Billy Burke is a compelling and critically acclaimed actor whose credits span both television and feature film. In the phenomenally successful Twilight films, he plays Charlie Swan, the Forks Chief of Police, who is also the father of Bella (Kristen Stewart), a young woman torn between her vampire love, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and her werewolf best friend, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).
The latest installment, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, sees Bella and Charlie sharing some highly memorable, touching and funny father-daughter moments, which the actor said he really enjoyed filming. In this exclusive interview with Collider, Billy Burke talked about working with the talented Kristen Stewart, how he could never choose between Team Edward and Team Jacob, his thoughts on the baby in Breaking Dawn and how he’s looking forward to working with Bill Condon.
He also talked about his role in the upcoming 3-D action thriller Drive Angry, starring Nicolas Cage, in which he plays an over-the-top villain, who is the leader of a cult. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What made you want to get involved with the Twilight films? Was there something about the story or the character that appealed to you?
Billy: I had no idea what Twilight was, at all. Catherine Hardwicke had seen a movie that I did a number of years ago, called Dill Scallion, and she requested to have me in. So, I came in and we talked a little bit about it, and we read a couple of scenes. In the movie sense, we both fell in love, at that moment. But, I just thought it was a really nice love story. I didn’t really pay attention to the whole vampire aspect, actually. It was a really nice love story, and a really great relationship between a father and his daughter. I didn’t really have a clue that the movie would have that much success, but I had an idea that it would do something.
At what point did you realize that it had become a huge phenomenon?
Billy: It started building when we were on the set in Portland, making the first film, and we were getting media attention and fans were hanging out. You never get fans hanging out on movie sets. It just never happens. So, I started realizing that something was bubbling up. And then, the first physical contact I had with it was at the first Twilight premiere, which was absolutely nuts. And then, it went on to make an astronomical opening weekend and, at that point, we all knew that it was something.
What do you think when you find out that people slept for days in tents, just to see you walk the red carpet at the premiere of the latest film?
Billy: God bless them! I’ve never been a fan of anything that would make me want to do that. But, it’s great. They’ve got a real passion and a real devotion to these stories and the characters, and that’s cool.
Since you hadn’t been familiar with what the Twilight saga was when you auditioned, was there a point that you read the books to get the background on your character, or did you just go with what was in the script?
Billy: It’s pretty wildly known by now, with all the interviews that I’ve done, that I’ve never cracked one of the books. I am not a big reader, to begin with. When I read the script, I realized how oblivious Charlie was to everything else that was going on around him. Everything that I really need to know is in the scripts. Everything else is information that I don’t want to bog myself down with. That way, the movies are fresh to me. When I see them for the first time, I’m getting entertained and I’m getting a surprise. I didn’t see Eclipse until everyone else did, at the premiere.
How has it been to work with Kristen Stewart? How has your relationship changed, since the first film?
Billy: It hasn’t changed very much at all, actually. We don’t hang out together in our personal lives, but whenever we get back up there on the set, it’s very comfortable. It’s like coming back to work on a TV show. Everybody knows each other and it’s very comfortable. I love working with Kristen. She’s extremely talented and she has the same work ethic that I do. She doesn’t carry a lot of baggage around with her to the set. She doesn’t do a lot of unnecessary and extraneous preparation. We bring our ideas to the set and throw them out there and, so far, it’s worked really well.
One of the things that stands out about these films is the very real relationship between Bella and her father. Do you have a favorite scene between the two of you?
Billy: I remember working on the kitchen scene, where Charlie inadvertently tries to talk to her about sex and protection. That was actually quite fun. We had a good time with that.
Do you think that Charlie is more Team Jacob than Team Edward, when it comes to Bella, or do you think his feelings toward Edward are gradually changing, over the course of the films?
