“i wish i could be a ninja,” Cam Gigandet laments, almost apologetically. The 28-year-old actor is sipping hot coffee on New York’s Lower East Side, as he puts to rest internet claims that he holds a black belt in Krav Maga, the art of Israeli street fighting. Since his breakout role as Kevin Volchok on the teen drama The O.C., half-truths like this have been added to his bio. Actually, Gigandet has never gotten into a physical altercation in his life, which is surprising, considering he’s best known playing the villain in films like Never Back Down, Twilight, New Moon, and the forthcoming drama Trespass.
The “real” Gigandet is charming and down to earth, preferring to talk about his family and his 23-month-old daughter rather than hand-to-hand combat. Gigandet explains that he plays the antihero so well because he’s anything but, “I enjoy [playing the villain], but it’s not me. There are really no rules when it comes to bad guys so you can really use your imagination. I guess I’m doing it because maybe I wish that I was a little more badass in real life.”
The action star got his start in Hollywood almost by accident. Born and raised in Auburn, Washington, Gigandet left immediately after high school graduation. He chose L.A. arbitrarily—so as not to get stuck in his hometown, and because it shared a time zone with his parents. At Santa Monica College, he was introduced to acting and, despite dropping out of school within a month, he knew he had found his calling. When his first gig on The Young and the Restless didn’t pan out (he was let go after three weeks), Gigandet remained determined. “If I could survive being fired by a soap opera, I knew I was going to be in it for the long haul,” he recalls.
After appearing on The O.C., movie offers began coming in. Last year alone, he turned Christina Aguilera out in Burlesque, billy clubbed Adrien Brody in The Experiment, and gave Lisa Kudrow Chlamydia in Easy A. In the latter, a high school comedy starring Emma Stone who lies about losing her virginity, Gigandet plays Micah, a Christian evangelist gone astray. The actor maintains he’s never told that untruth himself, but jokes, “I might have told someone I was a virgin when I wasn’t.” Though he has three major projects being released this year—including the recently released thriller The Roommate, which took first at the box office its opening weekend—Gigandet admits he’s still honing his craft, learning from mentors like Paul Bettany, who he stars with in the upcoming vampire thriller Priest, and from Nicolas Cage in Trespass. Remembering Cage’s technique fondly, Gigandet says, “He would do something goofy just for the heck of it. People try to be cool while they’re going through their process because no one wants to look like a fool, but it’s a fool’s game and you’ve got to be able to look like a fool.”
Gigandet asserts that he likes being challenged on set—pushed out of his comfort zone like Cage often seems to be—especially when he gets stuck in his head. “I analyze until I’m paralyzed,” he says. In filming Trespass, director Joel Schumacher had no problem getting him to snap out of it. “I was starting to behave like a bitter, immature brat, and then [Schumacher] just screamed at me, ‘Stop being a baby, you need to act like a fucking man!’ After that everything was fine, and I still adore him, and he adores me, and you feel like an actor.” As he reminisces, it’s apparent that he’s a bit lost in his thoughts for a moment. Perhaps he’s wondering what bad guy he’ll play next. And, in fact, as we finish our coffee he admits, “As soon as I get home, I have to go find a job.”