Sam Worthington, described as one of Australia’s most likable young leading men, is about to take Hollywood by storm. Buzzine‘s Emmanuel Itier sits down with the charismatic actor and gets the inside story on Terminator Salvation, as well as Sam’s other exciting projects.
Emmanuel Itier: It’s a long way from Perth [Western Australia] to the top of the Hollywood perch now. You’ve got four major things coming — you’ve got a movie with Carrie Matley, the hotly anticipated Avatar and the Clash of the Titans remake you’re doing right now…?
Sam Worthington: Yes, and The Debt with John Madden I did.
EI: What does it feel like to be the ‘it’ guy in 2009?
SW: Well, I’m working. It feels fucking good. Thanks a lot. I don’t know whether it’s the ‘it’ guy or something…I think it’s just…I’m in a lucky position. I’m getting offered roles that I find interesting and I’m working with some very talented people and hopefully telling some good stories. Hopefully my work isn’t going to let those people down.
EI: Were you a big fan of the [Terminator] franchise before you got onboard, and which was your favorite?
SW: Well, I reacquainted myself with the movies, obviously, before we started, but I would have been actually 15 or something when Terminator 2 came out. So you remember the liquid man, of course, and that was revolutionary for this time, going through the helicopter and all that. But I think what they do is they showcase how good a storyteller Jim [James Cameron] is.
EI: Do you think you got Avatar because you were in Terminator?
SW: I did Avatar before Terminator.
EI: Did that change things automatically? You’re the new guy for James Cameron’s first movie since Titanic.
SW: I’d say it would have helped. I mean, you’d be silly to think it didn’t, because, obviously, people are going, “Who’s this guy Jim is working with, and what else can he do?”
EI: Were you disappointed at the scene where you stabbed some guy in the shoulder, I believe, and it didn’t make it in the final cut?
SW: What? It didn’t? I don’t make a movie for ratings. I just make a movie to try to tell the best story I can tell, and obviously they’ve got their reasons why they took it out. It doesn’t really disappoint me or not. It’s part of the process.
EI: What was the toughest thing for you to do? It looks like such a physical movie.
SW: Yes, because it is so physical and it is action-orientated, I think the toughest thing is trying to get a sense of grit and gravity and weight in your performance that actually isn’t being overshadowed by all the explosions and the action. You’ve got to bring out, for want of a better word, the heart of this character, and I think the hardest thing was making sure I was on the right track and that it wasn’t melodramatic.
EI: Was there a lot of makeup going into it, or was it mostly computer graphics?
SW: No, it’s been about…depending on how un-repaired we were, anywhere from four to six hours where they do the outline and then paint you blue so you look like a Cirque du Soleil Terminator. But that wasn’t a hard one. You’re sitting there for six hours. I would 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.
EI: Now your character is in some way similar to the first…you know, he just shows up on the first movie and then gets killed. What do you think about that – maybe just for one movie instead of having the chance to come back in a sequel…?
SW: Well, we only made one movie and we set out to make Terminator Salvation. You’re not really thinking of five and six and seven and eight and nine, so you’re just trying to make the best movie you can at that time.
EI: Are you signed on for more?
EI: Do you think Marcus can indeed come back…?
SW: I’ve got an idea. They don’t know it yet.
EI: So in your idea, you are coming back?
SW: In my head, it’s crazy — it’s unbelievable. We’ll figure it out. The good thing is we’ve got the luxury of time travel, which was introduced in the first and the second one, so who knows? It depends if people want Marcus to come back. That’s the other thing.
EI: How many different endings did you shoot?
SW: I think we discussed about three or four, depending on the day and what sat well with all the actors and the people involved, depending on which one we went with. But I know we discussed a hell of a lot of endings.
EI: How has your life changed so far, in terms of the celebrity kind of thing? Do you have people, like an entourage around you? Do you anticipate your life changing now that people will know your face?
SW: Well, I think the world changes around you — I think you don’t change. That’s as simple as that. I think if I changed, my mates are going to kick me in the ass. I’m 32 years old. If I was 22, it probably could 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 the work with the likes of McG and Jim Cameron, then I’m doing okay.
EI: Could you tell us your story a little bit, like why you wanted to become an actor?
SW: Well, I was a bricklayer; I built houses. And then, when I was about 19, I traveled around and met a girl who wanted to go to the premier drama school in Australia where Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett went. I auditioned with her out of moral support… I got in. She didn’t.
EI: How mad was she?
