Two years ago, we were all wondering “Who is this Sam Worthington” guy? Then Avatar came out, and anyone who hadn’t already seen Terminator Salvation surely caught him in the biggest movie of all time.
This week you’ll see a more sensitive side of Worthington in The Debt. He plays David, a Mossad agent trying to weather the pressure of capturing a Nazi criminal and living with him in a safe house. The film opens August 31.
Worthington walked into interviews for The Debt with shaggy hair and a full beard. Among the highly anticipated big budget sequels he’s in – Clash of the Titans 2 and Avatar 2 and 3 – Worthington also discussed upcoming films like Texas Killing Fields and Drift.
Q: Is this more your taste, to be with actors rather than in some of the films you’ve done with so many special effects?
Sam Worthington: Doesn’t bother me. Either way. Each job you have has it’s own challenges. I don’t mind at all. I think that’s the great thing about my job, is that each one is a different journey. Whether you’re stuck in a house doing it in order or out on location doing it out of order or on a green screen stage or avolume, each one poses its own problems. But each one is just problem solving. We’re trying to find the truth in imaginary circumstances. That’s your job.
Q: What sort of character work do you do before you get to set?
SW: Um, read a lot about the character. Depends on the job, man. Some characters you kinda find the key in. This one was about how I was going to balance with Jessica [Chastain] and Marton [Csokas.] It was like, how is Marton going to play the part? Because I can’t play the same way because then there is no balance in the trio. So Marton told me he wanted to be the outgoing one and John said Yeah, let him be the extrovert so I can be the introvert. Um, as he said, “You do stoic better than any other f***er on the planet so now get commended for it for once rather than just standing there looking pretty.” That was good for me, especially because it gave Marton the chance to be bigger. I knew Marton from Australia, so I knew he could handle it.
Q: What is it that drew you to the part of David?
SW: I was in Albuquerque filming Terminator and [director] John Madden flew to Albuquerque. I said any bloke that’s willing to fly to f***ing Albuquerque, I’ll sign on because there’s not much there apart from green chile and weaving. So we hung out. He’s a very sensitive man. He’s very eloquent. And, his take on the script and what he wanted me to do with the part, I really liked. I felt safe. That’s why I chose working with him because he makes you feels safe. There’s an ease about him as a director. I always choose my projects based on the director.
Q: Could you talk about filming the safe house scenes?
SW: John designed it in a way that was kind of in order, so you were in the house playing happy family and then over the course of however many weeks, four weeks, it starts to unravel. You end up like rats in a cage and want to get the hell out of there, which parallels the story of the characters. I liked it. Me, Marton, Jessica and John all have a background in theatre. That’s what it kinda felt like, like you were going on the stage everyday, being in your own confined little place.
Q: You were ready to leave.
SW: I wanted to get the hell out of there. On the last day I couldn’t wait to get out to Hungary.
Q: Did it affect your performance?
SW: Of course it does. It has to. I didn’t want to be around a dude pissing and spewing on himself. I wanted out! I wanted him out!
Q: In working doing the safe house things, you’re locked in there as caged rats as it is. But the house, the production design is amazing. Did that give you a greater sense of realism?
SW: Well, It doesn’t feel like a set anymore, it does feel like a house, so you feel like you’re going to location everyday. I think the way they designed it is great. I think the Ben, the DOP, helped him. Here is how a movie like this works and what I like about an experience like The Debt., that straightaway when I go to do Texas Killing Fields, I say I want to work with Jessica. Any movie John Madden says he wants me in, I’ll jump straightaway. Ben, the DOP, was the guy I suggested for Clash 2 because you know this experience was such a fulfilling experience, you want to keep working with the same people to keep that experience alive again.
Q: Of all the big films you’ve been a part of, are you surprised Titans is getting a sequel first?
SW: Um, not necessarily because it made a sh*t load of money.
Q: Well, before Avatar.
SW: Yeah, but Jim it comes down to Jim. Titans made a lot of money, a lot of people went and saw it. We just got to make it right. I just finished that. I loved it. I loved that experience. Clash 2 is so different. It was a different experience for me because I had learned a lot in Clash 1 and I learned a lot from other movies like this. I can’t wait for it to come out. I’m not surprised at all.
Q: And it has a different director too.
SW: A different director. I would work with Jonathan Liebesman for the rest of my life. I love him.
Q: What other classic monsters are there to slay?
SW: You have to wait and see.
Q: Is it a different film from the first one?
SW: You have to wait and see, man.
Q: What do you hear from “Jim (Cameron)?”
