Twilight fanatics know Nikki Reed as the actress who plays Rosalie Hale, a vampire who longs to be human. For Breaking Dawn Part 2, the newest installment of the blockbuster film franchise, this new ASCAP member is taking on a new role: singer/songwriter. Reed and her husband Paul McDonald wrote and performed the ballad "All I've Ever Needed," heard in the film's end credits. It's a lovely complement to ASCAP composer Carter Burwell's rhapsodic score. We talked with Reed about her foray into music-making.
Tell me a little bit about your musical past. Did you make music at all when you were younger?
I sang in choir, and all through middle school and high school I was really into music, learning how to write music. I actually picked up my first guitar maybe five years ago which, by the way, does not say much, because I'm horrible! So clearly that's not the direction I'm meant to be headed. ::laughs:: I've actually been putting a lot of effort into it for the last five years, and it's just not going anywhere! But really, where this all started for me was that I've been into writing poetry for my entire life. I think the writing poetry is what saved me in the education department. We were in really crappy school districts, where my brother and I lived growing up. So through our writing, both of us got into better schools in different neighborhoods.
With Paul, I'm just starting to play around with melodies and things like that, and I don't contribute at all writing the music. So the way that we work together is I write lyrics. Some of it has been my poetry that we literally just put music to.
So some of the songs on your new EP The Best Part already existed as poetry that you had written?
At least portions of the songs. I think it'd be a little extreme to say every single bit of it, but at least a second verse or a bridge, things like that. That's how Paul and I collaborate. He's really great at starting songs and not finishing them, so he has a thousand pieces to a thousand songs, and I'm good at coming in and finishing them. So whether it's using a poem that I feel fits the song or the tone, or just writing something brand new, that's generally how we work together.
How did it work for "All I've Ever Needed?" Was that you coming together and writing something from scratch?
Yeah, that was actually the only time we've done that. I felt like in order for the song to be taken seriously as something we were submitting, it really had to follow the film. Paul had never seen any of the Twilight movies, so we sat down and he watched some of them and read the script. Because I'm in the film, he actually got to read the script for the next one that was coming out, so he knew what we were writing about. We sat down together and actually pumped out verses and things. Usually we write separately.
Did you pitch the song to director Bill Condon, the music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, or someone else?
It was to both, actually. And you know, the whole studio. I think people don't really understand how many cooks we have in our kitchen. It's not like I just said "Hey, what's up, Bill! Yo, I'm gonna write something, can you just stick that in there tomorrow?" A year and a half ago I went to Bill and I said "Paul and I wanna write something for the movie. Would you just listen to it?" And he was like "Of course I'll listen to anything you send in, but I can't guarantee anything." He was trying to explain to me that there was actually a very small chance that it would make it in the film. You know how these things work: hundreds and hundreds of songs are submitted, and it's not just Bill, it's not just Alex. There were moments where our song was in the movie and then out of the movie, and then I would ask, "Why did it get pulled?" and it was just some random person at the studio was like, "I don't know if that fits in that particular scene." People all over the place have a say in this, so it really had to kind of earn its position, as strange as that sounds.
You had at least planted the seed of this idea a year and a half ago, well before you were married. What was it like going through this tremendous life change with your collaborator on this song, working on the song together with someone who's so personally meaningful to you?
I don't feel like I could have done this with anyone else or in any other way. And Paul would agree - he wouldn't have done this with anyone else. These films are, for lack of a better word, very special to me, very close to my heart, and I've lived with them for so long. I didn't care if ["All I've Ever Needed"] made it on the soundtrack, I didn't care if it made it in the film - I mean that would have been nice, but that wasn't my goal. My goal was to show the fans that I feel inspired to be creative as well.
I don't know if you know anything about our fanbase, but they are the most creative bunch. They draw portraits - I have a painting on my wall from one of them. They write poetry for me, they write fan fiction. One of those turned into Fifty Shades of Grey. They're an incredibly talented group of people, and I think that also stems from who [Twilight creator] Stephenie Meyer is, where she came from and her background, writing these movies and feeling like she was just an ordinary house mom who came up with this idea. And then Bella Swan, our heroine, is just described as a very average girl. So I feel like there are a lot of things about this film that are relatable, and therefore women feel like they can do things too, if they see us doing them.