SW: Well, she dumped me a week later, and that was the end of that relationship. But I didn’t know Shakespeare or what wings on a stage were. I thought Chekhov was on the Starship Enterprise — I didn’t realize he wrote plays. You’re a sponge — you take in everything, and after three years of studying, you then go out and learn how to act. It’s as simple as that.
EI: What movies inspired you as a kid?
SW: Well, we didn’t really watch that many. You’d 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 fucking have a head 60-feet tall, but we got a treat if we were lucky.
EI: What’s the reception like when you go back to Perth now?
SW: Oh, I think my mates are kind of excited because they can throw jaffers at my head. But they’re proud.
EI: Are you an Arnold [Schwarzenegger] fan, and have you met him?
SW: I haven’t met him. Hopefully I’ll meet him this week. That’s what I’m hoping for.
EI: What do you think of Arnold’s movies?
SW: Pumping Iron, I loved. I think he’s on top form in it, not only physically but…Lou Ferrigno fucking turns him up, doesn’t he? I don’t know if I want to bring that up with him.
EI: Any political aspirations yourself?
SW: No, I don’t think so. No, no, no.
EI: Will you be relocating here to the States, or do you think you’re going to stay in Australia?
SW: I sold everything before Avatar because I knew it was going to be a long haul. Jim will tell you the 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 fucking nothing,” and since then, because I’ve been working so consistently, that’s all I’ve got — two bags. I just travel around with the same bags.
EI: Really? Do you have a home or…?
SW: At the moment, I’m in a hotel up the road, because I flew in yesterday. Last week, I was in England filming Clash.
EI: Have they shown you the Avatar footage yet?
SW: Yes, I watched it before I went to Clash of the Titans.
EI: Is it going to outdo Titanic? Is it a better movie, do you think?
SW: It’s totally different. One’s about a boat, one’s about a plant.
EI: Obviously, you can’t tell us the details, but what were your impressions of seeing the footage after what you imagined when you were doing it?
SW: Jim is very open. Especially to me and Zoe [Saldana], he would show a lot of it as we were filming it. 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 backs 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, and this isn’t going to be the be-all-and-end-all, but it’s certainly going to show you the possibilities of motion capture at its finest, performance capture at its finest, and 3D technology and computer animation and graphics at their best, and hopefully that starts a revolution.
EI: How did you get this in the first place?
SW: I auditioned.
EI: Did you even think you had a shot, and how did he tell you you got it?
SW: I auditioned and put something on tape, and then a week later, they flew me to meet him, told me to be on my best behavior, which I wasn’t, and…
EI: What did you do?
SW: I just went in and said, “Look, I’ve got nothing to lose, man, so let’s fucking get to work,” and that was it. For six months, you worked to get the job, and it took six months for me and Jim to convince a studio that you can put a mega blockbuster and an unknown actor or an untested actor, to be honest, and it was in the worldwide. So for six months with Jim, we would do auditions for the studio, but it was more a sense of me getting to know this man that I was going to be spending a year of my life with. I would say, “Look, I’ve done ten years in Australia and I’ll give you ten years’ worth of what I know, and can we work together?” And it was the best six months before we even started filming.
EI: Some actors say he’s a brutal taskmaster. What’s your take on that?
SW: 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 yes, he demands – just like any actor should — the bar really high, and if you, like any director should, don’t come up to that, yes, 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. Yes, he’s extremely harsh, but in the best possible ways because it brings out the best of you.
EI: Avatar and this movie both seem to be incredibly physical things — very demanding that way. Were there any times that you were afraid you were going to be hurt or stuff like that, and is there anything you are afraid of?
SW: No, it’s making movies. It’s not really… You just dive into the world. I’m very lucky. You have a lot of fun. You do things you normally don’t get to do, like kiss beautiful women and jump off an exploding building, and you try to do as much as you possibly can because that’s part of the fun.
EI: Everyone talks about Avatar and the motion capture and how it’s going to change everything, but what about the story? How did that speak to you?
SW: Jim is always about the story first. As I said, he’s a very direct, actor-friendly director, so you can put all the bells and whistles you like on it, like with Terminator, but if it’s not about revealing something of the human spirit, people are going to tune out. Jim is very in touch with personal relationships, especially with Avatar, what it means to be a man. I can take that from it — how people were affected by bullies, and all those kinds 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 will remember when they leave the cinema and not just go, “What did we just see?”
EI: In the actual sequences in Terminator, were they more organic than the ones in Avatar?
