of self, as well as — we suspected — her life.
"Hard Candy was definitely a different beast in some ways, because it was a contained, two-person drama, with Ellen Page raging away in a brilliant performance," says Slade.
"Eclipse was a lot broader . . . but it's still a character-based drama. That's what I really enjoyed about it," he says. "I think it's also a much more adult film than (the previous two), because the characters are becoming more mature. There's loads of fun stuff to play with, and because we treated it as a drama, the transformation (of character) takes place."
The substance was always bloody and meaty, but Slade says the pragmatics of the whole ordeal were anything but easy. He feels exhausted just thinking about the experience.
"It was a 50-day shoot, with many 16-hour days," he says.
To make things even more challenging, the cast was losing itself in its own Twilight cosmos. All actors have to surrender to their roles and inhabit their characters to some degree for the duration of production, so Slade was pleased his cast was taking the whole project seriously and sincerely.
Everyone was committed, he says.
"Kristen, in particular, was very tough on herself."
Slade says because Stewart didn't pull from her own life and her own person to play Bella Swan, she found it personally demanding to find Bella's truth.
"She would say, 'I don't know who Bella is to me.' In a lot of ways, I think she felt Bella was the antithesis to her, which presented a lot of challenges for Kristen. . . . She would beat herself up about it, because she wants to be there. She never wants to leave a scene undone.
"There were tears," says Slade.
"But you move on and you keep going. . . . Even in rehearsals with Rob (Pattinson), there was a similar spiralling that would happen."
Actors are people. They get insecure, and any human being facing the weight of expectation surrounding Twilight would have to buckle, if only a little. To offset as much of the thespian obsessing as possible, Slade says he's learned the value of preparation.
He says he rehearses his actors as much as possible, so they're comfortable with the material and their characters, and he gets to focus on the minutiae of performance without the intrusive presence of a camera.
"You're always looking to get the emotional truth from the performance," he says. And with Twilight, that emotional truth is nothing less than the blood-red heart of romantic love — which pounds away in Slade's heart, even though, at 41, he's supposed to be a member of a more cynical generation.
"I do believe in romantic love. How could you not, if you're lucky enough to find it? It seems like we live in a much more sarcastic . . . cynical culture, and I don't like to use the c-word. There's the idea out there maybe that (romantic love) isn't cool. But true love is a wonderful thing."
Slade says romantic love is the gooey hook on the Twilight narrative, but after reading Stephenie Myers' books, he also feels they address a lot more issues than mere vampires and teen romance.
"It's a love story that's dealing with the problems of the last century," he says. "And I got the best book. We had the epic battle, the action . . . the whole thing."
Slade says he's leaving at a high point in the story, and that's one of the other big lessons he's learned along the way: Preparation will save your bacon, but timing is what makes it tasty.
He'd love to share what he's doing next, Slade says, but he can't. At the very least, we can rest assured it will be interesting, well-prepared and approached with an open heart and a vampire-proof carotid.
Twilight Saga Eclipse hits store shelves Dec. 4 on Blu-ray and DVD.