On the urging of his karate instructor, Lautner and his family leave Michigan for L.A. so the 11-year-old can pursue acting. During Lautner's first few months chasing the Hollywood dream, he lands small roles on Summerland and The Bernie Mac Show. "I heard, 'No, no, no, no,' so many times," he told Michigan's Grand Rapids Press. "From karate, I had the confidence and drive to push myself."
At 13, Lautner gets his big break as Sharkboy in director Robert Rodriguez’s The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D. The kid-friendly sci-fi adventure is panned by critics but makes Lautner a tween star. "I'd be in the store, and boys would whisper to their moms," Lautner says. "Then the moms would say, 'Excuse me, are you Sharkboy?'" The recognition earns the teen a small role in Cheaper by the Dozen 2, with Hilary Duff and Steve Martin.
Lautner lands the role of a lifetime in the romantic drama Twilight, adapted from author Stephenie Meyer's best-selling saga. The teen cutie portrays perky werewolf Jacob Black, opposite Kristen Stewart (as mortal Bella Swan) and Robert Pattinson (as vampire Edward Cullen). "I hadn't even heard of the [Twilight] series before I was cast," he tells EW. "As soon as I was cast, I did my research and found out what I'm getting myself into and was just blown away."
"Twilighters" come out in droves for the film's release, making the vampire flick the weekend's top grosser, with nearly $70 million. Not to be outshined by resident hunk Pattinson, Lautner makes his mark on "Team Taylor" fanatics. "We've had the criers, the hyperventilators, the shakers," Lautner tells the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's something I've never experienced and probably never will again."
Twilight's monumental success leads Summit Entertainment to greenlight the adaptation of the second novel, New Moon. But questions arise on whether baby-faced Lautner is the right fit for the rapidly maturing werewolf role. In an effort to be cast in the sequel, Lautner packs on 26 lbs. of muscle, and the effort pays off. New Moon director Chris Weitz tells USA Today, "There is something compelling and sexy about him. He captures the spirit of Jacob."
While filming New Moon in Vancouver, Lautner is photographed with new love, Disney teen queen Selena Gomez. The Wizards of Waverly Place star, 16, and the ripped cutie, 17, cuddle during dinner and a movie in the Canadian city. "He has been visiting her on the set and they've been hanging out in Vancouver," says a source close to Gomez.
Stealing a bit of Robert Pattinson's spotlight, Lautner covers EW with his New Moon love interest Kristen Stewart. "I think Taylor is really going to surprise people in the movie," director Chris Weitz says. "People have seen his body…but he actually delivers a really great performance." In November, the sequel pulls in a record $258 million worldwide, becoming the third-largest debut on record.
After being snapped at several of Taylor Swift's concerts–including one in which the country star runs offstage to hug Lautner–the Valentine's Day costars attend a hockey game together in Los Angeles. Pressed about their relationship, Swift says, "He's an amazing guy and we're really close."
Lautner lands on the cover of Rolling Stone, which praises his "eight-pack abs and tan, chiseled face." But despite his physical attributes and box office prowess, the New Moon hunk remains humble. "This could have happened to anyone who played Jacob," he says. "It’s Twilight. It’s not me personally."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Fernando Allende/NY Post/Splash New Onlines; Dimension Films; Summit Entertainment; Jun Sato/WireImage; Charley Gallay/WireImage; Bauer Griffin; Courtesy of EW; Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty