KUSA - Hercules is the role that Kellan Lutz has literally been preparing for his entire life.
As a little boy, The Legend of Hercules star would often play in the back yard as the mythological warrior, he says.
"I used to make a little sword out of a cardboard box and play outdoors. I was Hercules in my head and now I get to do that in real life. It's just crazy."
Now in theaters, director Renny Harlin's Hercules puts Lutz in loincloths and a sword to tell an origin story that takes the demigod from the gladiatorial arena to leading an army in battle. And it's just the start for a busy 2014 for the buff co-star of the Twilight movies as vampire Emmett Cullen, undead bro to Robert Pattinson's Edward.
Lutz also voices the title character of the Tarzan animated 3-D movie later this year (release date to be determined), and he joins the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren and others in the action flick The Expendables 3 (in theaters Aug. 15).
"I'm just really blessed," says the North Dakota-born actor, 28. "I just can't believe this is my life and I get to do what I do and play these iconic characters."
Lutz talks with USA TODAY about the chafing hazards of playing Hercules, what he thinks of Stallone and which muscular hero he next wants to play on screen (hint: think 1980s cartoons).
Q. We've got a pair of Hercules movies this year: yours and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's in July. Why's this Greco-Roman guy still relevant for today's culture?
A. I know studios work independent of each other, so when a superhero hasn't been done in a quite a bit, they decide to do it and then they don't talk amongst themselves. And now that we have two coming out, it just happens that way. Just like White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen (in 2013).
But for Hercules, he's such an iconic, timeless hero. There are so many stories of Hercules - it's not just one like with Tarzan, where it's based on the book. Hercules had many tales. There are the 12 labors. You can do an origin story like ours is. You have The Rock's Thracian Wars, which is more his adult life. I'm just stoked.
Hercules is probably my favorite character growing up just because I love mythology so much. I'm excited to see the Rock's, as well. It's just a good year for Hercules.
Q. At least in your movie, there's a lot of ground covered: gladiatorial stuff, family stuff, supernatural stuff, etc.
A. You don't want to make these superheroes so grandiose that they're unrelatable, so it's really important having them more rooted to Earth and having more of a story that mankind can relate to. In ours, I lose my mother when my stepfather kills her, and you have the human side of him living through that and going through the turmoil of what that would draw out of him. It stirs up his acceptance of who he is.
Q. You are a pretty athletic guy in general. What kind of training did you do for this in capturing the Herculean moves and look?
A. I live quite an active lifestyle. I'm very athletic - I just love sports. Taking on this role, I knew it was going to be challenging in ways I was excited to take on.
I never really knew how to ride a horse. I would just get on a horse when I was young and just go up and down. You kinda bob and I thought that was riding a horse until I worked with my trainers in Bulgaria and they're like, "Kellan, you have to shag the horse. You can't bounce up and down. You have to look like an expert rider, which means moving with the horse and being one with the animal."
There was a lot of ass hurting. My butt was just raw from getting on that saddle, especially with the garb we were wearing. You couldn't wear jeans or Wranglers that would help protect yourself.
His on-screen wardrobe didn't help in protecting certain parts of Kellan Lutz's body while riding horses in "The Legend of Hercules."(Photo: Simon Varsano)
There was also fight training with the sword and the shield and the bow and the staff. I love learning new talents and being able to perfect it with really talented stunt people. For me growing up with so many brothers, we would always wrestle and fight. That's where my passion is and why I've chosen to go more the action route. I just get this energy pumping through me.
The story is very much grounded in a human tale with romance, but it's very heavy with the action, as well.
Q. You have a fan base from the Twilight movies. What are the Lutz faithful going to be most surprised in seeing from you in Hercules that they haven't before?
(Laughs) I had a change to finally act. I'm just really excited to show more. The Twilight movies were a blessing to be a part of, but we're playing stale characters. They're vampires who are dead and they're trying to be like humans, but you can see the deadness in them.