SW: I talked to him on my birthday. In regards to Avatar, he’s writing the bible at the moment, which is kind of a precursor to Avatar 1 and the whole world basically. I think it’s just to get Jim’s mind back into the characters and back into the world. He’s told me where he wants to take Avatar 2 and 3. It’s monumental. It’s just huge but you would expect nothing less from him. He’s not going to start it until he knows that he’s a hundred percent. I know they’re setting up shop down in Manhattan Beach and when he says, “Jump” I jump.
Q: How about the idea of doing 2 and 3 back to back?
SW: I love it. I’ll do 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 with Jim. I love working with him. As I said when I was selling that movie, he raises the bar and gives you the courage to jump over it. He keeps pushing and he changes your life. He hasn’t just changed my life career-wise, he’s changed my life as a man.
Q: In what way does it change you as a man?
SW: He makes you stronger in a sense of being more focus and committed. If I’m doing this job, I’ve got to challenge myself more. Don’t listen to anybody else. Don’t listen to any media or bloggers. Just listen to yourself. Push yourself, otherwise there is no point in me doing this. If I don’t believe I am growing, if I believe I’m just coasting, then I got to get of the train. If I feel I’m growing, keep going, keep going. It’s a long marathon.
Q: How did you handle the transition of being a working actor to being recognized in any corner of the planet?
SW: You try to handle it with some sense of sensitivity. It doesn’t really bother me if people come up and want autographs and stuff like that because, f*** it, they’re the ones seeing you’re movies. It’s actually quite nice and humbling. You just do it. It’s not that hard to write your name. I can’t see why you get grumpy about it. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s actually very nice. I go under the radar quite well, as well, man especially when I look like Zach Galifianakis
Q: He gets recognized a lot too.
SW: I’m f***ed then. I actually got a photo with him. I saw him in a bar and I got a photo and he was like, “Who the f*** are you?” [laughs]
Q: What are the challenges in working on Texas Killing Fields?
SW: Well, that’s a true story, or rather, it’s a fictionalized version but true events. To actually kind of, not demean it. It’s got a lot of weight. That kind of movie has a lot of affect on me because I never knew this road existed. I never knew that all these women had been slaughtered and dumped there. And it’s still a dumping ground for women and for murders. And when you see a table like this filled with missing people knowing full well half those people are still in the fields, it’s quite touching. So you want to do a movie that sheds light on this situation so someone like myself or someone else can go look it up and go, “Actually, I remember that girl” and maybe they can go find her in that fields or it may spark someone’s memory about things and those murders can get solved and those families can have at least some peace. It’s a full on thing that happened in Texas and it’s still happening and no one knows about it. That was the responsibility I felt I had in that movie.
Q: What did you take away from doing The Debt?
SW: Apart from a great relationship with Jess? Here’s a movie where it’s not necessarily about Holocaust and Nazi hunters, it’s about actually harboring a secret for so long that you know is wrong and the ripple effect it has not only on you, but everyone close to you in the long term. It does make you question…it’s made me question everything. I used to hold a lot in, especially with loved ones. Now I’m pretty damn honest, whether it hurts them or not. I’d rather it hurt them straight up, rather than 30 years down the track because then that would actually kill them, which it does in this movie. So it makes you more honest.
Q: You really do take movies into your real life.
SW: Yeah. I think it permeates into your system. I think you play any sense of character, whether it’s in Clash 2 I’m a dad, so I’m obviously dealing with some f***ing issues in my own life there. But whether it’s Perseus or David, you come out of it with the character in your fiber. It’s you. You’re bringing stuff out of your own personality to infuse into a character. Sometimes it doesn’t work and you end up with a 2-dimenisonal wooden character, like I’ve been accused of. That’s fine. It makes me go, “I’ll work harder and get the personality out, get that side of me out.” That’s fair enough. That I like. But I hate it because it’s hard to scrub off the flavor of the character sometimes, but I like that sense of self-exploration sometimes.
Q: Do you find people in your life that are supportive of that?
SW: My friends think I’m f***ing nuts and relationships are hard, but, you know, that’s my job and that’s the part of the job that I love.
Q: What part of Sam do we see in David?
SW: I wanted him to be, as I said, a sensitive Molotov kind of thing. Um, it’s a bit difficult because no one in my family has been slaughtered, so you can’t have as much of that kind of aggression as that guy has. But there is a sensitivity to the way he looks at the job. If anything, the fact that he wants that mission to achieve is like me. I want a movie to be satisfying for an audience. So that sense of having to get it done no matter what cost is what I like. To me, Jim always said, “Movie is a war. You’re gonna have causalities within yourself and you’re gonna have causalities when you make it, but essentially you want to come out the other side victorious and have everyone go, ‘Man, that was an experience.’”