I had the chance to interview actor Chaske Spencer since he is in town (my town that is, Chicago) to help promote the DVD releases of the final two Twilight installments, Breaking Dawn Part 2 and a new extended edition for Breaking Dawn Part 1. Chaske was fun and charming when I talked to him about playing Sam Uley, leader of the La Push wolf pack in the Twilight saga, and as he discussed acting and his future film projects. As a Twilight fan, it was great to finally meet him and even greater to have an opportunity to interview him. (Even though I totally missed the chance to ask Chaske if those parts that he mentions him and Twilight saga co-star Alex Meraz are looking at in Chicago are for Summit’s next big franchise, Divergent.)
Gabrielle Bondi: What I want to start out with is your character. Because I’ve been a Twilight fan since the beginning, and I always thought Sam was kind of unlikable.
Chaske Spencer: Yeah.
He wasn’t easy to like, you know, the whole thing with Leah and then going against Jacob in Breaking Dawn. But when I saw the movies, you made him a little bit more likable. Was that your intent?
Yeah, it was my intent. When I read the books and started going through the backstory of Sam, I looked at him as a guy in incredible circumstances. I didn’t want me to be a bad guy, and that’s how he was interpreted by a lot of fans. Actually, when I talked to them, they said they didn’t like Sam. I didn’t want to make him likable; I just wanted to make him have a point. There’s a reason why he’s doing this. It’s not like he’s malicious or he’s doing this out of meanness. There’s a treaty to uphold, and he has a job to do. That’s the way I looked at him; he’s just a guy with a job to do, and he has to do it.
And you definitely got the point across; you reinforced that point to me, as a fan. So can you explain how you became part of the Twilight saga? You started out with New Moon…
Well, Twilight came out, and honestly I didn’t know anything about it because it wasn’t for my demographic. I’d seen the posters around New York City. Then, when I auditioned for New Moon, I definitely did my research. It was already a big deal, but I didn’t know how big it was going to be. I knew New Moon was a really big movie. I knew I was replacing an actor, which in the beginning there was such a big backlash.
Oh yeah, I remember.
And God bless him, I never met him, but he’s a good guy. So I had to do that, and I didn’t understand the fan base. After New Moon, I really understood how big this thing was going to be and how the fan base was. Renee Haines contacted me, I auditioned and read for Jared, Paul, Embry, but they asked me to come back to read for Sam. And I had to find out who Sam was, and I did. You know, I just went in, auditioned and got the part.
At what point did you realize how big this thing that you are a part of is?
I think I got the hint when they released our picture—the Wolf Pack—on USA Today. My Facebook was—I had about 30 friends—then I got so many friend requests in 24 hours. And then I got it, and then the paparazzi started showing up. That was the preview of what was to come. It started getting bigger and bigger. But it was after that when I started understanding what I was involved in.
Did it change your approach toward the other movies, like Eclipse and Breaking Dawn?
Yeah, I think the bigger it got, the more isolated I became. I just knew that I’d seen how big this thing is, and when you’re in the middle of it, it’s like being in the eye of a hurricane. You see everything going on around you, but your side is calm. I wanted to maintain that; so as the years went on with Twilight, I started to hold onto my privacy more. I wanted to keep a low profile, and it’s hard to do that with something as big as Twilight. But luckily I only had a supporting role in this; it has given me a career. I’ve got other movies in the works, a bunch of films. But I think I look at it as an education of how I want to get on with my life as an actor and to maintain that integrity of being an actor.
I do notice that you do interact with fans. I’ve been to some of the Twilight conventions; have you done those things?
