Peter Facinelli strolled into a Los Angeles television studio on a recent Saturday morning for another “Twilight”-related appearance. But you wouldn’t know he was part of a worldwide phenomenon. He wasn’t flanked on either side by brawny Hollywood-standard security guards. And there were no screaming “Twi-hards” lurking nearby. Just Peter and his backpack. And he prefers it that way.
As “New Moon,” the latest installment in the massively successful “Twilight” saga, continues its reign in theaters — it has grossed more than $230 million since its Nov. 20 release — Facinelli, who plays Dr. Carlisle Cullen, the patriarch of the Cullen clan, still finds the frenzy a little daunting.
“There’s not many movies — I can’t even think of five — that people would camp out for,” Facinelli, 36, said before going in front of the camera. “It can be overwhelming. I feel very fortunate to be a part of something like that. Not many actors can say that.”
Facinelli — who has three daughters and is married to “Beverly Hills, 90210” alum Jennie Garth — grew up in Queens, N.Y. He began his acting career 15 years ago, with bit parts in TV shows, then burst onto the scene as a jock in the film “Can’t Hardly Wait.” The 1998 teen flick, which starred ’90s darling Jennifer Love Hewitt, didn’t exactly rake in “Twilight” numbers, but it helped launch the careers of such stars as Seth Green, Jason Segel and Selma Blair.
“Things were different then,” Facinelli said. “We were young and in this movie teens were watching, but there wasn’t paparazzi out taking all of our pictures. Things weren’t so intense 10 years ago. I remember when someone would take a picture, it’d be three days before it would surface in the tabloids at the grocery store. Now, 30 seconds after a picture is taken, it’s on the Internet; and 45 seconds later, hundreds of people have commented on it.”
He went on to star in Fox’s short-lived series “Fastlane” and has appeared in the HBO series “Six Feet Under” and FX’s “Damages.” When his agents approached him about taking the role in a “vampire movie,” Facinelli was hesitant.
“I was like, ‘Um, no,’ ” Facinelli recalled. “I was proud of my roles up to that point. I was thinking a gory, B slasher movie. You know, vampires in caves who turn into bats. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. But I read the first book and I couldn’t put it down. If I could have made myself a vampire, I would have. That’s how much I wanted the role.”
Luckily, no skin was punctured in his casting for the part. Now two films into the saga, Facinelli has seen his life — and career — go into overdrive.
“I’m a lot busier,” Facinelli said. “I’m traveling a lot more. And I’m meeting a lot more people. I’ve been acting for 15 years so I’ve sort of always had a fan base. But this is a whole other level of fans. They’re die-hard.”
In between his “medical” commitments — aside from playing bloodsucking Dr. Cullen in the “Twilight” saga, he plays a human doctor on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” — Facinelli is communicating with those fans. He can usually be spotted finger-deep on his iPhone, blasting tweets to his million-plus followers on a daily — if not, hourly — basis.
“It’s my way of having control over what people know about me,” Facinelli said.
It’s a savvy attempt to combat the hysteria. While his young “Twilight” costars grapple with the media whirlwind attached to the vampire saga’s success, a slightly older Facinelli has a different outlook.
“It is easier for me to deal with now,” he said. “I can’t compare to Rob [Pattinson] and Kristen [Stewart] because I’m not with them on a day-to-day basis. But I can say that for me, when I was 23 or 24, I wouldn’t have been able to handle this level of success. Being put under a microscope, I wouldn’t have been able to process it. As you get older, you constantly try to find yourself, and in my early 20s I didn’t have a full sense of me. But now, I’ve been with me for a lot longer.”
As the thirst for all things “Twilight” reaches staggering heights, Facinelli is having fun with the brand. He recently launched Vampire Transformer, an iPhone application (also compatible with the iPod touch) that allows users to morph anyone into a vampire with the touch of a finger.
“This is what I spend my days doing,” he said, browsing through his vampire gallery featuring images of his “bitten” daughters and wife. “Any time I have a free moment.”
Those free moments are becoming increasingly rare, but that’s OK.
“I’m enjoying this while it lasts,” he said. ” ‘Twilight’ is another gig for me and I’ll move on and do other gigs. And, hopefully, the fans will come out and watch those, too.”