Don’t be fooled by the throngs of hormone-addled Twihards he’s left reeling in his steamy wake, Kellan Lutz has a lot on his mind.
The 27-year-old North Dakota native, best known for his role in the Twilight saga as Emmett Cullen—adopted brother of Robert Pattinson’s Edward—spends his off-screen time rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and lending his star power to Saving Innocence, a charity that helps restore the shattered lives of sex-trafficking victims.
It’s a serious existence; one that caused him to think twice about taking the Twilight gig. And besides, Lutz was unimpressed.
“I didn’t like the script,” he admitted to Document recently in a bustling Marina del Rey coffee shop, baseball cap pulled snugly over his curly dirty-blond locks in an effort at anonymity.
“How scary would a glimmering vampire really be?” he added, his twinkling blue eyes driving the point home. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
To add to his consternation over taking the part of Emmett, Lutz explained that he had just come off of filming HBO’s heady Iraq War series Generation Kill in poverty-ravaged Africa.
“You’re seeing all of these murals with little girls bleeding, saying, ‘Please don’t rape me. I won’t cure your AIDS’; you see people with no water, people taking baths in dirty rivers,” he said. “That project matured me five years and it really just spoke to my heart.”
Perhaps it matured Lutz enough to accept what would turn out to be his breakout role, affording him the means to raise awareness for Saving Innocence and the St. Bernard Project, the charity helping to rebuild New Orleans. The actor has created a Twitter account to spread the word.
“There have been times when I’ve been in New Orleans working on a St. Bernard project and I’ll tweet and 50 people will show up to help build a house,” said Lutz, who knows firsthand what it means to be down and out.
He grew up poor, his mother moving six kids between hardscrabble towns throughout North Dakota, eventually winding up in Arizona.
“My mom went through a lot of hardship,” he said, a tear welling up in his eye. “We had a lot of people from the churches, people we didn’t even know, who would come in and help us out … there were tough times.”
For Lutz, charity work is a way to give back, but it also serves as an escape from the singular pressures of Hollywood—his love life picked over on gossip blogs and bare-chested runs on the beach meticulously documented by paparazzi.
“You know, this industry sucks a lot of life out of people,” said Lutz, adding that he’ll deal with it by spending his downtime at an animal shelter or a Boys & Girls Club, or just popping in on a public court to shoot hoops with kids.
“It makes me feel human,” said Lutz. “You know, we’re all part of this greater community and I hate when people distance themselves and don’t work toward the greater good—like helping a lady carry her groceries across the street, it takes two seconds out of your day, or saying happy birthday to a fan on Twitter.”
Despite this hectic pace, Lutz is surprisingly still and calm as he goes over the particulars of juggling Hollywood and activism. Perhaps it’s a residual effect of having sat the weekend prior for the celebrated portrait artist Don Bachardy, who, in his 78 years, has captured the likenesses of cultural icons such as Katharine Hepburn and Gore Vidal.
“I was very new to the whole experience of having to sit there completely still,” said Lutz, wide-eyed. “Not being about to look at my phone, I just felt like I was—not transcending—but seeing hallucinations in a way, because you’re just sitting there and the white light is coming in and you have to close your eyes for a second, but then it feels like 10 minutes and you open your eyes and you still haven’t moved.”
Lutz knows the other side of the easel, too. While traveling the globe with his film work, the actor snaps photos of sunsets that he later paints onto canvases, a number of which he once formed into a jigsaw puzzle on the ceiling above his bed.
It’s a love of abstract forms and sun-washed colors that Lutz has transferred to Abbot + Main, his clothing line of fashionable casual wear that takes its name from the Venice, CA, neighborhood the actor once called home.
“A lot of the colors are just from me going around town and taking pictures,” said Lutz, who appears in Abbot + Main’s current moody campaign with supermodel Kate Upton. “I would take my dogs for a walk or longboard and whenever I would see great colors, which are all over Venice, especially at the canals, I just snap away and bring them into the design studio and work on mimicking those colors.
“I really love to stay true to Venice because I love it,” he added. “So when I’m not home I want to feel like I’m wearing home, and then I am home.”
It’s a comforting sentiment that may offer Lutz some refuge in the coming months, with trips planned for Tanzania and Uganda in support of various non-profits, and the media storm that awaits him on the press tour for Breaking Dawn: Part 2, the final installment of the Twilight saga, releasing this November.