Oh yeah! Of course! I’ve done loads of them; they’re great. I like it for one, you get to interact with fans, and the fans are our number one supporters. Stephenie wrote the books, but some people liked them and turned them into a number one NY Times bestsellers. Then, studios saw that, made them into a movies and turned it into a big hit. So yeah, the fans will always come first with Twilight. They really are the backbone—central—to what we’re doing. The TwiCons are great because I get to see all of the other actors, and I wouldn’t have gotten to know any of the other actors because the cast is so huge. If it weren’t for these TwiCons, I wouldn’t have gotten to meet Daniel Cudmore, Charlie Bewley, and all those guys. Great and fun guys to hang out with and I’m pretty lucky to call them friends. I travel. It’s a good gig, and I enjoy the ride.
Which cast members did you bond with the most?
The Wolf Pack. Because that’s what we film. When we are filming schedules, everyone is working on different schedules, so when the Cullens are off, we’re on and vice versa. The main people I hung out with were Kiowa, Bronson, Alex, Julia, Tinsel, Tyson and BooBoo because we’re on set, hang out and go home at the same time.
Do you have any good stories? Like jokes or pranks? Because I feel you guys have a camaraderie that just isn’t onscreen but off-screen as well.
We do. I was just talking to Alex right before the interview, we were texting each other because he was supposed to be here, but we’re both up for a job here. He’s looking at one part, and I’m looking at another. We were talking about that. We text all the time. I texted Julia; I wondered how her end of the deal was going with the press junket. And I’ve known Gil for years. Kiowa is like another little brother, just like Bronson and Tyson. We have all really bonded through the years. When we’re doing stuff like this, press junkets, and when we’re just alone that’s when we talk about stuff. A lot of times we say stuff and then go “You can’t print that.” *laughs* It’ll probably all come out twenty years later.
You’re lucky that you had chance to do the Twilight movies with three different directors. Was there a particular director that you liked working with?
All of them. All of them were different and all really, really cool.
Bill Condon, when he comes to mind, it’s just how enthusiastic he is when on set, how he supports your choices as an actor, and how he’s just so full of life. There’s so much positive energy around him. Chris Weitz, I have a special place in my heart for him because he’s the one who cast me, hired me. There’s a very calming aura around him, and you look at his films from About A Boy to Chuck & Buck. There’s something about him that just makes you want to give him a hug. He’s just a really warm person. And with [David] Slade, I liked how intense he was, how focused he was in what he wanted, and how precise he wanted things to go. So they’re all different. They all have their positive characteristics about them and who they are. It’s really cool to be an actor and work with all of these great directors.
Do you have a favorite movie of the Twilight films? Just a personal favorite.
I’m going to say Breaking Dawn Part 2. I like how it ends. I like how—
The twist! Also, I was really touched by the montage of the cast. It was really cool. We were at the pre-party before the premiere, and Bill Condon pulls me aside and says “Stay after. I did something really great.” I thought it was going to be a deleted scene, but he did that! Every actor who worked on this, no matter how big or small, whatever the role was, was really touched. It was like a “thank you,” because they didn’t have to do that. It’s just like he [Condon] says in the commentary; it’s tipping the hat, our curtain call. We were a part of this for three or four years, the main cast longer than that. I appreciated that; it was really nice of them to do it.
Because for the fans, each casting announcement was a big deal. Like once they heard, they went straight to IMDb right away and anything else they can find on the new cast member. When I was watching the closing montage, I was remembering all that when each person was cast. It was really sweet.
Yeah, exactly. It was.
I read that you performed as Dracula on an off-Broadway play way back, so here’s kind of a cliché question: Did you like playing a vampire or wolf more?
*laughs* They were both just acting jobs. Different. I think I enjoyed playing a wolf better because it paid a lot more. And it was one of the biggest franchises in movie history. I’m going to go with the werewolf.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
Yeah. I have a couple called Desert Cathedral and Winter in the Blood. They should be out later this year. We finished them before Breaking Dawn, so I’ve been busy working the past two years. They should be coming out soon. I’m really looking forward to having them release and finding an audience. And I will be working with Brian Ward in a movie called Indian Summer in June in Scotland. And after that, I have another film, but I can’t talk about that yet.
