Joining the cast of the third installment of “Twilight,” one of the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, would seem to be like jumping into a hyper-speed version of double Dutch — while wearing roller skates. The action figures, the T-shirts, the ubiquitous paparazzi, the equally ubiquitous (and even more aggressive) Twihards and the rest of the hoopla surrounding the vampire trilogy‚ how could it not make a newcomer anxious?

But none of this seems to faze Julia Jones, one of the new faces in “Twilight: Eclipse,” which hits theaters June 30. “I was just focused on working on the character,” Jones says. “I kind of got lost in that. The size of the franchise is just hitting me now.”

This story first appeared in the June 22, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Jones plays Leah Clearwater, a werewolf whose overprotective behavior toward fellow pack member Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has pitted her against Bella (Kristin Stewart), who broke Jacob’s heart.

Jones, a 29-year-old former model, was shocked when she landed the part because it was her biggest role and because she committed a major gaffe in her audition. “I left realizing that I had paraphrased my entire audition,” she says. “I was so focused on figuring out who the character was that the memorization was secondary. The words completely left me. I wanted to die.”

Well, it didn’t matter. And Jones also appears as Josh Brolin’s wife in “Jonah Hex,” a movie out now about a cowboy-bounty hunter that co-stars Megan Fox.

Until “Eclipse,” Jones had a modest résumé (a brief stint on “ER,” a tween movie about a modeling contest in New York, etc.). The Boston native did some modeling in high school and college with Click Models, which didn’t make it easier for her to make friends once she began to attend Columbia. During her freshman orientation week, Jones and two new girlfriends were wandering around Union Square, only to find themselves under a billboard with Jones’ face plastered on it. “From that point, that’s sort of where I got alienated from my peers. When you start modeling, you do all those teen magazines, which is what everybody was reading at the time. So that, combined with the fact that I’d come to class with, like, sparkles in my hair from shoots,” she says, laughing. “I mean, I just looked ridiculous.”

So Jones decided to take on the time-honored model-slash-actor title, training 25 hours a week with acting coach Susan Batson. “I found [Batson] through models because she takes pretty people and teaches [them] how to act,” Jones says. “But she was really hard core.” (Former Batson students include Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Jamie Foxx and Juliette Binoche.) The experience motivated Jones, an English major who graduated in 2005, to wake up at 5 a.m. to do mailings to agents and run to auditions between classes.

Although she’s appearing in what may be the summer’s biggest movie, Jones is impressed with the accomplishments of others in her class. “I run into people that I went to school with now and they’re doing such amazing, cool things,” she says. Her classmates would probably say the same of her.

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