To actually have a big movie in theaters that shows some heart, shows some depth, shows some emotional journey, I'm really excited for people to see that, that I can do more than just stand there and say a one-liner.
(Hercules) was a success as soon as we wrapped because of all the hard work everybody put into it to tell this tale. However it does (at the box office), I frankly don't care. I know my team, my agents and managers, beg to differ because it's all a money play with them because it has to open up big. But for me, I was just blessed to be able to fulfill a childhood dream of mine to play Hercules.
Q. Was playing him all it was cracked up to be from little Kellan's imagination?
A. (Laughs) There was only one part missing, and that was the long hair. I would always put wigs on as a little kid or you would cut the mop part off and put it on your head. I would just do dress up in a way where I'm trying to be these characters. I used to play in the snow naked - I mean, I was really young then. But you always try to be like you'd see them in my coloring books. The coloring book I colored when Hercules was fighting the Nemean Lion, he had longer hair so I just envisioned him as Hercules with long hair.
Renny allowed me to try it. He let me put the wig on and I got on the horse and I started fighting with the sword while on the horse in the rain, and I couldn't see anything. I was like, "No, no this is terrible!" And he's like, "I knew that. I was going to tell you but I let you find out on your own. It was just really comical."
Q. Do you feel 2014 may be the biggest year of your career so far?
A. I'd definitely have to say so and I couldn't be happier.
You take the (roles) that you're supposed to get, and with the ones that you don't get, you can't feel bad about yourself. I got close to Thor, I got close to Captain America and some of these other roles I liked, but Hercules for me was really significant to my youth. I was just like, "I have to have this one." I think Renny really saw that.
It's really cool to do a movie with a director who has a vision. I've been a huge fan of Renny's, and when I sat with him in meetings, he'd show me things.
Chatting with him more in depth, we found out we were neighbors in Venice, that his cat would come to my little place and sit on my lap. I was telling them this story about the cat, and I was like, "Yeah, the cat's name is Pants." And he's like, "Oh, that's my cat." It was very serendipitous. And then we found out we share the same birthday. I'm a man of faith, and I'm like, "God, you are good. Because this is too spot-on for this not to happen."
Q. Do you have a big role in Expendables 3?
A. Sly's creating a younger group of Expendables. The older guys he thinks are too old, and in the second act of the movie, he hires the young guns - and I'm the leader of the young guns.
I had a lot of great scenes with Sly, who really took me under his wing. He's a brilliant man. That guy, he's tough and has a heart of gold. Working with them was such an honor because those are all my heroes. I love action movies, so to work with all of them in one movie, I don't know what more I can do next.
I make goals as an actor and I really think it's important to encourage yourself and create a vision for what you want to do with your life. Every year, I write down roles of a football player or a jet fighter - things I want to do, things I want to take a step toward. Tarzan was one of those and I got it. Hercules was at the top of that list and we've been pursuing this one for years now.
And thanks to Twilight, I think that really opened up doors and put me on a different plane with other actors to be able to play that (Expendables) role.
Since New Moon I've been saying this is what I want to do. The first (Expendables) came out and there was a role I auditioned for and Sly called my team and said, "Look, I love your kid." It just didn't work out with New Moon dates. The second one came around and they chose Liam (Hemsworth) for that, which is awesome. I was so happy for Liam and it didn't work out for me because I was still shooting Twilight movies.
The next thing that I would love to do is if they ever do He-Man. That would be the third one: I loved Tarzan, He-Man and Hercules growing up.
Q. They are supposedly doing a new Masters of the Universe movie, but you might have to lobby for the long hair again. A short-haired He-Man would be weird.
A. (Laughs) I know! I'd love to do that or ThunderCats. I worked with Dolph on Expendables, so talking to him about (his 1987 movie) Masters of the Universe felt so surreal.
Life's amazing if you know what you want to do. I just really encourage people to have goals for yourself. See yourself somewhere and you'll get it.
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