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'Beautiful Creatures' star initially turned down role

Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate and Alice Englert

Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate and Alice Englert as Lena Duchannes in Alcon Entertainment's supernatural love story "Beautiful Creatures," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Every filmmaker wants a hit, and nobody minds launching a franchise. But for the stars and the writer-director of the supernatural young-adult novel adaptation "Beautiful Creatures," they're naturally wary about crossing over into the "Twilight" zone. The movie opened Thursday.

"I was pitched the movie as 'Twilight' meets 'Romeo and Juliet,' " says Alden Ehrenreich, who had initially forgone even reading the script about a small-town high schooler, Ethan Wate, who falls for a new classmate he quickly learns is a "Caster" -- the non-pejorative term for "witch." Smitten -- she reads Bukowski, he reads Kerouac -- he vows to be with her even as she warns that, at 16, something called "the claiming" will make her either a Light or a Dark, evil Caster.

"Whenever you're pitched something that sounds like it's just a rehash of other things that were successful, it's not very exciting because you assume that means it's not somebody's personal vision, just a meld of certain tropes and conventions," he says. "So I passed because sometimes I'm dumb," he adds jocularly, "and I don't read scripts and I pass on them without reading them."

That actually may have worked in his favor, in a roundabout way. "One of the reasons I wanted Alice and Alden was because neither one of them wanted to do it," says screenwriter-director Richard LaGravenese, who adapted the first book in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's "Beautiful Creatures" quartet. "My own hesitation about doing this was fear of getting lumped into this sort of 'Twilight' world, and they didn't want that, either. So he didn't even read the script when we first went after him because it wasn't something that interested him."

LaGravenese eventually chose Jack O'Connell, of the British teen-drama series "Skins," but the actor dropped out about two weeks before production started, due to what LaGravenese calls "a scheduling/visa thing." Ehrenreich's manager then asked her client to look again.

"I told her, 'Oh, I already passed on that,' " Ehrenreich, 23, recalls, "and she said, 'Just read the script.' So I did and within three pages it I knew I wanted to do the film, because this character that I got to play I just identified with so much. It's like meeting somebody and you just click with them -- I clicked with this character."

LaGravenese -- who earned an Oscar nomination for writing 1991's "The Fisher King" and went on to pen films including "The Bridges of Madison County," "The Horse Whisperer" and "Freedom Writers," that last of which he also directed -- says whether a "Beautiful Creatures" franchise happens or not, "I wanted to make this as if, if I had to walk away and this was it, that I was satisfied with how I told the story." As for staying on, "There's a commitment issue, but there's a lot of time to do the things you want to do in this life. If you're talking about the next two years or so, that moves by pretty quickly."

"Hopefully this is a good problem to have," says the thoughtful Ehrenreich of a possible franchise. "There are complications, I'm sure, for those , but I can't even imagine what they are because there isn't really an experience, before you have that level of recognition, that you could even compare to it."

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