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Terminator Salvation Interview: Sam Worthington
Terminator's Conflicted Newcomer Speaks
By Rob Vaux
May 19, 2009
If you haven't heard of Sam Worthington, don't worry. He's about to become very well-known in sci-fi circles--first for Terminator Salvation opening this week, then James Cameron's Avatar coming this Christmas, then the remake of Clash of the Titans, which places him in the role originated by Harry Hamlin. He talked about his newfound status--and how a nice boy from Oz ends up in movies that big--at the Terminator press junket last week.
Question: It's a long way from Perth to the top of the Hollywood heap. How much of an adjustment has it been?
Sam Worthington: Well I'm working, so it feels pretty good. I'm in a lucky position to be offered roles that I find interesting, working with some very talented people and hopefully telling some good stories. I think the world changes around you when things like this happen, but you don't really change. If I change, my mates are going to kick me in the ass. I'm 32 years old. If I was 22, it could probably go to your head. But as far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't affect my work, then everything's fine.
Q: How did you get started in acting?
SW: I was a bricklayer. I built houses. And I was 19 and seeing this girl who wanted to go to the premiere drama school in Australia, where Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett went. I auditioned with her out of moral support. I got in and she didn't.
Q: How mad was she?
SW: She dumped me a week later, so that was the end of that relationship. But it was a learning experience. I didn't know Shakespeare, and I thought Chekov was that guy on the Enterprise. Turns out, he wrote plays. So you respond, you take in everything, and then after three years of studying, you go out and learn how to act.
Q: Were you a fan of the Terminator franchise before you came on board?
SW: I sort of reacquainted myself with them before we started, obviously. But the one I could really cite would be Terminator 2. I remember the liquid man, of course, and how revolutionary it was for its time. That one and the first one both really showcase how good a storyteller Jim [Cameron] is.
Q: What was the biggest challenge of Terminator physically?
SW: Because it is so physical and action-oriented, the toughest thing was bringing a sense of gravity and weight to the performance. Something that isn't being overshadowed by all the explosions and the action. You have to bring out the heart of the character. The hardest thing was making sure that I was on the right track, that it wasn't melodramatic.
Q: How arduous was the make-up?
SW: I spent anywhere from 4 to 6 hours in the make-up chair. They draw the outline and then paint you blue for the CGI folks to add things in later. So you end up looking like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. That wasn't hard. You just sit there for six hours. I pity the poor guy who's doing it. He's doing all the work.
Q: Obviously, you can't talk too much about Avatar at this stage, but can you speak a little bit about that experience?
SW: Jim's very open. He's show us a lot of the movie as we were filming it. He creates a very collaborative experience on set; he backs me as a man and as an actor. He pushes the boundaries of what going to a movie is all about. Avatar probably won't be the end all and the be all, but it's hopefully going to show you the possibilities of motion capture at its finest, of performance capture at its finest, and of 3D technology. Hopefully that starts a revolution.
Q: How did you get the part?
SW: I auditioned. I sent in a tape and a week later they flew me in to meet Jim. They told me to be on my best behavior, which I wasn't. I just went in and said, "look, I've got nothing left to lose man, so let's fucking get to work!" And that was it. For six months, you work to get the job, and it took Jim six months to convince the studio that you could make a blockbuster work with an untested actor.
Q: Some actors think he's a very harsh taskmaster, a very brutal taskmaster. What are your thoughts on that?
SW: He's all of that… and a genius. He's the best actor's director I've ever worked with, barring McG.
SW: Absolutely. They both work amid all this technology and yet they both have a sensitivity towards character. Just like any actor, Jim sets the bar really high. And if you don't meet that, yeah, he'll bark. Good on him. You can't go about these things half-assed. Jim is always about story first. You can put all the bells and whistles you like on the film, but if it doesn't reveal something about the human spirit, people are going to tune out. Jim is very in touch with personal relationships. Avatar is very much about what it means to be a man. How people are affected by bullies. And if you step all that up and then surround it with effects and explosions, then you're on the path to making something that people remember when they leave the cinema.
Q: What's the difference, in terms of doing your job, between the effects in Terminator and the effects in Avatar?
SW: It's more tangible on Terminator. You've got stuff blowing up around you. With motion capture, you try and get as much as you can, but you're not going to get it all right there. In the case of Terminator, I think providing this gritty visceral world helps the storyline. When shit starts blowing up, you're inclined to move a little faster.
Q: How is Clash of the Titans going?
SW: We're two weeks in. We took on the Medusa. We took on the witches. Next week we're going to take on the scorpions, and then we're gonna kill the fucking Kraken. So it's all guns blazing right now. It's going to be good. I think Louis [Leterrier] has a very good eye and there's a great bunch of people I'm working with. Russell Crowe said that sometimes you read something and it just leaps off the page. You think, "Fuck all, I have to do this for four months!" It was that way with Clash. I read Clash and I jumped around the room with a ruler trying to chop the head off my girlfriend.
Q: You realize with all these movies that there's going to be an incredible number of Sam Worthington action figures out there.
SW: I've got a nine-year-old nephew, so it's a great cheat. I don't have to buy him any Christmas presents anymore!
For our interview coverage with Terminator Salvation's supporting cast, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Anton Yelchin & Moon Bloodgood, click here. Stay tuned as we continue with more interviews this week. Tomorrow's piece is director McG on bringing the franchise back to life.