Billy: First of all, Charlie would never play that game. He would never play the team game, nor would I. I have no interest in that. But, he’s obviously got a bent towards Jacob. Jacob is the son of his best friend and he looks at him as a good kid who’s a clean, strong influence. He still doesn’t know that much about Edward, but obviously there’s something weird about him. Charlie would always bend towards Jacob.
Charlie seems to get a little upset, though, when he finds out that Jacob kissed Bella.
Billy: That would be with any kid kissing your daughter. That’s just the way it goes. My daughter is only two years old right now and I don’t look forward to those moments.
Billy: From the very beginning, when Catherine and I were doing the first film, we realized that there’s a lot of room for some of that levity. I was happy to find those moments because I think the stories, the films and the characters deserve it. There’s so much intense shit going on that it deserves a little chuckle, here and there.
What did you think about the decision to split Breaking Dawn into two films, with someone like Bill Condon at the helm?
Billy: Bill Condon has made some excellent movies. I’m really looking forward to that. I think it’s great that it’s split into two films. Like I said, I haven’t read any of the books, but I’ve heard that, if any of the books needed to have two movies, Breaking Dawn is the one. Why not? I love it.
Have you met Bill Condon yet?
Billy: I have not, no. We don’t start that film until late in the Fall, early in the Winter.
He seems like a filmmaker that would have a very interesting take on the material, don’t you think?
Billy: I think his experience with musicals will definitely help. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of musicality to these stories. I’m anxious to see what the outcome of that is. It’s going to be cool.
There’s been a lot of talk about whether the baby, Renesmee, should be an actual child or a CGI baby. Being the grandfather, do you have any preference for what might be better?
Billy: I don’t have any idea. I know that I wouldn’t put my baby up for it, as an actor. But, whatever works best. I guess it will be about trial and error. They’ll probably try both.
The producers are talking about doing Part 1 in 2-D and Part 2 possibly in 3-D. How do you feel about that? As an actor, what do you think about 3-D filmmaking, in general?
Billy: I just got done making a 3-D film with Nicolas Cage, down in Louisiana, and it was more fun than I’ve had doing anything, in quite awhile, mostly because of the character I played. I’m the villain in the movie. I play this over-the-top cult leader who is stealing a baby to sacrifice for my world change purposes. Actually shooting a 3-D movie is not different at all than making a 2-D one. You never really notice that you’re making a 3-D movie. The terminology used around the set is a little bit different, but other than that, you’d never know. As far as the product goes, 3-D is pretty fun to watch. I haven’t heard that one of the Breaking Dawn films might be 3-D, but that’s fine with me. It sounds good.
What was it like to work with Nicolas Cage?
Billy: He’s a really super-nice guy, actually. He’s been one of my favorites since I was a kid. There’s a movie he did, back in the ‘80’s, called Racing with the Moon, with Sean Penn, where I first recognized that that guy was going to be something. It’s nice to be in this business long enough to work with some of the people that you watched for so many years and admired their work, and he was one of them for me. It was very cool for me. For the most part, he makes really good choices in the films that he makes. This movie is so big and so over-the-top that people are going to be surprised by this. They don’t really hold anything back. There’s a lot of severe action and a lot of over-the-top sex in 3-D. It’s a complete departure for me, from the Charlie Swan character.
How was it to play a villain like that and be a character that’s so different? Was that the attraction of the role?
Billy: It was, actually. As soon as I read it, I was saying to myself, “I could have a lot of fun with this,” and I was right, I did. I started out my career and, for the first six or seven years, that’s pretty much all I did. I was running around either shooting people or getting shot, or being the bad boyfriend who comes in the muscle car and takes the girl away. But, this is nothing like I’ve ever played before. This is a very extreme character.
How does your character fit into the overall story, and how does he connect to Nicolas Cage’s character?
Billy: Nicolas Cage is on a quest to find the daughter of his daughter, who was killed by this cult. I happen to be the cult leader, and I have the baby in my possession. The movie is called Drive Angry, so there’s a lot of road stuff and a lot of over-the-top car action. I have the baby and he’s chasing me, so there’s a lot of confrontations between he and I, and there’s a final showdown. Everything that you would expect from a movie like that is in there.
