“Everyone calls Christian Bale intense. I hate that f–king word. The guy does his job. I love that.”
The hype for Terminator: Salvation surrounds Christian Bale, but Sam Worthington is really the one to watch. He’s essentially the lead in McG’s franchise relaunch, and he’s also scored starring roles in both James Cameron’s Avatar and in Louis Leterrier’s upcoming Clash of the Titans remake. This ex-bricklayer from Perth, Australia seems like something of a badass when you speak with him. He’s dedicated enough to his craft to sell everything he owned to devote years of his life to Cameron’s revolutionary 3-D project, and he says he’s still living out of nothing more than a bag of clothes and a bag of books while filming Clash in England. Recently, he spoke candidly to the press about all his projects and the career he accidentally fell into.
Q: How do you feel about being the “it” guy?
Sam Worthington: I’m working. It feels fucking good. [laughs] I don’t think I’m the “it” guy. I’m think I’m in a lucky position. I’m getting offered roles that I find interesting, I’m working with some very talented people, and hopefully telling some good stories. Hopefully, my work doesn’t let those people down.
Q: Were you a big Terminator fan before coming on board?
Sam Worthington: I would’ve been about 15 when Terminator 2 came out. You really remember the liquid man, of course, going through the helicopter and what-not. That was kinda revolutionary for its time. But I think what they do is they showcase how good a storyteller Jim is.
Q: What was the hardest part about taking on such a physical role?
Sam Worthington: I think the toughest thing is trying to get a sense of grit and gravity and weight in your performance that isn’t being overshadowed by the explosions and the action. You gotta bring out, for want of a better word, the heart of this character. I think the hardest thing was making sure that I was on the right track and that it wasn’t melodramatic.
Q: How bad was the makeup process?
Sam Worthington: Anywhere from about four to six hours, where they’d do the outline and paint you blue, so you look like a Cirque Du Soliel Terminator. You know, that wasn’t hard, man. You’re sitting there for six hours. I pity the poor guys doing it! They’re the ones having to work for six hours. I just have to sit there. And they make you look good.
Q: How’d you get your start as an actor?
Sam Worthington: Well, I was a bricklayer. Built houses. And then I was about 19, I traveled around, met a girl who wanted to go to the premiere drama school in Australia, where Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett went. I auditioned with her for moral support, but I got in and she didn’t. She dumped me a week later. That was the end of that relationship. [laughs] I didn’t know Shakespeare or wings on a stage and I thought Chekov was on the Starship Enterprise, I didn’t realize he wrote plays! So you know, you’re a sponge, you take in everything. Then, after three years of study, you go out and you learn how to act.
Q: What movies inspired you as a kid?
Sam Worthington: Well, I didn’t really watch that many. You know, you watch films if your dad got one from the video store. Where I grew up, you don’t think you’re ever going to be on a billboard, or fuckin’ have a head sixty feet tall. We got a treat if we were lucky.
Q: How has your life changed now with this sudden rush of success?
Sam Worthington: I think the world changes around you, but you don’t change. Simple as that. I think if I change, my mates are gonna kick me in the ass. You know, I’m 32 years old. If I was 22, yeah, it could probably go to your head, but as far as I’m concerned, as long as it doesn’t affect my work, and I can keep producing a quality that gets you work with the likes of McG and Jim Cameron, then I’m doing okay.
Q: What’s the reception for you like when you go back to Perth?
Sam Worthington: My mates are excited because they can throw Jaffas at my head. But you know, they’re proud. Their dude’s working.
Q: Have you relocated to the U.S.?
Sam Worthington: Since Avatar. I sold everything before Avatar, because I knew it was going to be a long haul. Jim will tell you this story when we start selling that. I had two bags – a bag of books and a bag of clothes. I had nothing. So I said to Jim, “I’ll give you everything, because I’ve got fuckin’ nothing.” Since then, because I’ve been working so consistently, that’s all I’ve got. Two bags. I’m in a hotel up the road.
Q: Do you think Avatar is going to be better than Titanic?
Sam Worthington: It’s totally different. One’s got a boat, one’s got a planet.
Q: Has Jim shown you the footage from Avatar? What are your impressions of it?
Sam Worthington: Well, Jim’s very odd. He would show a lot of it as we were filming. It’s a very collaborative relationship I have with Jim. I consider him my best friend. Not only because of what he’s offered me, like this world he’s brought me into, but he bashed me as a man and as an actor. I think what he has done is pushing the boundaries of what going to a movie and experiencing movies is about. This ain’t gonna be the be and the end all, but it’s certainly hopefully going to show you the possibilities of motion capture at its finest, performance capture at its finest, 3-D technology, and computer animation and graphics at their best. Hopefully that starts a revolution.
Q: How did you manage to land it in the first place?
Sam Worthington: I auditioned. I put something on tape, and then a week later they flew me to a meeting, told me to be on my best behavior, which I wasn’t. I just went in and said, “Look, I’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s fucking get to work.” And that was it. It took six months for me and Jim to convince the studio that you can put a mega-blockbuster and an unknown actor, or an untested actor, really. We would do auditions for the studio, but it was more a sense of getting to know this man that you’re going to be spending a year of your life with. So I would say, “look, I’ve done ten years in Australia, and I’ll give you ten years worth of what I know. Can we work together?” It was six months before we even started filming.
Q: Some people have said that Cameron is a harsh taskmaster.
Sam Worthington: He’s all of that, and a genius, and probably the best acting director I’ve ever worked with, bar McG. Even though it’s all technology, both of them have a real sensitivity towards character and actors. But he demands, just like any director should, the bar really high, and if you don’t come up to that, yeah, he’ll bark. Good on him. If people don’t come up to that in any job… you’re not going to do it half-assed. I can’t see the point. He’s extremely harsh, but in the best possible way, because he brings out the best of you.
