Quickly becoming a superstar, Sam Worthington follows his blockbuster films Avatar and Terminator Salvation with a couple of indie films: The Debt and Texas Killing Fields. He sat down with Buzzine to talk about both of these films, his desire to work with Jessica Chastain in all of his films, and his plans for continuing the Avatar and Clash of the Titans franchises.
Izumi Hasegawa: Did you know how to surf before you did this?
Sam Worthington: I've surfed all my life.
IH: Was that part of the reason you wanted to do the movie?
SW: No, I'm actually a surf photographer in the movie. I said to the boys, "If you want me to actually surf on film, you've got to pay me a bit more."
IH: Between this and Texas Killing Fields, are you looking at these smaller films as an opportunity to show people what a good actor you are?
SW: No, I don't think like that. To me, it's just that they're good stories that I want to tell. I'm not sitting there thinking, "This is going to showcase me as an actor!" I think that's kind of indulgent. I think it's got to be: can I bring something to this story that can entertain someone at the cinema? With the opportunity to work with someone like Jessica [Chastain] again, I was like, I want a two-, three- five-, ten-picture deal. I love it. She brings out the best in me. But it's up to everyone else to figure out whether I've done a good job or not.
IH: How much of the appeal of doing this thriller was that it featured very fallible, human characters?
SW: I liked the speed of it. Even when you first read the script, there was a speed and an energy to it. Then John [Madden] told me he wanted to shoot our section in chronological order so that when we went in the house, we were a happy family and it started to unravel. So by the time we got out of that set, we were like rats in a cage and wanted to get out. That interested me. The fact that he wanted it to be like an old 1970s thriller, I really enjoyed that aspect. It was an amalgamation of all of that that drew me into the script. And so on and on.
IH: How upsetting was it that the film got delayed for so long?
SW: I think it would be more upsetting to John because it's always a director's medium, so it's a director's baby. But a movie of some level of caliber is going to get out, and you just want people to see what you spent that time on. But it didn't really fuss me; I knew that the caliber of the film would eventually get it sold somewhere.
IH: There's a line in the film where someone says, "It might have been better if some people hadn't survived." How was that maybe a key to playing this role?
SW: That's a way in, yeah. I always liked the fact that he was a guy where you've got to look at where he ends up. And where the guy ends up and Ciaran [Hinds] takes it, you can't start like that. You've got to start idealistic and start with [the feeling] that this mission is going to succeed, and I'm doing it for all of the reasons that will hopefully help lay my family to rest and lay those demons to rest. So when it does unravel and it does spiral, and the plans go awry. That's when those plans go out of the box and it spins out of control. So those demons that he's been holding, it's his responsibility to sedate. They're the ones that haunt him when everything goes to shit.
IH: Texas Killing Fields says it's based on a true story. How true?
SW: Probably about 90 percent true. The story itself is a fictionalized version, obviously, but there is a highway, and the two characters Jeffrey Dean Morgan and I play are real -- they're actually real cops, real detectives. The reason I wanted to do this movie was because I never knew about this highway, this stretch of road, where so many women have been dumped. And it's not a dumping ground for, say, one serial killer; it's a dumping ground for f*cking anybody. There was a story one of them told me about how they found a woman and she had stuff done to her and they thought it was a serial killer, and then they realized it was actually a boyfriend who'd done it. He had killed his girlfriend and made it look like a serial killer, because he'd known about that to try to get away with it. And these fields are littered with bodies they haven't found yet. And just for pictures of the women alone that have gone missing in that area, I thought that was why I wanted to be part of it. If the movie didn't tell their story, at least I can when I sell the movie.
IH: Did you get to meet the real cop?
SW: I hung out with the cop, yeah. Around the time he started, he would have been my age. He's retired now, he's about 60, and he's built like a 6'8" massive dude. I'm obviously 6'2", according to my bio. Or with stilts on. But his attitude is the attitude I had in Texas Killing Fields, which is to say completely different than David (his character in The Debt]. David is a shy, sensitive young man who's trying to hold everything together, and in Killing Fields, it's a let-loose, redneck racist.
IH: Did you ever look at Ciaran Hinds and think, "Sure I could look like that in 30 years"?
SW: My dad saw the film, and he goes, "I don't f*cking look like that!" My dad goes, "You should have gotten Brad Pitt to play your dad!"
IH: How tough is it to balance smaller, independent films with blockbusters?
SW: I think I'm pretty lucky to start with. If you get something like Avatar, it opens up a lot of big blockbuster doors. But there was a thing my mate told me years ago, when I said, "Oh, there's a great independent script and a great blockbuster script, and the independent thing will show me off more as a character." He said, "But which movie would you go see?" He said, "You go see blockbusters," and that's how I pick. I pick which movie by: would I want to go see something like The Debt? Or: do I want to see something like Terminator? And within that, you, kind of by chance, end up with a career that balances. You're not just sitting there going, I'm going to do one big one for them and one small one for me. That's the ideal -- at least, that's what people think. But when you talk with Christian Bale, he's not thinking: one for you, one for them. He's thinking: one for him. What story does he want to tell? And whether it's Terminator or The Fighter, that's how he picks.
