Actress. Writer. Musician. Producer. Director. These are all ways to describe Nikki Reed. Yet the LA-bred multi-hyphenate had altogether different aspirations before stepping into the spotlight after starring in director Catherine Hardwicke’s breakthrough 2003 film, Thirteen. “I wanted to be a vet and take care of animals,” says the 26-year-old. “I didn’t ever think of myself as an actress.”
Of course, Reed’s work in Thirteen—which she co-wrote with Hardwicke, a family friend—would make her one. The script, written and produced when Reed was indeed in her first year of adolescence, was a raw reflection of her own experiences at that age and it resonated with independent film audiences. Opportunities swiftly emerged, including a supporting role in Hardwicke’s 2005 skateboarder drama Lords of Dogtown, an arc on everyone’s favorite teen soap from the mid-aughts, The O.C., 3 and a much coveted role as the vampire Rosalie Hale in the Twilight trilogy.
Still her love of animals never waned. That’s why Reed paid a visit to California’s State Capitol in early March to testify on behalf of Assembly Bill 147, also known as the Research Animal Adoption Bill. The initiative will help build relationships between research facilities that experiment on animals and non-profit rescue organizations that want to find those animals homes.
Reed’s animal-rights work started a decade ago, when she began fostering pets— dogs, cats, horses, even rats. She was inspired by her mother, who “has been doing this since I was born,” Reed explains. “She basically takes in any and everything that has a heartbeat.” Five years ago, the Los Angeles-based actress built a guest house on her property so that her mother could move in and help care for her multiple fosters. “My mom deserves every bit of credit,” she says. “It’s all her.”
But Reed’s natural inclination towards activism isn’t relegated to animals alone. Recently, she partnered with Thrive Market, an annual membership service that offers organic and GMO-free groceries at wholesale prices. (Think Whole Foods options at Costco prices.) And for every membership purchased, one is donated to a low-income family. “I grew up eating off the dollar menu at every fast food restaurant. When you have a single mother that makes $15,000 a year for her two kids in a major city like Los Angeles, money runs out quickly,” Reed says. “If my mom could have afforded it she would have bought healthy organic vegetables, but we didn’t have the money.” While Reed is reticent about discussing romantic relationships, she will admit that Thrive, which has enrolled hundreds of thousands of members since November 2014, is a labor of love shared with fiancé Ian Somerhalder, who is also deeply involved.
Given the amount of time Reed spends trying to save the world—she’s also an advocate of autism awareness—it’s hard to understand how she has the time to do the Hollywood thing. Over the past year, she has starred opposite next-big-thing Jake Lacy in the indie sports comedy Intramural, J.K. Simmons and Blythe Danner in Murder of a Cat, and William Shatner in The Sunday Horse, / which is set to be released later in 2015. Reed also made her directorial debut last year with the ESPN documentary Think Normal, which chronicled autistic basketball player Jason McElwain who became an internet sensation after scoring 20 points in the last four minutes of his high school basketball game. (Reed’s younger brother is autistic, which is part of the reason why McElwain’s spoke to her so personally.) “I was very, very inspired by this kid, but more so by his family,” she says. “I wanted to understand how his family contributed to him, and the man that he became. So I made a film about his mother.”
Strong women have played a recurring role in Reed’s own life, including her mom and Hardwicke. “I will forever be motivated to not only learn from women, but also be that example for other young women,” she says.
To that end, she is building a production company, which she launched with Somerhalder earlier this year. Her first big project was Enter the Dangerous Mind, a film she co-produced with Jake Hoffman. Reed also starred in the thriller, which was released in theaters this past February. “Not to sound redundant, but I do feel like it’s important for women in particular to focus on having a little more control over the roles that they choose,” she says. “Creating something is oftentimes your best bet. I’m actually currently writing a feature that I’m planning on directing.”
While Reed is mum on details regarding her first feature, it’s clear she has a good handle on her career course. “I started in this business when I was only 13, and I’m still very young,” she says. “At this age my primary focus and goal is chasing directors I want to work with and chasing material.” No matter what she chooses as her next project, there’s no doubt Reed will make plenty of time for the admirable work she does beyond the stage and screen. In fact, she had spent the day before rescuing a group of dogs from animal center in Georgia. “I haven’t slept in three days because I’ve been trying to figure out how to get those guys out before they were all killed,” she says. All in a day’s work for a Hollywood star with a conscience.