Is Taylor Lautner Still Jacob in New Moon? Maybe, Maybe Not.

It must kind of suck to be Taylor Lautner at the moment. When he was originally cast as Jacob Black in “Twilight”, the producers wanted a fresh-face kid with a big smile, which they got. But for the sequel, “New Moon”, the character is supposed to go through a transformation and, according to screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, become “a foot taller and huge — and he’s supposed to look 25″. That’s a bit of a problem, for you see, young Mister Lautner is only 16 years old, and not what you would call, er, “huge” or “25-year old looking”. Meaning, if Jacob Black is going to be the third wheel of a love triangle between leading lady Bella and her leading man Edward, he best not look like her kid little brother who is always threatening to snitch her out to mom for sneaking out at nights.

So what are the chances that Lautner will still be playing Jacob Black when “New Moon” goes into production, which is any day now, since the sequel is already being slated by Summit Entertainment for a 2009 release? EW breaks down the odds:

Lautner’s certainly been doing everything in his mortal power to hang on to the part. Since Twilight, he’s gained 19 pounds and is promising to pack on 10 more before shooting starts on New Moon this March. And judging from a widely reprinted red-carpet interview, he’s not shy about letting Summit and New Moon’s director, Chris Weitz (who joined the fran­chise last month after Twilight’s director, Catherine Hardwicke, left over creative differences), know that he has the chops for the gig. ”My job for Twilight was to bring Twilight Jacob to life — the friendly, happy-go-lucky little Jacob,” he told MTV News. ”My job for New Moon is completely different. I’ve been looking forward to that. I’ve been getting ready for it, and I can assure them I will follow through with that.”

It probably doesn’t help Lautner’s cause that Michael Copon (“The Scorpion King 2″) has been making very public noise about taking over the role, and some fans of the series have responded positively to it. Plus, there are rumors of Steven Strait (“10,000 B.C.”) also coveting the role. Both guys look substantially older than Lautner, and there are enough passing resemblances between the three that you could justify the switch.

This is Michael Copon, 26 (pictured to your left). His biggest movie role to date was the direct-to-DVD sequel to “The Scorpion King” (you know, with The Rock?), so he’s not famous enough that people who doesn’t read blogs or keep up with every little bit of “Twilight” news will instantly notice someone just switched the Jacob Black part on them when they see “New Moon”. I mean, sure, they’ll eventually figure it out, but I don’t think it’ll be instantaneous.

But while Copon has been very vocal about wanting the part (it’s called good PR, people, get your name out there to the masses and put pressure on the studio to either cast you or not, but they’ll definitely notice you), word is Summit has not approached him about the role. This all looks like one big PR blitz by Copon and his agency to get him the part, in which case, it sounds like money well spent because they definitely have people talking.

Below, meanwhile, is Steven Strait. He’s 22, the same age as “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson. The pic below is a side-by-side comparison of Strait from the movie “The Covenant” (on the left) with Taylor Lautner (on the right). They actually kind of look alike, don’t you think, with Strait being a slightly older version of Lautner? Or it could just be the hair, I guess. As with Copon, Strait isn’t nearly famous enough that Joe Q. Public moviegoer will instantly notice the switcheroo.

However it shapes up, we’ll most likely know by the end of this week, when Summit Entertainment makes an official announcement and puts an end to the casting rumors. One hopes. I mean, sure, watching all of this is fun for us, but damn, I feel sorry for the Lautner kid, this whole “is he, isn’t he” must make him want to howl at the moon.

Get it? Howl at the moon? Because Jacob Black is a werewolf in the series? Ahem.

UPDATE: 1/8/09

“New Moon” director Chris Weitz recently sent this message over to Stephenie Meyer’s official site, announcing that Taylor Lautner will, in fact, be back as Jacob Black for the sequel:

I’m very happy to announce that Taylor Lautner will be playing Jacob Black in New Moon and that he’s doing so with the enthusiastic support of Summit Entertainment, the producers, and Stephenie Meyer.

The characters in Stephenie’s books go through extraordinary changes of circumstance and also appearance; so it is not surprising that there has been speculation about whether the same actor would portray a character who changes in so many surprising ways throughout the series. But it was my first instinct that Taylor was, is, and should be Jacob, and that the books would be best served by the actor who is emotionally right for the part. I think that fans of Twilight the book and the movie will be surprised by the Jacob Black that Taylor will bring to the screen in New Moon; and I’m looking forward to working with him and the rest of the cast in realizing the film.

very best

Chris Weitz

So there you go. Fans of Lautner, rejoice! Non-fans — er, better luck next time?