“I remember when I was doing the Terminator press, it all got quoted as ‘Sam is an angry young man, he’s all jaded, I was intimidated by him,’” he said of the initial impression the American reporters had of the man, who was pretty confrontational about any questions concerning his personal life and didn’t cotton to much of the typical schmoozy pablum entertainment reporters can lapse into. “That’s because I was playing Perseus, killing sh*t every day. I believe that a character should be a part of yourself, or you bring it out of yourself so it lives in the fabric of your skin for a while. It goes into your being. It’s a difficult process, and that’s how I work.”
Worthington does cut an intimidating figure. He’s muscular and ripped, yet he still makes jokes about wearing a skirt in Titans and showing off his “ricotta thighs.” He’s free with profanity and isn’t afraid to push back on questions put to him. He’s rough and also tumble, a former bricklayer from Australia who worked for a decade as an actor down under before making a completely drastic life change on a dime, something most of us never have the huevos to attempt.
“I was on the cusp of 30. I woke up, looked in the mirror one day and didn’t like what I saw, so I sold the f**kin’ mirror,” he explains. I sold everything else. I call it control-alt-delete, like on a computer. I thought ‘why don’t we just reboot yourself?’ You can get defined by what you own. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great career in Australia. I worked solidly for ten years. I just didn’t like the position I was in, so I sold everything to my friends. I had an auction at my house, had a gavel and everything. Four bucks for the TV… I even sold the gavel in the end.” When pressed to reveal what exactly it was he didn’t like about his reflection, he didn’t budge. “That’s between me and the f–kin’ mirror.”
Worthington was between projects at the time, about to start work on The Texas Killing Fields (which he says may be shortening its title to the much less interestingThe Fields), so perhaps that’s why he seemed a bit more affable than he was during the Terminator: Salvation press tour. There was a lot more laughter, and despite that denial about the mirror, he seemed more willing to talk about his life. “It’s that Rudyard Kipling poem – if you can risk it all on a pitch and toss and lose, and tell no one about your loss, then you, sir, are a man. I thought that poem was quite inspiring. I just got in the car and drove and thought ‘something’s got to give, something’s got to crack.’ Little did I know that there would be a man who’d come along and change my life, but I think also when you’ve got nothing to lose, you’ve got everything to gain. That was the key. Then, if I’d auditioned for Avatar and didn’t get it, well, I’d put myself in a position where I had nothing, so it wouldn’t bother me. I’m still the same now, I don’t own anything. I still got a couple of bags – a bag of books and a bag of clothes, that’s all I’ve got. It helped me. I don’t recommend everybody does it.”
Worthington may be the same guy deep down after the astounding success of James Cameron’s Na’vi project, but that’s not to say nothing’s different about his life. “It’s changed considerably!” he says about his world since December. “Every day you pinch yourself. I’m extremely humbled by the experience of what Avatar has done, and you hopefully try to handle it with some sensitivity, but you just buckle up and enjoy the ride, man. I’m a very lucky boy.”
Of course, this leads to the inevitable question of what might be in store for Avatar 2. “He’s mentioned many ideas,” Worthington says of Cameron’s thoughts about sequels. “Even when we were filming, he’d bring up ideas. I think with any undertaking with the manpower and time that it takes to make that kind of movie, Jim’s got to find the challenge. He’s got to push the bar again. He’s a man who raises the bar, dares everyone to jump over it and gives you the courage to jump over it. He’s got to find the challenge for himself. I think at the moment he’s busy with other things, but it’s definitely on the books. Jim had an arc for three. Three’s a great number. It’s the typical number you do. But we didn’t even know we’d go into a second one until it fully got embraced, and the fact that it got embraced so quickly and so amazingly, which is mind-blowing for all of us, means an audience wouldn’t mind going back to Pandora with us. Three, probably, but if you do the second one and it’s terrible, you don’t do the third one. It all depends on audiences. That’s why you make movies.”
Worthington is quick to cut off any question asking him to compare Clash of the Titans to Avatar. “Everything’s a lot different from Avatar. You can’t compare that movie and that experience to anything else. It was too long, for one. The undertaking of this was a lot tougher than, say, Terminator. The other thing is that here’s a story that doesn’t just put the pressure on me, but on a group of people. It’s an epic journey about a family.”
There are significant differences between this new film and the original Clash of the Titans, and in his initial discussions with director Louis Leterrier, Worthington completely changed the helmer’s perception of who Perseus should be.
“I had an idea that he shouldn’t just be a god,” he explained. “In the original, he embraces the gods’ gifts and that’s kind of a great idea that this man who is half god and half man and he embraces the god side. But I’ve got a 9-year-old nephew and that’s a terrible message to give to him, that he can only succeed as a god. That’s a terrible message for all of us. So I really hammered home hard that this guy wants to push that aside and do it as a man. So then my nephew can go ‘you look deep inside yourself and grab other men who are just as fallible as you, and you can achieve anything.’ I thought that was a better direction to go with it. Plus, what makes a god? That’s the other thing I said to Louis. Are we going to ramp up the speed of me? Is he going to be extra strong? By throwing ideas around, I came up with the idea that the god part of you is the power to destroy something like that [snaps fingers]. Destruction. They kill his family like that. They have the power to create and destroy like that, literally. To have that power and have that responsibility over that power, for a troublesome teenager, which I think Perseus is, that’s a lot of weight. That’s the struggle, the man trying to suppress this thing of destruction. If you look when he picks up the god sword at the end against Calibos, he turns into Sonic the Hedgehog. He goes bananas. He’s flipping off things, it’s chaos, and the destructive power is too strong. That’s a different way of looking at the movie as well.”
Despite this extensive preparation for the role, Worthington still had a crash course on Perseus as soon as filming started. “Medusa was the first week, so none of us knew each other. The set was precarious. The thing they wanted to do with this was to stay away from the 300 green screen. This is a fun and epic movie, so the sets were fun and epic except they were very precarious – especially that set. None of us knew what the hell we were doing, and so we have a certain solidarity among the group that quickly bonds and helps the rest of the film. That’s a big undertaking for the first week of any shoot when you’re trying to get the cobwebs out. That’s why I enjoyed that – not necessarily doing it, but what we got out of that experience. I was falling all over the place. It was terrible. I’m a dumb Aussie, they throw me in the deep end. The Bourne Identity movies changed the game. When it comes to doing as much as we can do, we all really push ourselves. If you cut to a stunt guy in a movie, the audience now will drop out of the experience, and I’m a big believer in trying to keep the audience in the film so they get their money’s worth.”
That belief is crucial to his career choices as well, because he insists he has no desire to do the typical actor thing and move to a small indie drama or some such. “I like doing movies that I would go and see,” Worthington says. “Avatar has given me a lot of freedom. I’ve always said I’m not in this profession to be famous – that’s a byproduct of the size and scope of the movies I do. If you want to be famous, go on Big Brother. This job is too hard, and it requires a lot of skill and a lot of passion. So if I’m going to do films and invest six months of my life in something, then it better be something worthwhile. Would I go and see this movie myself? It’s even better, therefore, to be a part of it and hopefully we get to give the audience their 16 bucks worth. That’s how I look at my job. I think that’s how we all look at our job, to be honest. You get to this point to play with the big boys, I personally want to do big movies.”