More than anything, Chaske Spencer just wants to keep it real.
This may seem strange coming from the man who just wrapped up a multi-film stint in the massively successful fantasy-laden Twilight series, but a brief conversation with him makes this all too clear.
Take, for example, his perspective on his Twilight character, werewolf pack leader Sam Uley. While he appreciates many things about his animalistic alter-ego, not the least of which are his CGI antics played out on the big screen – “I never thought I would see myself jump off a cliff. I mean it was amazing!” he says – what he most hopes fans will take away from the most recent installments is that which makes the character most relatable – most human.
“What I got from talking to the kids, the fans of Twilight, is that a lot of them just hated Sam. A lot of them did not like Sam,” he recalls with a laugh. “So what I want to do is make him more human, more a character that you can relate to. In the Breaking Dawn film you get this sense that, in the script, he’s out to just kill Renesmee and he hates Bella, but that’s not the case. It’s just that it’s a job that he has to do.”
Similarly, Spencer notes, it’s the human element of filmmaking that has been the most rewarding through his work on the Twilight series and beyond. His bonds with cast and crew from the Twilight films have stayed strong, he assures: his fellow wolves are “like my brothers now,” he says, “and then you have Julia [Jones] and Tinsel [Korey, both costars] who are like my sisters.” It’s like “joining the circus,” he explains. “That’s basically what a film crew is. You join the circus, you all get tight, you’re like a family for a month or two, and then – boom. Maybe you’ll stay in touch, maybe you’ll see them again, maybe you won’t, you know?”
He emphasizes that this is one aspect of filmmaking that continues to draw him in – “Not just working on a character or just being an actor but the stuff behind the scenes.” It’s an affinity for the world behind the camera, bolstered by his recent experience in independent films Winter in the Blood and Desert Cathedral, that has clearly shaped his philosophy on his work and his art. An independent film, he says, is “where the artist comes into work”.
To hear him explain it, it’s answering a call to artistic integrity. He easily ticks off the names of examples and influences, a list that crosses genres and all levels of celebrity. “I grew up watching Johnny Depp,” he recalls, “and like a lot of young actors, I wanted to be Johnny Depp – and we can’t. But he inspires us to stick to artistic credit.” Depp, he notes, had a penchant for turning down big-budget roles in favor of independents, “and he got massive street cred for it.”
He’s quick to cite famous crossover acts like Nirvana and Pearl Jam as well. “I always like bands who stretch, who go further,” he says. “You could be working a 9 to 5 job, but you’re trying to find the easiest way to make a living doing what you love, and of course you’re not going to say no to those paychecks.” But, he says, these bands were able to avoid earning the dreaded “sellout” label. Of Pearl Jam, he notes, “They used the tools that they had, and they just gave themselves some self-respect, and they stuck to their guns, and, obviously, they’re a huge group. They turned down Ticketmaster, and fought the good fight, and they’re still rockin’ and rollin’, they’re still touring.”
So what does this mean for Chaske Spencer, an actor moving into 2012 with a slew of major-budget films under his belt and many of these treasured independent efforts in the works? “I enjoy work on a franchise too,” he stresses. “[You] get a good paycheck, work on a big budget. But then you go back and do an independent movie and you can make up for I guess, ah, whoring yourself out,” he laughs.
Make no mistake: he’s grateful for the opportunities that Twilight’s success has given him – especially the freedom to gravitate toward those projects that allow him to emulate those he so admires. “You’ll never hear me talk bad about ‘Twilight!’”, he assures with a laugh. “Yeah, it’s given me a life.”