November 16, 2011 12:00 PM

AT A RECENT HOLLYWOOD LUNCHEON, MARK WALHBERG quipped to Leonardo DiCaprio, “I am sitting at a table with a gentleman who is better looking than you and is in better shape than me, so we’re both out of a job, dude. Taylor Lautner!” High praise from a leading man who now considers Lautner his peer. The actor formerly known only as dreamy shape-shifter Jacob Black just became a full-fledged action-movie star with the thriller Abduction, but he’s not letting that professional upgrade go to his head. “It’s such an honor,” he said of Wahlberg’s comment. “I really look up to both of those men as actors and as people. No one will ever be able to replace them, but hearing that really means a lot to me.”

At just 19, Lautner has made another fan in his Abduction director John Singleton. “It was the right time for this kid to go to the next level and be a star,” says Singleton. “He’s funny in it, he’s charismatic, he kicks ass. And that is an actor who can endure over time.” Much as he did for the Twilight films, Lautner spent months preparing for the physicality of the role. Three months before shooting, he started boxing, wrestling and learning how to ride a motorcycle. “I wanted to show up on-set actually looking like I knew what I was doing,” he says. He performed most of his own stunts, too, riding on the hood of a truck going 50 mph. “I definitely made a few people nervous on-set,” he says, “but it was definitely worth it.”

If it seems like Lautner is happy to leave his Twilight days in the dust, think again. “I love Jacob,” Lautner said at Comic-Con. “The Jacob at the beginning of the films is young, he’s immature, he’s in love with Bella. And then he gets his heart crushed. He doesn’t really handle it very well, but throughout [Breaking Dawn] he becomes a totally different person. He’s forced to mature and become his own man.” Besides, how often does an actor get to play a furry beast on the big screen? “I’m super jealous of my CGI wolf. It’s pretty cute and fluffy,” he said.

His soft spot for Twilight serves him well. On the Pennsylvania set of Abduction, Lautner found time for Twi-hard fans, who would show up in droves. Says Singleton: “There would sometimes be 600 or 700 people out there. He would go out after the day was over and shake hands and sign photographs. That’s who he is.” During filming Lautner also connected on an even more personal level with his costar Lily Collins, whom he’s been dating ever since. “You can feel some sort of chemistry … when you are reading a script with someone for the first time. And that was totally the case with Lily,” he told Seventeen magazine. “The amazing thing is that she was super open and funny … she wasn’t afraid to be herself.”

Now that he has a career and a girlfriend, what more could Lautner want? Well, there is one thing. “I live with my family,” he told Jimmy Kimmel earlier this year. “I moved to L.A. eight years ago, and it’s the same room. But I’m looking now. I might get a condo.”

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