From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Before landing the role of Jacob Black, Taylor Lautner had never even heard of the Twilight books. And having recently moved to Los Angeles from Michigan, he was still fairly new to the wacky ways of Hollywood. So you can imagine how surprised the then-16-year-old actor was when he found out just how intense (and intimate) the fan response would be to his first big movie role. "One of the weirdest and scariest things that I've discovered is that there is underwear-women's underwear-being sold on the Internet and it has 'Team Taylor' written on it," he told Vanity Fair in 2008. "Women's underwear is being sold with my name imprinted on it." Lautner clearly got a kick out of his burgeoning fame-in fact, of the movie's three main actors, he was the one who most welcomed all the Twilight hoopla, particularly the hordes of screaming teens who turned up at premieres. "Both [Robert] and Kristen have come up to me and asked, 'How do you not freak out? What do you do?'" he revealed at the time. "I tell them, 'I don't know. I mean, this is fun!'"

Now four years later, Lautner has parlayed his Twilight fame into a multifaceted career. Last year he headlined the action flick Abduction, and he started his own production company-Quick Six-with his father, Dan. Although Abduction didn't make much of a splash at the box office, Lautner hasn't been deterred from trying to become a major Hollywood player. Just how major? As one movie executive told the Hollywood Reporter, Lautner—whom the honcho called "a supersweet kid" and "very ambitious"-clearly "wants to be Tom Cruise." Lautner's costar in Abduction, Lily Collins, who dated the actor for a while, can certainly see his potential. "He's a talented actor and a gentleman," she told Seventeen magazine. "Taylor is very humble. He has so many fans and he never forgets that. He really appreciates the support that he's gotten through the years, and he gives it right back. To me, that makes a good leading man."

Plus, Lautner likes to challenge himself, which is why he was psyched to get the chance to show off a different side in Breaking Dawn, Part 2. "It was exciting for me to portray Jacob in this because he's always been stressed and emotional," he says. "In this one, he has a huge weight lifted off of his shoulders, and he's less dramatic and more happy. So that was fun to play."

Now that he's moving on from his Twilight persona, Lautner is feeling immensely grateful to all the people who helped him reach his current level of success. "All the credit does go back to the books and the characters that [Stephenie Meyer] has created," he says. "That's where it all started." And when he was asked at Comic-Con to sum up his emotions about the saga's end, he said, "I couldn't thank this franchise enough. I've had an amazing experience, made amazing relationships and friendships. It's been a fun, fun ride and it will definitely stick with me forever."



TAYLOR THROUGH THE YEARS

He may have bulked up from a baby-faced, spiked-hair 15-year-old in 2007 to a chiseled man in 2012, but the boyish charm and twinkling eyes remain.