SW: Oh yes, more tangible on Terminator. You’ve got things blowing up around you and motion capture — you try to get as much as you can, but obviously you’re not going to get full-on explosions and fill the place with water. But I think that sense of putting us into this gritty visceral world helps the story along. You see us going through it so you go, “Man, these people are really in this war zone.” Oh man, they blow shit up around you, especially on Terminator, yes, and it’s not hard to run faster and get the hell out of there when things are going bang, bang, bang!
EI: What’s Clash like?
SW: We’ve done two weeks. We took on the Medusa. We took on the witches. Next week we’ve got to take on the Scorpius, and then we go and fucking kill the Kraken. So at the moment, it’s all guns blaring kind of thing. It’s going to be good. I think Louis [Leterrier] has got a very good eye, and there are a great bunch of people I’m working with.
EI: Are you doing that in a toga?
SW: I’ve got a skirt on. I don’t think you can make a toga looks that manly. I couldn’t, anyway, so I said, “Armor me up. Give me armor and a buzz cut, and give me a skirt and a sword, and let me loose.”
EI: Will you settle here, or are you going to settle anywhere, or just keep making movies?
SW: I’ll keep working until people realize I’m a scam. 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 with bricklaying. You went where the fucking work was, and I like that lifestyle.
EI: Did your family act at all?
EI: What did they think of this when you first were like, “I’m going to be an actor”?
SW: They just think I’m mad as a hatter, but I think they’re extremely proud, and that’s it.
EI: You’re in a lot of movies with action figures — in Avatar and this one. Are you going to collect these figures?
SW: I’ve got a nine-year-old nephew; I’m doing it on the cheap.
EI: Do you collect anything yourself?
EI: What have you been approached for next? Are we going to see any more big action…?
SW: I’ve got to get through Clash first, and then I can decide.
EI: But there’s no buzz right now — anyone going after you for anything?
SW: Oh, there are a couple of people, but people do that. They want the guy who’s in the moment, so you read things. I think Russell Crowe said it: “Sometimes you read something and it just leaps off the page and you go, ‘Fuck it all. I have to do this for four months.’ And that’s the thing. I’ve yet to find something, apart from Clash, where I’ve gone, “Man I really want to commit four months or 13 months or four weeks to doing it.”
EI: What was it about Clash that gave you that feeling?
SW: I read it, and I jumped around the room with a ruler trying to chop the head off my girlfriend.
EI: And Last Night…?
SW: Massy, the director, wanted it to have a European feel to it. It’s a bit like Closer. It’s about human relationships and the different levels of cheating and adultery, basically.
EI: And the movie with John Madden…?
SW: It’s called The Debt. I play a Mossad agent hunting down a Nazi, and then 30 years later, you see how it affected Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds. Me, Marton Csokas and Jessica Chastain are the younger versions of them, and it’s what you do in your life can affect the future.
EI: You talked a bit about James Cameron, but you didn’t say much about McG. I’m just wondering what was he like as a director?
SW: McG has given me the world. He took a punt. Just like Jim, I think he’s very high risk to say, “Sam, come in here.” Me and him work. I love working with him. 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, “McG, we’re proud of this damn movie,” and I would stand toe to toe with McG on the front line. The movie he has given you is the movie he told me he wanted to make, and that’s the best. I think that’s a good director. He’s friendly. He’s giving. He wants to make good films. That’s nice to be a part of that, instead of some director sitting back going, “Fuck it. I make it because I want to.” He wants to give it to an audience.
EI: What do you think of Christian [Bale]?
SW: He’s extremely dedicated. There’s no bullshit about him. He comes in and it’s about story, primarily, with him. It’s not about all the hoopla that goes with it. It’s about coming in and, “Are we revealing something about humans? Are we revealing something about ourselves that we can look at?” And I love it. 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.
EI: What was it like filming that scene with him when you were all tied up and you were face to face?
SW: I kept thinking, “Fuck, it’s Batman!” That’s it. That was the first scene I did with him, so it was quite intimidating because I’d grown up watching the guy and admire his work. Then you just get in the scene and bounce off each other. He’s very giving, so you don’t have to do much.
EI: How comfortable are you with the accent?
SW: They gave me a voice coach and I try my best.
EI: It seems like this is dream-come-true time. After the dream…?
SW: You dream of working.
EI: But is there anything that surprised you about having this success where you’ve got offers, you’ve got security now, you’ve got celebrity…?
SW: I think it’s hard work…
EI: But is there anything about what’s happened so far that’s been a surprise or that you didn’t expect?
SW: The whole fucking thing.
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Terminator Salvation' was released on May 21, 2009 and is now out on DVD via Warner Home Video.