Star-crossed lovers, evil, twisted adversaries and a healthy dose of the supernatural. Within the first minutes of upcoming blockbuster Beautiful Creatures you find yourself making the obvious comparison: is this the latest teen romance being lined up to fill the Twilight-shaped hole still occupying teenage hearts?
But Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich, who play young lovers Ethan Wate and Lena Duchanes, are quick to distance themselves from the example of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart - the real-life couple who have lived in a fishbowl ever since they first played Edward and Bella in Stephanie Meyer’s supernatural romance.
“There is a big hole, I think the media is trying to find a replacement,” admits Alice. “But I just don’t know how realistic it is.”
The press may be keen to typecast, but both young actors are quick to dispel the misapprehension that they’ve jumped on the supernatural romance bandwagon - a tried-and-tested, fast-track express to a world of superstardom and megabucks. The reality is quite the opposite. When I meet them in a plush London hotel room - a setting likely to become increasingly familiar to both - they are passionate about their characters and the teenage love story they’ve brought to life on the silver screen.
Beautiful Creatures – the first of four books in the Caster Chronicles series by authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - follows the story of young witch Lena (Englert) whose sixteenth birthday is fast approaching – an occasion when her future will be claimed by either good or evil powers.
Ehrenreich plays Ethan – a charming schoolboy who falls in love with reclusive Lena when she moves to his sleepy Southern hometown of Gatlin. The 23-year-old won the role just a week before filming started after English actor Jack O’Connell pulled out of the project. “I knew within a couple of pages that I wanted to do the film,” he enthuses. “It’s like when you meet somebody and you feel chemistry – I just admired him in certain ways. His outlook and idealism and his determination.”
But with a teen following reminiscent of its predecessors Twilight and The Hunger Games resting on their shoulders, the pair have the expectations of an eager fanbase to live up to – and a star-studded cast that includes Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum and Jeremy Irons to work alongside.
"Jeremy is beyond what you imagine him to be," gushes Alice. "Like he’s more himself than himself. It’s very difficult to explain. He came to set wearing an army jumpsuit one day.”
“You step up your game when you’re performing with them,” adds Alden. “If you do anything with someone that’s much better than you, it makes you rise to another level.”
“They don’t patronise us even though we are small, tiny beginners,” interjects Alice.
They may just be starting out, but the duo have struck up a believable chemistry onscreen, which Englert credits to their like-minded approach to the script. “I think it was because we both did the film for the same reasons and so there was a mutual respect. We were both interested in the film having the same humanity and something a little more interesting or offbeat to it.”
And that very same chemistry translates off screen as the two cosy up on a hotel room sofa, giggling away at one another’s jokes. But when questioned about the importance of playing a strong female role model who enacts her ability to choose between good and evil, suddenly the mood turns serious. “That’s the thing I loved about it,” reveals Alice. “It’s about a young woman making choices in her life and claiming herself.”
Alden is quick to heap praise on his co-star’s performance. “She’s not a little ‘cupcakey’ actress who’s just trying to be pretty. She’s the real version of it, not just some brooding girl, smouldering and sexy. She’s much more intelligent and clear about her values and that makes her character real.”
Alice is quick to fire back her own compliments: “Ethan is more attractive because he’s real – he’s got all the weird quirks and I love his brashness. There are so many things that were in the script, but without Alden, they could have been played pretty normal. It took someone like Alden to recognise where you could have that humour and not just be a good-looking guy that girls can put up on their walls. Although I'm sure they will...”
I get the sense that this compliment exchange could go on for a while, so we switch back to the question on everyone’s lips: could this down-to-earth pair be on the verge of becoming our next R-Patz and K-Stew?
If that same success is waiting around the corner, then they already seem wary of how they will be perceived and to what use they will put their newfound fame.
“It gives you a creative power,” explains Alden, “and because you have a name, people need you to finance their movies and you can work with the highest level. What’s appealing to me is that they’ve been trying to make the film On The Road for 30 years and Kristen Stewart can say, ‘Ok, I want to play this part in it,’ and it gets made. That is the only thing that is exciting to me about that kind of potential.”
He adds, “We both feel so grateful to be in a film that’s commercial and can be popular, but not having to feel like we compromised. I’m so glad I’m not wearing tights in this film and I get to play a character that feels real in a story that is as dramatically compelling as any of the small independent films I was reading at the same time.
“It’s great to be in a movie and enjoy the benefits of that without having to feel that I sold out creatively.”
"I felt that the moral issues in the film were something I appreciated and that I agreed with," concludes Alice. "It was just about trying to portray that."
Beautiful Creatures is in cinemas nationwide on Wednesday 13 February. Check out the trailer below: