By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Kellan Lutz is shedding the vampire teeth to don the breastplate of Greek demigod Hercules in his newest film, as he leaves the "Twilight" franchise behind to embrace the action genre.
"The Legend of Hercules," in theaters on Friday, will see Lutz exploring the hero's origins. A second film, "Hercules," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, will focus on the hero later in life, after he completes the legendary 12 labors.
Born to a mortal woman and Zeus, king of the Gods, Lutz's Hercules faces challenges early on in his life from his human father King Amphitryon, who never accepts him as a true son, and his half brother Iphicles, who is jealous of his super strength. Hercules finds himself torn away from his love, Hebe, and sent to war, only to be sold into slavery.
"It's the hero's journey - you have the wizard, you have the antagonist, that's the king, and you have the different missions he has to go through and the love interest in Princess Hebe. Story-wise, it's all there, that's what drew me to it," Lutz told Reuters.
Not that playing a superhero is unfamiliar territory for 28-year-old Lutz, who played Greek god Poseidon in 2011's mythological action film "Immortals" and has been drawn to the larger-than-life heroes from childhood.
"I knew when I saw the superheroes that I wanted to fight against injustice. So from a young age, I always wanted to make the world a better place like Captain Planet would do, or He-Man, or Tarzan or Hercules," the actor said.
"The Legend of Hercules," showing in both 3D and 2D and distributed by Lions Gate's Summit Entertainment, was made for an estimated budget of $70 million, according to film website IMDB.com. It is expected to earn $7 million at the box office this weekend, according to film tracking site Boxoffice.com.
BREAKING OUT OF THE BEEFCAKE MOLD
Lutz rose to prominence as the hunky vampire Emmett Cullen in the "Twilight" film franchise, based on the young adult novels by Stephenie Meyer about a teen romance between a human girl and vampire boy, which has grossed more than $3 billion at the worldwide box office.
As well as playing "Hercules," Lutz will be starring in this year's action extravaganza "The Expendables 3" alongside Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford.
The actor also has a long list of varied roles he'd like to play, from villain Venom in Spider-Man to secret agent MacGyver, animated hero Jonny Quest and of course, the sword-wielding He-Man.
"If everyone saw me as an action guy and gave me action movie after action movie, I'd be fine with it, it's one of those great genres that you always have fun doing," Lutz said.
"I don't care to win an Oscar or anything like that. ... I love doing action movies. I love doing comedies and dramas," the actor added, saying he aspired to a career like Matt Damon's, who has flitted between drama, action and comedy on both independent and big-budget productions.
But while Lutz is building a portfolio of roles that capitalize on his model good looks and muscular physique - he was part of a 2010 Calvin Klein underwear campaign - the actor said he wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker as well, writing and producing scripts for upcoming projects.
"I'm a very intelligent man. I went to college for chemical engineering," the actor said.
"A lot of roles have shown off one of my other strengths, my physique, but now that I'm a producer, I can create my own material, so a lot of the books I'm going after, you probably won't even see me topless. ... I don't get offended if people call me a beefcake, they just don't know me."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Jonathan Oatis)