Sam Worthington: More than an action star?
Sam Worthington is reading a name off his list of interviews. "It's Mathieu, right?" With his thick Australian accent, he struggles through the French pronunciation.It’s a Saturday morning in late September and the 34-year-old actor is in Toronto for Gala Presentations of two of his films at the Toronto International Film Festival: The Debt and Last Night, both of which are expected to hit theatres in the next year. He looks relaxed in jeans and a washed-out, grey Pearl Jam T-shirt. And he insists on pronouncing my name right before he takes a seat.
"When I do interviews, I always ask for the name of the person in front of me," he says. "It's the same thing when people take a picture with me. It's out of consideration for everyone else. You know my name, now I know your name. So if we do a photo, we kind of know each other, right? Half of the time it makes things a lot easier, a lot smoother. I should not be any f***ing more special than anybody else because of my damn job! It's silly."
Pretty considerate, for somebody who has a reputation for finding interviews excruciating. When I ask whether it's true that he hates talking to journalists, he laughs, then admits: "Yes, I do! Journalists are the necessary evil. I have to sell movies, so I sit with you to sell movies. It's not answering the same questions all day long that bothers me. I just repeat the same answers over and over. It's easy! What I find ridiculous is to have people asking me about myself. It's quite funny to be honest with you."
Before playing a 10-foot-tall blue Na'vi in 2009's Avatar, and a Greek god in last year's Clash of the Titans, before fans were asking for pictures, and journalists asking the same questions over and over, there was a Sam Worthington who was making a living doing theatre, TV and indie films in Sydney, Australia. One early morning in 2006, he took a good look at himself in the mirror. He remembers this moment clearly.
"I did not like the person I was seeing. I didn't know what exactly I did not like. If I could have named it, I would have changed it. Even now, I don't know what it was…. I did not like how I felt when I woke up. I was pretty successful at acting, but that was not the problem. It had f***ing nothing to do with my work. It had to do with my life."
So he sold everything and moved to Los Angeles with two suitcases and two grand in cash. Four years later, he's one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood. And he likes to keep busy. He's currently shooting the crime thriller Man on a Ledge with Amy Adams, and will jump back into his armour for Clash of the Titans 2 right after that.
"I'm working non-stop because I can. I love working. Most people work 11 months a year, why shouldn't I? For many years I was unemployed. I sat on my butt for 12 months wishing I had a job. Now I have the opportunity to work, so I work," he explains.
(L-R) Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas in The Debt
He had his first long break since moving to L.A. earlier this year. "I did not like it. I never want to stop working. Usually, when you go to different places, do different things and meet different people, it's considered a holiday. That's my f***ng job!"
Expect to see a very different Worthington on screen in 2011 — neither in 3D nor as an action hero. In the political thriller The Debt, which was directed by John Madden (watch our interview with him here) and hits theatres in September, he plays one of three Israeli Mossad agents assigned to kidnap a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin, circa 1965. When things don't go as planned, they're left to fabricate a story and live with their lies decades later. "I think we all have little demons that we're holding in. I certainly have some," he says.
He had to explore some of his demons for the upcoming marital melodrama Last Night by first-time filmmaker Massy Tadjedin. Worthington and Keira Knightley play a well-to-do couple whose fidelity is tested over the course of one long night, during which he spends time with an attractive co-worker (Eva Mendes) while on a business trip in Philadelphia and she encounters a former flame (Guillaume Canet) on the streets of New York.
"I was just coming out of a relationship [with Australian actress Maeve Dermody. He's now dating stylist Natalie Mark]. I could see myself in every one of the characters. I've been every single one of them. I've been the guy who has been complaisant in a relationship. I've been the one who tries to lure the girl away from the other guy. I've been the tempter and the tempted. And I'm still the four of them!"
For Worthington, one new thing about these films was the pace of shooting: "Everything was done in eight weeks. I'm used to spending at least six months on set. It was too short for me," says the actor who spent a year on the set of Avatar, a film that cost more than $200-million (U.S.) to make but made more than $2.7-billion worldwide.
"When you're in a movie like Avatar, when you look at the figures that this movie made, and you divide that by 12 bucks a ticket, you start to understand how many people have seen your ugly head, you start to lose your anonymity, it's weird,” he says. But not weird enough to dampen his excitement about shooting the sequel.
"I phoned James [Cameron] on his birthday. He told me he's writing up the Avatar book, novel, or encyclopedia, or bible, whatever he's calling it. When he finishes it, he will be in a good headspace to give it a run for the second one."
And Worthington will drop everything to work with the director again. "Always," he says. "This guy saved my life. I have no idea why this guy believed in me so much. Now he's my mate."
Worthington feels much better about the guy he sees in the mirror these days. "But there is a chance that, one day, I will wake up again and look at myself in the mirror and not like the guy that I’m seeing. It's the constant battle that I have, anyway. It scares me."
The interview comes to an end. "It's Mathieu? This time I pronounced it right? You're hilarious, dude. I can't believe you asked me why I hate journalists," says the actor, picking up his interview list, ready to welcome the next journalist.
Mathieu Chantelois is the editor of Le magazine Cineplex.