IH: After doing something like Texas Killing Fields, how difficult is it to go from material that is so weighty to something like Clash of the Titans 2?
SW: You make Clash 2 weighty. Clash 1 is a video game. You make Clash 2 weighty. You take everything you've learned and go, "I'm not doing this f*cking shit! I'm going to do a weighty script in a blockbuster." That's the bigness of a blockbuster. They're very hard because they're done by such a machine, so you try to get that weight that an independent can allow you -- that freedom that they have on an independent script -- and then you try to fit it into a blockbuster where there's a whole set of people who have a say. With something like Clash 2, that's definitely what we've aimed for. And that's all I really want to say on that.
IH: Do you have to do that at the script stage or in the individual development of your character?
SW: You do it all the way through. You sit down with the studio, you sit down with the character, you sit down with everybody and have a whole different look at how we're going to handle it. But that's the hard thing about making blockbusters, because they're just churning them out. They give you five months, and the date's already pre-planned for the next year. There's a speed on it. But if you can get that weight and gravity into a blockbuster, even into the character... I've let myself slip a couple of times, but that's going to be changing. You've got to work a bit harder, I find. Blockbusters aren't necessarily as easy as you think.
IH: I guess I'm thinking of the seriousness or weight of material like Texas Killing Fields.
SW: You've got to bring that weight. You've got to bring that weight into Tron. You've got to try. And sometimes it's harder because it's a bigger juggernaut.
IH: It seems like it takes extra effort on your part to protect yourself...
SW: I decide what I want to bring, to come in there and go, "Look, I've just done this thing, and we mapped it out this way. How do we get that same reality and gravity and grit on a green-screen stage with fantasy creatures? What are we actually really trying to say?" The Debt – what is it trying to say? What is Killing Fields really trying to say? What do we really want audiences to walk away from Clash 2 with in their hearts more than, "Whoa, that's a great spectacle"? When you look at Avatar, you find the balance is perfect. He knows what he wants to say, and he gives you the spectacle. It's very rare; it's a hard thing. But that's why I like doing blockbusters, to try to get that.
IH: Avatar 2 and 3?
SW: We'll probably do them back-to-back. We haven't started yet.
IH: Nobody has told you when you're starting?
SW: No. Jim [Cameron] is the person who will tell me when to show up. I've talked to him. He's told me what his plans for the story are, and it's huge. It's just monumental. But he's not going to start until he raises the bar for himself, and he's in no rush. I know he's nutting out like a bible at the moment as sort of like a precursor of Avatar 1 to just get himself back into the world and the mindset and the characters. That's how he works – it's very detailed and very weighty. But the story arc is huge; I needed a break halfway through because I was exhausted. It was insane, but it's amazing. It's going to be amazing.
IH: Did you ride your bike over here?
SW: No, they picked me up. I wanted to, but I was running late.
IH: Do you tend to be eager to jump into another project right after you finish one? Or do you need to decompress?
SW: I think it's hard. I've been going back-to-back-to-back. The last two jobs I've done have been some of the most exciting experiences of my life. I tend to want to take a break because I don't want to actually taint those experiences. So that's a weird way of thinking. But other times, you come out of something and you just want to get rid of that world and step into another world, and other times you go, "F*ck it – I need some money! Let's go and do a job." That's the reality of the situation -- those three reasons.
IH: Where do you live now?
SW: I'm still nomadic. I'm still figuring out where I want to live. So after I do Drift, I'll know.
IH: What was before Drift?
SW: Wrath of the Titans, whatever it's called. Clash 2. And then I did Man on the Ledge. Both of those experiences I loved.
IH: When does that come out?
SW: January it comes out.
IH: When you look at something, do you know instantaneously whether or not you'll do it?
SW: Well, the director – that's it. I was in Albuquerque doing Terminator, and John Madden flew to Albuquerque and I thought, "Hey, any man that's willing to fly to f*cking Albuquerque, where do I sign?" He's a very eloquent, smart, sensitive man, and his pitch was great; he knew exactly what he wanted me to do for David, which was comforting. He said, "This is exactly how I want you to play it. I'll give this world of freedom, but here's what I'm looking for." And I felt safe, so it was like, "I'll go with this guy." Then you read the material, go, "It's a great yarn; this is a good story to tell," and then you come in and do the job. That's what I like to do – you go off the director, because when everything is going crazy in one day, he's the man you've got to turn to and go, "You're the boss. You've got to pull this thing together."
IH: Jessica said you were her guide for the action-oriented stuff. She said you called her Tom Cruise...
SW: She runs like Tom Cruise. I told her, "Tom Cruise uses lots of arms. Just use your arms." I told her, "I don't use arms and I look like an idiot. I look like freaking Gumby sliding around." But that type of thing she'd never done before, and I said to John, these guys are Mossad-trained, and that should be a mechanism of how they move with their weapons.
