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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Women swooned for Robert Pattinson as vampire Edward Cullen in last year's hit movie romance "Twilight," but in its upcoming sequel Taylor Lautner, who almost didn't make it into the film, is the newest hunk for fan's to feast on.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" rises in theaters on November 20 as one of the most-anticipated movies early in Hollywood's holiday season. Predecessor "Twilight" made $384 million at worldwide box offices in 2008, and its young principal actors, Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, shot to overnight stardom.
But in "New Moon," the second romance about the netherworld adventures of teenager Bella Swan (Stewart) and the love of her life Cullen, it is Lautner who grabs the spotlight.
He portrays American werewolf Jacob Black, Swan's protector when Cullen leaves her to go to Italy. Black's devotion to Swan has earned him -- and that means Lautner, too -- the devotion of millions of young girls obsessed with author Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" books on which the movies are based.
"We have fans all the time that will just burst into tears, it's just moving," he said. "It must mean so much for them to meet us, and it's an amazing feeling to know that you can touch someone in that way."
Prior to "Twilight," the 17-year-old Lautner was best known for his starring role in 2005 children's film "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D." And in 2008's hit vampire film, the Jacob Black role was a small one as Swan's childhood friend. So, Lautner is relatively new to the stardom "New Moon" is bringing, and the teenager seems to be enjoying it.
But for a time it appeared the studio behind "Twilight," Summit Entertainment, might not hire him for the sequel.
When Summit left Lautner's name out of a statement announcing the other actors for "New Moon," including Pattinson and Stewart, "Twilight" fans protested stridently, and their Internet-based campaign brought Lautner back from the dead.
"The doubts came up because he had very few scenes in the first movie, and also because he's described as being 6'5'' in the second book, so there were reasonable facts that we had to come to grips with," said "New Moon" director Chris Weitz.
To gain the stature he needed for the role of Black in "New Moon," Lautner set about bulking up. He said he worked out regularly and ate every two hours, which involved carrying around a baggie full of beef, raw almonds and sweet potatoes.
In "New Moon," Black regularly runs, jumps and flexes his muscular frame, and when Bella is wounded, he rips off his shirt to staunch her bleeding head.
Lautner said the last scene -- one of many where he is bare-chested -- makes him laugh. But he knows moments like those are what causes "New Moon's" target audience of teenage girls to swoon. They did for Pattinson in "Twilight", and well before the sequel hits theaters, they are for Lautner, too.
In an online poll last month by AOL's JSYK.com, a website aimed at teens and tweens, Lautner surged past Pattinson in both the favorite male movie star and "cool guy you'd like to hang out with" categories.
When asked by reporters if he thought he could win in a fight with Pattinson -- werewolf against vampire; old teen heartthrob against new one -- Lautner laughed and said: "He actually does a lot of boxing in his time off, so it would be a good match-up."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte