Robert Pattinson (left) and Kristen Stewart (right) star in the thriller “Twilight.”

Photo Courtesy of Deana Newcomb

­They're sexy, danger­ous and live forever -- no wonder vampires have always held a fascination for mere mortals via legend, literature and Hollywood. Dracula, Anne Rice's Lestat, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more recently, the protagonists of TV's "Moonlight" and "True Blood" have added to the lore's allure. But arguably the biggest current vamp-related pop culture phenomenon is the "Twilight" book series, which chronicles the love story between a teenage girl named Bella Swan and the beautiful vampire Edward Cullen.

"Twilight" spent 91 weeks on the "New York Times" best-seller list, sold 17 million copies worldwide and spawned hundreds of fansites. Now, with the release of its faithful film adaptation, attention turns from page to screen. Director Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "Lords of Dogtown"), a fan of vampire movies who was "swept away" by the book's obsessive love story, had the difficult task of casting Stephenie Meyer's iconic characters --first and foremost, the romantic leads.

­Finding a teenage actress experienced and capable enough to handle Bella was daunti­ng, but Hardwicke zeroed in on Kristen Stewart after seeing her in "Into the Wild." Hardwicke auditioned her and cast her as the heroine. The perfect Edward was more elusive. None of the less than 100 actors she met (of thousands who submitted tapes) were right. "They looked like they could be your next-door neighbor or the cute dude at your school. Edward had to be somebody from another world, someone special that we hadn't seen before," she explains.

Ultimately, she invited five young men to audition with Stewart, and Robert Pattinson (the doomed Cedric Diggory in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") fit the bill and had the best chemistry with Stewart.

­After filling out "Twilight's"­ supporting cast with unknown and semi-known actors (including "Damages'" Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser of "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Ex List," and her "Thirteen" star Nikki Reed), Hardwicke had to figure out how to shoot the movie on a $37 million budget in 48 days almost entirely on location, which meant dealing with highly variable weather. Adding high-wire stunts to the mix upped the difficulty factor. But before production got underway in Oregon, the script had to be right -- which meant meeting the strict criteria set by author Meyer. She'd been burned before, as we'll explain in the following section, and wasn't about to let Hollywood screw up a good thing.