As a spring dawn was about to break above the Vancouver skyline, a white van careened through the downtown core. Inside, a groggy and bewildered Tyson Houseman jostled violently to the swerves of the speeding vehicle. Mere minutes before, he was unceremoniously thrown into the vehicle after receiving an anonymous call ordering him to wait at a pre-arranged street corner at 4 a.m.
Houseman recalls that it felt like a kidnapping, as he pieced together the sequences of an event that could have been lifted from a Tom Clancy novel.
“The driver didn’t even know where he was going. He had a coded map and a couple times we were doing these crazy manoeuvres through the city when the driver realized we were being followed. It was really intense.”
As it turned out, Houseman wasn’t a hostage, but a willing passenger in a surreptitious commute to a film site just outside the city. The incident was one of several security measures put into place for the filming of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I, the much-ballyhooed fourth outing in the successful Twilight movie franchise.
Given the pop culture and tabloid frenzy over the first three offerings of the teen vampire drama – Twilight, Twilight: New Moon and Twilight: Eclipse, which combined have already made $1.7 billion worldwide – producers weren’t taking any chances with on-set confidentiality or star safety concerning the fourth film, which hit theatres in November. Houseman, who plays Quil Ateara, a pivotal member of the notorious Quileute tribe (better known as the wolf pack) throughout the series, was considered essential enough to be included in the precautions.
Even though the Edmonton native doesn’t carry the same marquee appeal as the show’s stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, he’s had his share of the trappings that accompany blockbuster association. He’s witnessed a fan faint in his presence at a Twilight promotional convention and experienced brief brushes with paparazzi. His name at last count (a month before the third film premiered) registered more than 652,000 results on Google, while his Twitter account boasts more than 26,000 followers. And teen magazines have demanded to know his thoughts on socially riveting topics including his favourite colour of teddy bear.
Such pandemonium would have been enough to turn the head of any kid from a city far removed from Tinseltown. But Houseman, 21, has been able to take the attention in stride.
“It was weird for me being thrown into it,” he says. “After I got the part, I had no idea I would have my name showing up on blogs or being followed by paparazzi. And going to Los Angeles to do TV spots and phone interviews can be very disillusioning. Part of it is that L.A. is very celebrity-based and full of absolute phoniness.”
Houseman credits his ability to shrug off such blandishments to his Edmonton upbringing in a family already accustomed to showbiz. The son of comedian Howie Miller, co-star of the sketch comedy series Caution: May Contain Nuts on APTN, the boy was taught humility at an early age. Even after graduating with a healthy appetite for live theatre from the Victoria School of the Arts in 2008, his parents tried to discourage him from leaving the city for Vancouver to study acting at the Seacoast Theatre Centre.
“We weren’t thrilled about him going at all,” says his mom, Jennifer Houseman. “He wanted to go out there, so we told him to have fun being a waiter. But what I’m really proud about him is that he has no fear. He’s always been very grounded and is a smart kid.”
Three months into his studies, Houseman answered a generic casting call for an unnamed film posted on craigslist and landed the role of his life – a spot in the first Twilight movie. The nervousness from his first day quickly dissipated when he found camaraderie with other young actors in the same boat. He especially developed ties with members of the wolf pack, which only strengthened when they had to endure a rigorous exercise regimen two months before filming started on the third Twilight movie.
“The directors wanted us to be buff, so we were working out five days a week,” he says. “So we got a chance to become really good friends. The whole idea of the wolf pack is that they had to seem like they knew each other really well. It created a really strong bond on the set.”
The fierce rivalry between the wolf pack and the vampires onscreen may have created bitterly opposing camps among fans of the series, but Houseman noted that such contention never developed behind the scenes.
“They were all really nice people, but there were a lot of times when we never had a lot of interaction,” he says. “If anything, there was kind of playful rivalry, like you would tap them on the back of their shoulders as you walked by. That was about the extent of it.”
Houseman learned a lot about getting along with cast and crew on a project trying to live up to its pre-release hype. He also discovered an outlet for part of a birthright he had long taken for granted, given that the wolf pack was modeled after the Quileutes, a Washington-based native community with a mythology based on wolves. Part Cree, with a lineage traceable to the Paul First Nation, located roughly 80 kilometres west of Edmonton, Houseman seldom dwelled on aspects of his heritage, until he realized he had an opportunity to reach out to aboriginal people because of his role.
“My father was the only person I ever knew who had an aboriginal background, and he was adopted by a German family,” says Houseman. “I didn’t grow up as an aboriginal person, but I wish I had more of a connection and knowledge of my roots … because now, I’m trying to be a role model for the community. This was a feeling that’s been building up over the years since I landed the part on Twilight, especially when I found out that aboriginal kids tend to look up to actors like me.”
Since June, when he was invited to teach an aboriginal youth acting workshop at the Dreamspeakers Film Festival in Edmonton, Houseman has conducted similar sessions across the province. He’s also fattening his credentials in Montreal, by studying acting at Concordia University. Future plans include becoming a film director, but not at the risk of abandoning his aboriginal ties or even his theatrical pals back home.
“I think it’s really cool to tell people that I’m from Edmonton,” he says. “There’s a lot of talent here that goes under the radar.
“I really love this city, and I will always consider this as home, but I won’t miss the winter.”
Or, for that matter, any car chases through the streets of Vancouver.