IH: Did any of your previous training from other films help you on this one?
SW: Krav Maga is totally different, and if you notice, I get my ass beat, which I liked. I liked the fact that I wasn't the aggressor. But Krav Maga is an aggressive form of defense. If there's a guy coming at you, you might cop a few hits to take your opponent down. It's all about attack, which I found quite interesting, especially with the Mossad mindset of, "We might lose five men, but if we get the man down, we've done our job." That sacrifice is enough. And that's the same with Krav Maga. If there's a guy with a knife and you get stabbed twice and you still take him down, it doesn't matter. That's how it works. It's just all about attack and get the job done, and I think that, to me, helped with the mindset of David, which was: we have to get the mission done at all costs, no matter what. We've got to get it done because there are bigger responsibilities with the reasons why.
IH: How much do you and Jessica look at scripts together to decide what your next project will be?
SW: I don't think we look together. It's more like I find something and I go, "Have you thought of this actress?" That's basically how it looks. She's in constant demand, the movies are now starting to come out, and she's terrific in them. She's starting to show what I saw in The Debt and begged them to get her for Texas Killing Fields. And we work well together. I've always said I want to get to a point where I just work with people I know. There's a reason why Tim Burton works with Johnny Depp all the time, and there's a reason Russell [Crowe] works with Ridley [Scott]. It's a shorthand; it's easier. If you can get that with actors and actresses and directors, that's what I'm looking for.
IH: Did you consult with Ciaran Hinds on the character, since you two play him at different ages?
SW: I know Marton [Csokas] and Tom [Wilkinson] had discussions, but Ciaran and I have a different process of working than those guys. So we met once and I told him, "Here's what I was aiming for," and he took on board what I was saying. I said, "Look, he's a powder keg. He's an idealist. This is the snapping point. This is when it all starts to unravel. There you go." And then he goes off and spends his job, and the great thing is that his David is what I had in mind – a man that is damaged but still trying to get the world together. The biggest question that Ciaran and I had was: what had the man been doing for 30 years? He hadn't been sitting in a room crying. They had to change the script a bit to make it that he tried to hunt him down before. But that was about as much detail as we discussed.
IH: Did you meet with any Mossad agents?
SW: No. I know Marton traveled the world. He used books and stuff to get into the world. I had John and the script – that intrigued me. That was enough for me, on this one, to find a way in. I know Marton trained in Israel and stuff like that. He literally flew there around Christmastime and read heaps of books, and every actor does what he needs to do to find the key. And that was his way. Mine was that I read one book about the mindset, and that was it. And then I got my Krav Maga lessons and talked to the guy about what technique that was, and then just paralleled that with an emotional core.
IH: Could you kick ass now with your training?
SW: No, man, I'm jelly. [Laughs]
IH: How do you recuperate from working on back-to-back roles?
SW: I like working. I've never really had a break. Someone told me years ago, "When are you going to go on a holiday?" And they said, "When you're f*cking 50?!" I said, "What are you talking about?" They said, "Well, going on holiday is going somewhere new, meeting new people, and having new adventures, and that's your f*cking job. So as long as your job keeps satisfying you and challenging you, and you're raising the bar on yourself, why would you stop?" And I think, at the moment, I'm going, "Well, it's true." And the last couple of jobs have raised the bar where I go, "Well, I've got to reassess how to keep going, because we raised that one pretty high." And hopefully we'll see next year when they come out.
IH: Is it different to be the guy on a film where you now have some authority to change the way things are done?
SW: It's an interesting question. Every movie I do, the pressures get more -- not only from the media, but the bloggers, from the studios... Primarily now, though, it's getting more from myself because I'm pushing myself more. Some of that I know I learned from Jim, which was: all the criticism in the world isn't going to be as strong as the criticism you have for yourself. And the only reason to be doing this job is to keep pushing and pushing yourself. So that's what I learned from him, and now I'm in a fortunate position to be able to sit with a director or a writer or a studio and say, "Look. Here's where I want to push myself. Is that okay? Are you giving me the trust and the ability to do it?"
IH: How is the Australian press reacting to your success?
SW: The Australian press, I think, f*cking hates me. They give me a hard time every now and then, but about dumb things – stupid things. About your weight, your beard, about f*cking crap that has nothing to do with your job. But as far as I'm concerned, it all comes down to your work and if people are willing to pay money to see your movies – that's it. I don't really care about that side of it. I care whether a 15-year-old girl or a 30-year-old man or a 45-year-old woman or a 60-year-old woman is getting their money's worth. That's all I care about. I don't do much press. I do press for movies, but you don't get to know what my favorite food is.
IH: What has been the big surprise of having this career thus far?
SW: I'm extremely lucky, man, I love it. You never know what's going to happen, but you know everything that's going to happen with your job. There are benefits to any job, and there are also negatives to any job. But I'm the f*cking luckiest guy in the world, dude. I get to go and make movies that I would see.
Anchor Bay Films' 'Texas Killing Fields' is released on October 14, 2011.