Was it difficult to shoot any of the film, having been a fan of his and having that respect for him, or did you just go for it?
Billy: I’m not one of those people who gets starry-eyed. Actors are just people too, and we’re both there to do the same job and, hopefully, come up with something great. I look at it like we’re both there for the common goal, and we go to work. I don’t look at it as difficult, no. I jump in because it’s fun.
Is it true that the villain gets to have the most fun?
Billy: Well, in this case, I was.
How was it to shoot in Louisiana?
Billy: It’s set in a netherworld of the South, so it definitely did add texture, flavor, sweat and heat, and all that kind of stuff.
Can you talk about who you’re playing in the new TNT series, “Rizzoli & Isles”?
Billy: I play an FBI agent who may or may not have a little bit of chemistry with Angie Harmon’s character. I was originally going to be in way more episodes. Now, it ends up that I’m in the pilot and only one or two more episodes. My schedule conflicted, so now we won’t be seeing as much of that character as originally planned. But, it’s a good show with a good cast. Angie is great, and everybody else is great.
Are you hoping to continue juggling television with film, or are you focused more on film now?
Billy: Right now, I’m focused on music. My record, “Removed,” just came out on June 22nd, and I’ve been concentrating on that, not that I’m going to have that much time coming up. That’s what I’m focusing on, mainly. But, I don’t make the distinction between whether or not I’m going to do a TV show or movies. It’s all based on material. It’s about whatever comes along that I think I can add the most to, bring something to the character and have some fun with.
What can you say about your solo album and the type of sound it has?
Billy: I truly believe, and I hope that I’m right, that people are going to be surprised by it. I’m well aware that, when people hear that an actor is fancying himself a musician and making a record, people roll their eyes, but I really believe this is a different scenario. I started out as a musician. Although I always wanted to have a dual career, I fell into the TV and movie business more strongly and more quickly. Over the years, I’ve neglected the music because I’ve been so busy with the other stuff, so I just decided that, now that I have the resources, I was just going to put my own record together and see how that went. But, the sound is very darkly melodic with a lot of rich, ironic lyrics. It’s the kind of stuff that you would put on the jukebox at your favorite bar. You can get it digitally on iTunes, or you can get the hard copy at CD Baby.
How do you approach writing songs? Does the music come first, or do you write the lyrics and then put music to it?
Billy: It works in various ways. There is no one way. I will tell you that the best songs usually come immediately. As far as the process goes, honestly it’s more like throwing up. They come out when they have to. I’m not an extremely prolific writer. I don’t write songs all the time.
When you do the Twilight films with so many castmates that are musically inclined, do you guys ever get to play together?
Billy: No. I wish that I could tell everybody that we do, since it seems like there’s a fantasy in everybody’s head, of us sitting around the set, playing guitars and writing songs. That has not happened. I’m not a guy who can sit and jam. It’s really a solitary pursuit for me. I have to be completely alone, so you probably won’t find me in that setting.
Do you have any other projects coming out that your fans should keep an eye out for?
Billy: I have Drive Angry, which comes out next February. There’s a bunch of indies that I’ve done, that are in the can, but I’m not sure what’s happening with them. I can’t even list them off. There’s like six or seven of them. I have Highland Park, with Parker Posey and Danny Glover. I’m starting a super-secret project that I can’t talk about, but when I can talk about it, it’s pretty cool. I can’t say anything about it yet.
Is it important for you to keep a real variety to the roles you do?
Billy: I like to keep it interesting. Contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot of work that takes place in this business and very few real perks. Yeah, there’s a lot of nice things that come along with being in the movie business, but the real perks that really mean something are mostly about getting the most out of what I’m doing when I’m working. That’s what you’re going to spend the most time, so if you don’t make the work rewarding, then why are you doing it?