That was a long-winded answer, but my point is that I wanted to show these girls that have been calling me their role model for so many years, I wanted to give them a reason to call me that, other than just playing Rosalie. I feel like it's really important to show people that it's not about the outcome, and it's not about how good you are at something. It's about the process in getting there. I'm not the best singer and I'm not the best writer, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't sing and I shouldn't write. I wanted the fans to see that. A lot of them have told me "Since you [started writing music], I picked up the guitar and I've been writing poetry." That's such a cool level to connect on, you know?
Have any Twilight fans written music for you?
Yeah, there's an awesome one on iTunes right now called "Nikki Reed, Will You Marry Me?" You should listen to it, 'cause it's really fantastic.
I actually did listen to it on Spotify earlier today. I wanted to ask you about it but I was sort of embarrassed 'cause I didn't know how you'd react.
Oh that's awesome! Are you kidding? I have the best husband ever who's so cool with those things. He actually found it and bought it on iTunes, then played it for me and he was like "I wish I could take credit for this, but clearly that's not my voice." It's so good. I wanna reach out to that guy at some point and tell him. But yeah, if you go on YouTube, there are a lot of young girls that have written songs. It's either about Rosalie my character, or about me, or they'll write a love song about Paul and me meeting, and you can look at those things as being creepy or weird, or you can look at it as an awesome form of expression. If it gets these people out of bed and reading or writing or picking up an instrument, and it inspires them to be creative, what a cool message I'm sending to them, you know? I'm very much a normal girl who just loves to sing, and I happen to be in a position where a few more people can hear it. I do want to make good music obviously, so that's why we made our record in Nashville with the players we did - I wanted the process to feel really organic and real. But to me, it's not a competition, you know what I mean?
Do you and Paul have plans to continue making music?
Oh yeah. That's why we released our album that's totally separate from Twilight.
Could you see it taking on a parallel career path for you? Or is film always going to be number one in your heart?
It's so interesting, because from an outside perspective, I can see the picture. It's hard to describe. I know what it's like for other actresses when I've watched them transition into other areas, and what that looks like to everyone else. I guess I'll just say this: I have a tremendous amount of respect for what it means to be a musician, and I am not a musician. I'm married to one. I guess what I'm saying is that if it's deserved, then it will come.
For now, Paul and I are doing something that we did in our living room prior to recording. We like to sit together with a guitar and sing, and if people are drawn to that, whatever it is that they're drawn to - if it's the fact that we write together so it feels very personal for them, like they're on a personal journey with us, or if it feels just really intimate, and they like to be a part of that -we're just doing what we did before all of this started, and we'll see how long it lasts. But Paul and I are discovering that we can be creative together, and there's a real bond that forms from that. It's really been kind of a blessing. What a beautiful experience. So we're just going with that, if that makes sense. But I'm not looking at myself going "We're totally like The Civil Wars, and we'll just hit the road and do that," you know what I mean?
You've written screenplays, directed music videos, and now made music. Do you find that there's a creative language in common between filmmakers and musicmakers?
Yes, I do think there're definitely some parallels. I've only come from that place of working with the actors in the videos, and music comes from a very emotional place obviously. So the only directing I've done has been very emotion-based. I feel like it was a good place for me to start, to see where I stand with that.
You mentioned that one of your favorite things to do with Paul is just to sit down with a guitar and sing together. When you're not working on your own music, what do you guys sing together?
Paul really likes Christmas music, so I guess that's something we sing, and we sing a little Ryan Adams. That's Paul's all-time favorite artist, and of course one of mine as well. And we sing a little bit of First Aid Kit - there's a really cool song they just wrote called "Emmylou." We actually need to work on some covers, because I'm realizing more and more that people enjoy that. They want to sing along. We host these jam sessions at our house where a bunch of musicians come over - I'm sure my neighbors hate me - and we play music in our living room until three in the morning. I do know that all the ones that people enjoy the most are actually the cheesy covers.
Visit Nikki Reed on the web at www.iamnikkireed.com.
In Los Angeles? See Nikki and Paul perform live at The Bootleg on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 soundtrack was released on November 13th. Pick it up from Amazon or iTunes.