What is Desert Cathedral and Indian Summer about?
I can talk more about Desert Cathedral because it’s completed. My character is a private investigator, whose life is very dysfunctional. He has to go look for this other man, who has this type of nervous breakdown and he’s going to go kill himself. So his wife hires me to go after and find him. It’s a touching movie, and I’m working with Lee Tergesen, who right now is in Red Widow. We spent a good 6-8 weeks working on the film. And I saw one of the cuts of the film, which really amazed me by how beautiful this it is. I like doing work that challenges me. In this part, you don’t recognize me; I’m not Sam Uley. I’ve got a mullet and handlebar mustache. I look very… inviting. *laughs*
Did that help you transform into that character? Having the mullet…
Yeah! When they put the mullet on, I grew some facial hair out a bit. I still had on some weight that I gained for Winter in the Blood. So I was chubby. The weight helped with body, the way I moved and how I delivered my lines. The wardrobe as well, he was a 90s guy stuck in the 80s. *laughs*
Oh wow. And Indian Summer?
It’s written by Brian Ward and directed by him. I loved reading the script. I can’t talk about it, but I really want to work with Brian Ward. He was the writer of The Interrupter with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. Kevin McKidd is attached, who is in Grey’s Anatomy. I just want to work with these people. I like working with actors who make it challenging for you. When you work with them, you learn a lot.
Are there any actors that influence you? Influence your work?
Yeah, there are. Especially when I was a kid, not so much now. When I was kid, I was inspired a lot by actors like Val Kilmer, Sean Penn, Paul Newman. River Phoenix was huge when I was a kid. He was HUGE. We went to go see a River Phoenix movie when it came out. Actually, I grew up in a very conservative town, so I had to drive four hours to go see My Own Private Idaho. When I saw it, it just blew my mind. There hadn’t been a movie like that out, or I had never seen a movie like that out. It was strange. It was different. I knew that whatever Phoenix was doing in that role was something very special. And you know, I was just a kid, thinking that maybe I could act someday. It seemed like a really cool job. Later I found out that acting was not cool, just work. *laughs* But yeah, I came of age in the 90s, so a lot of the stuff I looked up to were from the actors then.
What propelled you to make the decision to become an actor?
When I was a child, I wanted to be so many things; I couldn’t focus on something. I just wanted to be involved with movies somehow, and acting came natural to me. It’s something that I just thought I could do. I went to New York, I started studying, paying attention in class. Started to gather these tools to work as an actor. I just started picking it up, learning here and there. I think the more you work, the more willing you are to take those risks and challenges as an actor with your character. I like the fact that when I’m on set and working, I don’t get self-conscious. I get more… free. I like being in films because I can be free to be more myself. When I’m off set, I’m more guarded. *laughs*
Do you think that happened when you were doing Twilight? When you first started, like your first day on New Moon, was that something that was nerve-wracking, or as you said, you felt free once you got into the scene?
After our first day of shooting, I was okay. I was just trying to figure out the chemistry between all of us because we were getting to know each other. There was Alex, me, Bronson, Kiowa, Lautner, and we were trying to figure out how everyone worked. It wasn’t nerve-wracking, more feeling things out. Then, after a while, everything started clicking. It wasn’t like we were working. We just showed up and were ready to go. It felt like a well-oiled machine.
How did that feel? Transitioning from something big to small, like Desert Cathedral.
Indie films? Especially working with those directors and indie films, I get to talk to the director a lot more. Because in Twilight, it was a supporting role; I was a supporting character. So I just go in and do my job. With films like Desert Cathedral and Winter in the Blood, I was starring in those movies, so I get more contact with the director to throw around any ideas.
It was great meeting and talking with you, and I hope you’re successful.
Me too! *laughs* I hope so too!
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and Breaking Dawn – Part 1 Extended Edition are available on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and Digital Download on Saturday, March 2nd (12:01am).