Not very long ago, Taylor Lautner was getting paid by the ab, each commanding upwards of $1 million. At least, that’s how legendary Hollywood journalist Nicki Finke put it when she reported in January 2010 that Lautner would be getting paid $7.5 million for Northern Lights, a planned extreme-flying flick. Just like that, less than two months after Lautner’s beefed-up physique hit the screen in The Twilight Saga: New Moon and ignited a fierce Team Jacob versus Team Edward rivalry within the franchise’s fandom, the 17-year-old was Hollywood’s highest-paid teen actor.
“Meteoric” wouldn’t even begin to describe Lautner’s rise. There wasn’t a word for it, really. A few months after the announcement, The Wrap put it into this perspective: Lautner’s salary “far outstrips the sums commanded by fellow heartthrobs Zac Efron and Shia LaBeouf at similar points in their career.” According to the site’s reporting, LaBeouf received $1 million for Transformers and somewhere in the $5 to $6 million range for 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Efron, meanwhile, scored a reported $1 million for 17 Again and about $3 million for High School Musical 3: Senior Year. Lautner, who had previously appeared in the flop The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D and the first Twilight movie to considerably less fanfare, had gone from obscurity to A-list, practically overnight.
By 2011, Lautner was asking for $10 million for Goliath, a planned David and Goliath adaptation, according to Vulture. That movie was canceled, as was the superhero flick Stretch Armstrong, for which Lautner was supposed to receive $7.5 million. He dropped out of Northern Lights, too, but got somewhere in the ballpark of $5 million to $7.5 million for the John Singleton-directed Abduction, which was released in September 2011 and landed with a thud (it took in $82 million worldwide gross against a $35 million budget, and a thrashing from critics).
Informed people knew the Lautner fever was out of hand. In March 2010, a few months after the Northern Lights announcement, the Daily Beast ran a piece scrutinizing Lautner’s asking price called “Is He Sabotaging His Career?” Within, Kim Masters reported that: “A number of Hollywood insiders—agents, producers, executives—are skeptical about his long-term prospects; one producer says dismissively that Lautner appeals primarily to ‘little girls and gay men.’ And a leading agent says Lautner reminds him of The Situation from Jersey Shore (‘It’s all his abs’) or ‘that blond dude from Blue Lagoon,’ a heartthrob movie from 1980.” Vulture quoted a skeptical unnamed senior production executive at a major studio: “William Morris has done a brilliant job of convincing Hollywood that he’s the next big movie star.” In a June 2010 GQ profile, writer Mickey Rapkin put it bluntly: “Taylor Lautner is being offered action-star tentpole money. But he hasn’t actually been in an action film yet.”
The skepticism hardly reads as prophecy in 2020, now that Lautner’s cultural clout has diminished considerably. In the past five years, he’s accumulated just five acting credits, the most recent being his 2014-2018 stint in the British TV series Cuckoo. His most recent job in the States occurred in 2016 as part of the ensemble of Ryan Murphy’s short-lived Fox series Scream Queens. Lautner’s trajectory from being thrust into the stratosphere to barely heard from at all is so extreme that it reads less like the accelerated Hollywood cycle that it is and more an expression of pure physics. What goes up must come down. Hard.
So, what happened? That’s the question The Hollywood Reporter asked in 2015 in a short item titled “The New A-List: What Went Wrong With Taylor Lautner’s Career.” The trade’s explanation was as follows:
So what happened? Insiders point to 2011's Abduction, which was critically panned (it earned $82 million worldwide). After that, Universal put Stretch Armstrong into turnaround, and the leading-man offers dried up. “His first movie just wasn’t very good, and it didn’t justify what he was asking for at the time,” says one producer. He since has focused on smaller roles, recently wrapping the indie thriller Run the Tide and the second season of the BBC comedy series Cuckoo, allowing him to flex the muscles he’ll use in Adam Sandler’s Netflix film The Ridiculous Six.
Producer Joe Roth, who was set to produce another abandoned Lautner project that was at one point set to yield the heartthrob millions, Max Steel, told the Beast he felt “jerked around” by Lautner’s whims. “I think he’s getting bad advice,” said Roth. Not helping matters was Lautner’s being dropped by publicist Robin Baum (who also repped longstanding members of the Hollywood elite like Johnny Depp and Daniel Craig) just three months after signing him in 2011. In her write-up of that news for The Hollywood Reporter, Merle Ginsberg added: “Word is, his father, Daniel Lautner, isn’t the easiest guy to work with.”
