By Samantha Simon
Updated Dec 02, 2016 @ 5:00 pm
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Taylor Lautner first stole our hearts eight years ago, as swoon-worthy werewolf Jacob Black in Twilight. Since then, he’s starred in a slew of action films and comedies, most recently landing the part of the quirky doctor Cassidy Cascade on Scream Queens. But for his latest movie role, the 24-year-old actor is taking a dramatic turn. In Run the Tide, which hits select theaters today, Dec. 2, Lautner plays Rey, a small-town 20-something raising his younger brother in the absence of their jailed drug-addled mother, played by Constance Zimmer. The serious character is a total departure for Lautner, and that’s exactly why he decided to take it on.

“The No. 1 thing that drew me to this was that it's unlike anything I've ever done before,” Lautner told InStyle. “I knew it would be a huge challenge for me, and that's what I was looking for.” As soon as he finished reading the script, Lautner was hooked. “I fell in love with the story and the characters,” he said. “But to be honest, the idea of doing the project sort of scared me. Then I thought, ‘You know what? I want to go for this.’ I've recently learned that choosing projects that scare you is what allows you to grow as an actor, so that attracted me to it even more.”

In the film, Lautner’s character essentially becomes a parent to his brother Oliver (played by Nico Christou), and when he learns that their abusive mother is about to return to their lives—and regain custody of Oliver post-prison—Rey takes off for the California coast with his little bro in tow. Despite his questionable decision to kidnap Oliver and leave their desert home behind, Rey’s intentions are pure. He’s simply trying to protect his brother from the childhood that he suffered at the hands of their addict mom, and Lautner was more than ready to tap into his paternal instinct onscreen.

“The fact that Rey is a parental figure was definitely a much more adult theme than I've dealt with in the past,” he said. “But it was a ton of fun. I’ve always loved kids—I’m seven years older than my younger sister, which I think was sort of helpful for me.” Playing a father-like figure had Lautner thinking about what kind of parent he hopes to be someday, albeit briefly. “Going through that experience does trigger your mind to think about it a bit,” he said. “But not too seriously, because I’m certainly not at a point in my life where that's gonna be coming anytime soon.”

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While he may not be taking on parenthood in the near future, Lautner does have a few words of advice to offer his younger self. “I would say just to soak up each and every moment and appreciate every little experience that goes by,” said the star. “I had so many years of my life that were such a whirlwind and kind of came out of nowhere, and it all just flew by so fast. So I would say just take every moment seriously—because it goes by quickly—and one day you'll be thinking back on those experiences and miss it.”

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The Twilight phenomenon may have come and gone, but Lautner is forever grateful to the part that launched millions of #TeamJacob Twihards around the globe. “When I started Twilight, I was only 16 years old,” he said. “It really was one of the first big things I did, and I think I’ve learned a lot since then, hopefully. I've had the opportunity to work with a so many extremely talented actors and filmmakers and just watch them on set and learn from them, and that’s been a huge help to me over the years.”

One thing that has changed for the star ever since garnering attention for showing off his ripped physique in Twilight? His willingness to go sans shirt. In recent years, Lautner has avoided stripping down on-camera. But much to our delight, Lautner shows off his abs once again in Run the Tide—and he was happy to do so since it’s not in a gratuitous way. “I'm not at all opposed to going shirtless, as long as it makes sense,” he said. “There are times when it makes sense that you go shirtless: When you going swimming in an ocean you are not typically wearing a shirt and if you have a sexy scene, you usually are not wearing a shirt. I'm not at all opposed to things like that—but I do look out for the times where it feels like somebody's forcing a moment to get my shirt off just so we can say that we did.”

In Run the Tide, Lautner goes shirtless when swimming in the ocean, as well as during "a sexy scene" with Quantico star Johanna Braddy, who plays his ex-girlfriend Michelle. And the scene that pushed Lautner out of his comfort zone had nothing to do with showing skin, but rather when his character, Rey, picks up a guitar and begins serenading Braddy. “I am one of the worst singers you'll ever meet, and I can’t play any instruments,” said Lautner. “I have absolutely zero musical talent, although I love a good karaoke session and have fun doing some Backstreet hits. But you might want to plug your ears when I open my mouth. So I really had to let myself go with that scene because I was like, 'This is gonna be awful, guys, so just get ready for it.'"

While Lautner may caution audiences when it comes to his musical talents, he’s ready to share Run the Tide with his fans—singing scene and all. “It’s just a heartwarming movie that will probably have you crying on your couch,” he said. “I think it'll leave people with warm fuzzy feelings.”

Check out the trailer for Run the Tide above, and catch the film in select theaters today, Dec. 2.