LOS ANGELES -- Taylor Lautner thought he was safe.
The 19-year-old actor, best known to millions as heartsick werewolf Jacob Black from the "Twilight" movies, had driven from the home he shares with his parents in Valencia to a Los Angeles hotel.
He had arrived for an interview to discuss his new action film, "Abduction." The movie, the first directed by John Singleton ("Boyz N the Hood") in six years, is a sort of "Bourne Identity" for the teen set. In it, Lautner stars as a high school student forced to go on the run after he discovers that his parents have been concealing a weighty secret about his background.
The rooftop meeting had been selected for its privacy.
Lautner has been on high alert, so to speak, for the last three years, since the release of the first "Twilight" film propelled him and co-stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson into the center of a pop-culture firestorm.
Adapted from best-selling supernatural teen romance novels by Stephenie Meyer, the first three films in the franchise have grossed more than $1.8 billion in tickets worldwide. As a result, Lautner, along with his famously chiseled abs, has become a staple on the bedroom wall of teenage girls.
His days as the werewolf are waning, though, with the first of the saga's two-part finale, "Breaking Dawn," opening Nov. 18 and a second installment in theaters next year.
Now, Lautner is looking to life post-"Twilight" and is heading into that future with a specific plan: He wants to be an action star, like Tom Cruise or "Bourne's" Matt Damon. It's a career path that, should he manage it, would unquestionably keep him in the spotlight for years. And the success or failure of "Abduction" will be the first indication of whether he can achieve his goal.
As Singleton put it: "The whole goal of the movie was all about showing that Taylor can actually carry a picture, that he's truly a star."
As a child growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Lautner idolized sports stars, studying karate and traveling the country to compete in martial arts competitions. (He had won three Junior World Championships by age 11.) It was his karate instructor -- a onetime actor who appeared in the "Power Rangers" TV television series -- who encouraged him to pursue Hollywood.
"My parents were like, 'If you want to do this ... We have to live in Los Angeles.' ... I still don't know what they saw or why they did it, but today I can't thank them enough for that risk they took."
Lautner's father, Daniel, a former airline pilot, is heavily involved in his son's career. He served as a producer on "Abduction." The actor said his dad helps "keep things on track when I'm not available for phone calls. He was just definitely a help for me, because ... I want to be able to focus on the character."
Lautner first heard about "Abduction" right before the second "Twilight" film, "New Moon," was released in 2009. It was around that time that he signed on for roles in "Max Steel" and "Stretch Armstrong," movie properties based on popular toys, but later dropped out of the former citing scheduling issues. (He's still attached to "Armstrong.")
"Abduction," he said, piqued his interest because he figured the role would be demanding.
"I don't know why, but I'm always looking to challenge myself as much as possible," he said. "Plus, I had always been an action fan and been fans of actors like (Matt) Damon and Harrison Ford. What I love ... is that they're not just action movies. They're playing a character that goes through an incredible journey."
To prepare physically for the film, Lautner learned how to ride a motorcycle and engaged in arduous boxing and wrestling training.
He appears in nearly every frame of the picture, and the largely physical role allows him to showcase his stunt work. It is his bid to abandon his status as a teen heartthrob, a prospect that's proven tricky for "Twilight" colleagues.
Stewart will star in an adaptation of "Snow White" due out next year, but she's mostly acted in independent films.
Pattinson's biggest non-"Twilight" success came with "Water for Elephants," a romantic drama with Reese Witherspoon that grossed $117 million worldwide this year.
But Singleton believes the powers that be are invested in Lautner's success. "The industry wants new blood," he said. "They want someone else they can build movies around. So basically, Hollywood is kind of rooting for Taylor."
Retaining a sense of normalcy, Lautner says, has been a challenge. Last year, he spent only five weeks at home. He completed about 12 credits at a local community college via online correspondence but found he was unable to finish the courses for a degree while balancing his acting career.
He's also learning how to deal with the attention from fans and gossip sites. Lautner has been linked to Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift and "Abduction" costar Lily Collins.
He said he's eager to work with a handful of filmmakers, including heavyweight Steven Spielberg and Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed the violent, moody genre piece "Drive." Lautner is optimistic that his "Twilight" audience will follow him on this new path.
"I'm just hoping that the fans can support me doing completely different things outside of the franchise," he said. "There probably is a lot at stake. ... I try and just stay focused on things that I can control."