Lautner had been hurtled into Hollywood by his martial arts coach Michael Chaturantabut (aka Mike Chat, who’s best known for playing the Blue Ranger in the TV series Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue). When Chaturantabut offered to hook Lautner up with his connections, Lautner and his family initially demurred. In 2009, Lautner recalled to Rolling Stone: “We were like, ‘No, that’s not for us.’ I was like, ‘I’m sticking to my sports.’ But for some reason, this guy believed in me. He said he’d put us up at his house for a month. And he’d help get me on auditions.” But thanks to Chaturantabut’s persistence as well as the cheap flights available to Lautner’s family as a result of his father’s job as a Midwest Airlines pilot, he started to fly out to Los Angeles from Michigan.
During his heyday, Lautner looked enthusiastic (he packed on a reported 30 lbs. between Twilight and New Moon) and came off as affable, prompting one unnamed producer to tell Rolling Stone: “You look at Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and they look miserable about their success. Taylor is like a kid in a candy store. He’s so happy and excited.” But looking beyond his aw-shucks grin and diligently sculpted bod, it was clear that the reluctant rookie transformed almost immediately into a disillusioned superstar. Quote after quote of Lautner’s reveals a carefully balanced acknowledgment of the pitfalls of being attached to a cultural phenomenon (and arguably one in his own right). “There’s some things you just have to live with. Like 12 cars camping outside your house, and when you wake up in the morning, they’re going to follow you wherever you go,” he told GQ. In an interview shot in Manila, he noted that, “I was doing interviews at 10 years old and that’s just not normal.” Hard to argue with that.
“You have to make a decision before you go out: are you willing to sign autographs and take pictures, say hello and meet new people?” he told GQ Australia in an October 2011 profile. “I wouldn’t say I get upset about it. I asked for this. It gets frustrating. But during that frustration you say, ‘OK. Why am I frustrated? I’m doing what I love.’ But sometimes you really just want to go do whatever you want to do.”
He was 19 when that story ran. His brain was still developing. Lautner, as a child, may have “asked” for a job in acting, but surely he had no sense of what that entailed. He had no way to predict he’d land Twilight and then its sequels and how massive those movies would become due in no small part to his own involvement. He “asked for this” without knowing what “this” would become. And even if he envisioned superstardom and all that came with it, surely living it was way different than he could have imagined. How could he possibly have known what fame would be like? He was just a kid.
The above-referenced GQ Australia profile went on to be discussed widely, though not because of Lautner’s musings on celebrity. Instead, it was the section of the article regarding Lautner being spotted in public with director Gus Van Sant and writer Dustin Lance Black, who are both openly gay. According to reports from the time (I couldn’t locate the full text of the piece), the writer asked Lautner if the gays had come on to him.
“No, definitely not,” Lautner replied. “I think they know I’m straight. But they’re great guys. They’re a lot of fun. It’s not a coincidence that there was a writer, a director, and an actor at dinner.”
After Black responded on his blog (“Above and beyond this clear attack on my character, I’m shocked that GQ would allow their writer to lean on the scurrilous, outdated stereotype that gay men are by nature sexual predators”), GQ Australia apologized to “anyone [who] was offended by anything in the article” on its Facebook page.
The question, and Lautner’s meeting with members of Hollywood’s gay mafia, amplified the buzz that had dramatically scored his reign as a heartthrob: rumors that Lautner was gay. Rolling Stone’s Neil Strauss suggested to a cagey Lautner, point blank and to his face, that he perhaps wasn’t so straight:
Another possibility is that maybe you’re just sort of discovering yourself…
…as a young person trying to figure out his sexual identity in the world.
OK. I see where you’re going. Interesting choice.
It is a possibility.
There’s a lot of rumors out there.