Q: All the talk about Avatar has been about the effects, but what about the story?
Sam Worthington: Jim is always about story first. As I said, he’s a very actor-friendly director. You can put all the bells and whistles you like, like with Terminator, but if it’s not about revealing something of the human spirit, people are going to tune out. He’s very in touch with personal relationships and, especially with Avatar, what it means to be a man. I can take that from it. Help people who are affected by bullies. And I think all those kind of themes, and a sense of hope – if you settle that, and then surround it with great technology and fucking whiz-bang explosions, then you’re on the path to making something that people remember when they leave the cinema, and not just kinda go, “What did we just see?”
Q: Were you ever worried about getting hurt on the set of these physical movies?
Sam Worthington: No. I’m making movies. You just dive into the world Yeah, I’m very lucky, you have a lot of fun. You do things that you normally don’t get to do, like kiss beautiful women and jump off an exploding building. You try to do as much as you possibly can, because that’s part of the fun.
Q: How are the effects in Terminator as compared to Avatar?
Sam Worthington: It’s more tangible in Terminator. You know, you’ve got things blowing up around you. Motion capture, you try to get as much as you can, but you’re not going to get full-on explosions or fill the place with water. That sense of putting us into this gritty visual world kinda helps the story along. You see us going through it, so you kinda go, “Man, these people are really in this war zone.” Oh man, they blow shit up around us in Terminator. And it’s not hard to run faster and get the hell outta there when things are going bang bang bang!
Q: How is Clash of the Titans going?
Sam Worthington: We’ve done two weeks, we took on the Medusa, we took on the witches. Next week, we’re going to take on the scorpions, and then we’re gotta fucking kill the Kraken. So, yeah, at the moment it’s all guns blaring. It’s going to be good. I think Louie’s got a very good eye, and there’s a great bunch of people I’m working with.
Q: And you’re doing all of this in a toga?
Sam Worthington: I’ve got a skirt on. Don’t think you can make a toga look that manly. I couldn’t, anyway. Armor me up, give me armor and a buzz cut, gimme a skirt and a sword and let me loose.
Q: What’s next for you? Is there anything you’re clamoring to work on?
Sam Worthington: I was seen by a couple of people, but people do that. They always want the guy who’s in the moment, don’t they? I’ll keep working until people realize I’m a scam. [laughs] No, I think if I’ve got the privilege to work with good directors, be it McG, Jim, John Madden, Massy Tadjedin, Louis Leterrier and whoever wants to work with me in the future, then I’ll keep going where the work is. The same as bricklayin’ – you went where the fuckin’ work was. I like that lifestyle. I think Russell Crowe said that sometimes you read something, it just leaps off the page, and you go, “Fuck all, I have to do this for four months!” That’s the thing, I’ve yet to find something apart from Clash where I’m going I really want to commit four months or thirteen months or four weeks to really do it.
Q: What was it about Clash that gave you that feeling?
Sam Worthington: I read it and I jumped right out of the room with a ruler trying to chop the head off of my girlfriend. [laughs]
Q: How about Last Night with Keira Knightley?
Sam Worthington: Massy, the director, wanted a real European feel to it, it’s a bit like Closer. It’s about human relationships and what-not. The different kind of levels of cheating and adultery, basically.
Q: How was McG as a director?
Sam Worthington: McG’s given me the world. He took a punt, just like Jim. I love working with him. I know that sounds like a cliché, but if I’ve got to go to work, I don’t want to be told what to do. I’m not a puppet, I’m not a monkey. I like working with someone so I can stand on the front line and say “we’re proud of this damn movie.” And I would stand toe-to-toe with McG on the front line. The movie he is giving you is the movie he told me he wanted to make. And that’s a good director. He’s friendly, he’s giving, he wants to make good films. It’s nice to be a part of that, instead of some director sitting there going, “Fuck it, they’ll make it because I want to.” He wants to give it to an audience.
Q: How about Christian Bale?
Sam Worthington: He’s extremely dedicated. There’s no bullshit about him. It’s about story, primarily, with him. It’s not about all the hoopla that goes with it. Are we revealing something about humans? Are we revealing something about ourselves that we can look at? I love it. I mean, everyone calls him intense. I hate that fucking word. The guy does his job. That’s what he’s paid to do. Come in, do the job to the best of your ability, and go home. I love that.
Q: What was it like in that big face-to-face showdown with him?
Sam Worthington: I kept thinking, “Fuck, it’s Batman!” That’s it! I was just like…that was the first thing I did with him. It was quite intimidating, because I’ve grown up watching him and I admire his work. But then you just go ahead, get in the scene, and bounce off each other. He’s very giving.
Q: Now that all of this is coming together for you, has anything happened that’s been a surprise for you?
Sam Worthington: The whole fucking thing!
SPOILER ALERT BEGINS NOW:
Q: How many different endings did you shoot?
Sam Worthington: I think we discussed three or four. Depending on the day on set and all the actors involved, but I know we discussed a hell of a lot of endings.
Q: How do you feel about your sequel possibilities, given the ending?
Sam Worthington: Well, we only made one movie. We set out to make Terminator: Salvation. You’re not really thinking about 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and 9. So you just try to make the best movie you can at that time.
Q: Do you think Marcus can come back?
Sam Worthington: Oh, I’ve got an idea. [laughs] In my head, it’s crazy, it’s unbelievable. The good thing is that we’ve got the luxury of time travel, which was introduced in the first and second one, so who knows? It depends on whether people want Marcus to come back, that’s the other thing.