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‘Twilight’ actor thrills Wagner students

Actor Chaske Spencer, best known for his role in the "Twilight" movie series, speaks to students Wednesday at Wagner High School. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 2
Michaela Kokes, 10, of Delmont, covers her mouth and watches as her friend, fifth-grader Hayden Denoyer, 10, of Lake Andes, join actor Chaske Spencer in a werewolf growl during an assembly Wednesday at Wagner High School. Denoyer asked Spencer if he could growl like a werewolf, and he asked her to help him with it. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)2 / 2

WAGNER — Actor Chaske Spencer joked easily with students Wednesday at Wagner High School.

“I’m not going to take off my shirt,” he said, dismissing their urgings.

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The 6-foot-3 Spencer, 38, is best known among his youthful fans for his role as Sam Uley, a powerful alpha wolf in the “Twilight” movie series, based on author Stephanie Meyers’ popular tales of vampires, werewolves and supernatural love. The group of muscular American Indian men that Spencer leads in his “Twilight” roles often appears shirtless, displaying six-pack abs that prompt feminine sighs and male envy.

Spencer had a more cautionary tale for students as he told of the alcohol and drug addictions that nearly scuttled his acting career, but he slid carefully into his serious message to the students, telling them to avoid alcohol and drugs and to believe in their personal visions.

“I want to share my journey as a man and a Native American artist,” he said. “If one of you is inspired to achieve your dreams and goals, I’ll feel I’ve succeeded.”

Spencer, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, of Poplar, Mont.

He will travel to Minneapolis and other film festival venues soon to promote his upcoming film, “Winter in the Blood,” in which he has a starring role with veteran actor David Morse.

Spencer said all he ever wanted to be is a well-respected working actor.

He said the top physical condition he and others display in the Twilight series came only after months of dieting and work with a top-notch trainer. Spencer said his father, a school guidance counselor who is Nez Perce, and his mother, a school administrator and a Lakota Sioux, instilled a work ethic in him that saw him through his darkest hours.

Spencer told students he didn’t fit in in high school but found escape by watching old movies.

He credits a serious auto accident and his first drink of alcohol as two life-changing moments.

The accident prompted him to get on with his life; the alcohol and drugs nearly destroyed it.

Spencer traveled to New York with $100 in his pocket and started learning the acting craft.

“I was broke most of the time,” he said.

His luck changed, however, and parts started coming his way. Among others, he earned parts in the 2003 movie “Dreamkeeper” and director Steven Spielberg’s series “Into the West.”

Then his alcohol and drug addictions kicked in. Spencer described himself as an angry and violent drunk who lost his personal integrity and honesty.

“I’d steal your wallet and then help you look for it,” he said. After five years of a downhill slide that led to heroin addiction, he found himself broke and homeless. Viewed as undependable, acting roles also evaporated.

“I was lost,” he said. “I wanted to quit alcohol and drugs but I couldn’t stop.”

That in itself was a blessing, he said.

“I was given the gift of desperation.”

That desperation led him to friends and eventual treatment for substance abuse.

His break on the “Twilight” series came on the anniversary of his first year of sobriety. His career has since been on an upward track.

“Acting saved my life,” he said. Many of the friends he grew up with on the reservation, he said, are now dead from drugs and alcohol, or in jail.

Spencer said his desperate experiences gave him a foundation to be of service to others.

He urged students to embrace and celebrate their individual heritages and to remember who they are.

“It’s about giving back,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s about loving, growing and sharing. Be nice to people. It doesn’t take much.”