Indeed, there was wide speculation for years, epitomized by a fake People magazine cover that circulated in December 2011, emblazoned with the words “OUT & PROUD” laid over a photograph of Lautner. (So discussed was this forgery that People officially denied its veracity.) There were unsubstantiated items connecting to Lautner to Peter Facinelli and Bryan Singer (romantically and/or sexually). There was also a highly suggestive report of Lautner hanging out at West Hollywood gay spots. In 2011, the National Enquirer ran a blind item that read: “Which young film hunk has a HUGE crush on gay activist/actor James Duke Mason – the 19-year-old openly gay son of Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle? This star won’t be coming out of the closet anytime soon, but he and James are quickly becoming BFFs!” Mason himself tweeted in response, in what many took to be a confirmation (but just as easily could have been wishful thinking, a point almost entirely overlooked at the time): “Seems I’ve been mentioned in the new National Enquirer; hmmm.. a famous movie hunk? Sure! He can ABDUCT me any day. ;)” The tweet has since been deleted. Queerty ran a post titled “Taylor Lautner’s Hands All But Confirm His Rumored Homosexuality,” featuring little more than a gif of Lautner emphatically gesticulating during an interview.
Much of Lautner’s confirmed behavior—hanging with some gay guys in his field and going out in West Hollywood—wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today. The notion that one is gay by association is outdated, and given its erasure of bisexuality or other queerness, it was never really true. It is not at all unusual in 2020 to hear about a straight guy who has platonic gay friends. For better or worse, it’s not unusual to see a straight guy in a gay bar. Social mores have changed, and so have journalistic ones. It’s hard to believe it, but 10 years ago was a different time in media. In print and on the internet, professional thinkers were meaner to celebrities based little more on the notion that they deserved it for being popular. “It comes with the territory” was a blanket excuse for thoughtlessness. The internet gave the world a democratized ability to report and comment but instilled absolutely no sense of ethics or fair practice.
Lautner was 17 years old when Neil Strauss suggested he was “trying to figure out his sexual identity in the world.” However close to the truth Strauss was, what went virtually unaccounted for was how difficult it is for young people to come to grips with whom they are in general. Add fame and it becomes infinitely harder. Add direct and explicit scrutiny of this very matter and I can imagine for some, it’s practically impossible. Lautner may have asked for “this” in a general sense, but he certainly didn’t ask for that. He was treated without compassion for his development under the guise of fairness because he had received so much adoration money. That’s poor calculus for a kid.
Not helping matters was Lautner’s public relationships, which often coincided with his projects in terms of timing and the fact that his love interests were often co-stars of his. From the 2017 post on Nicki Swift titled, “Why Hollywood won’t cast Taylor Lautner anymore”:
Lautner has had a lot of famous girlfriends with suspiciously convenient timing. He “dated” Lily Collins when they were promoting Abduction in 2011. When that didn’t generate quite enough buzz, they made headlines when Us Weekly reported that they broke up a week before the premiere. When he had a cameo in Grown Ups 2 in 2013, the Daily Mail noted that he was dating actress Maika Monroe shortly before the movie hit theaters. He dated his Tracers co-star Marie Avgeropoulos, but E! Online reports that they split shortly after the film debuted.
Lautner’s most famous flame was Taylor Swift, who he dated for a few months from late 2009 to 2010. What makes that pairing suspicious? Well, they broke up after their movie, Valentine’s Day, hit theaters in 2010, and he seems to be one of the few exes that Swift hasn’t penned a bitter song about. In fact, the Taylors were actually friendly post-split, per MTV News. That’s very unlike her, especially if the relationship was real.
In addition, he and Billie Lourd dated for a few months after meeting on the set of Scream Queens. I would never recommend trusting a word that comes out of a celebrity’s mouth and I have no inside knowledge of Lautner’s sexuality, but these relationships (often referred to online as “fauxmances”) are hardly evidence of obscured queerness. Lautner is young and wealthy and conventionally attractive, and, as such, is likely considered a “catch” by many who make his acquaintance. Additionally, something many young and conventionally attractive people enjoy doing is dating. He’d hardly be the first guy in Hollywood to seize on his romantic opportunities. Regardless, let’s say the relationships were orchestrated for the press. They might have been shoddy, unconvincing deflections, the lot of them, but their existence still provides no evidence of an underlying truth. Maybe he’s not particularly romantically inclined or sexually motivated and he/his people figured public-facing pairings would obscure that.
Really who knows. It’s just a little more than disconcerting that so many people confidently read a situation about which they knew little. But I guess that’s the internet for you.
Today Lautner, who hasn’t appeared onscreen in about two years, seems to be in a relationship with someone who isn’t in his chosen profession: a young woman also named Taylor who works as a nurse. They post about each other on Instagram frequently.
In front of his 5.7 million followers, it appears that Taylor Lautner is happy. But who can be sure?