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Sam Worthington

The genuine article

Sam Worthington
25 September 2011

"Eighteen minutes,” says Sam Worthington, with an incredulous chuckle. “Until what? I f*cking blow up? What am I? A ticking bomb?” He may be poking fun at his publicist’s overly dramatic, 24-style introduction to our interview, but the 35-year-old actor and explosiveness seem to go hand-in-hand.

And we don’t just mean the run of combustive box office hits he’s appeared in since Avatar blasted him to the top of Hollywood’s action hero A-list.

During the course of ShortList’s phone conversation for the release of his terrific new thriller The Debt, Worthington hurls TNT at quite a few irksome subjects. With bloggers, bad directors, fame-craving celebs and weak American lager (“Me and my mates get beer sent to us from Australia”) all feeling the full force of his uncompromising Aussie ire, how would he react to questions about his rumoured career hiatus? We grabbed

a notepad and ducked for cover…

In The Debt you play an undercover agent from Mossad [Israel’s intelligence agency] in Sixties Berlin. Was it gratifying to do a role so different from your previous ones?

Yeah, sometimes it’s refreshing to not have to run around with a gun while stuff’s blowing up all the time. It reminded me of movies I did when I was in Australia a few years ago.

Did you research for the role?

Yeah, I read a lot of books. One called Gideon’s Spies and a lot of other Mossad books. Just to get an idea, because when you watch something such as Munich [the 2005 film about Mossad’s retaliation after 11 Israeli athletes were murdered during the 1972 Summer Olympics] you think they were all super assassins, but in reality [Mossad] were all quite young, idealistic people that were quite naive and out to achieve some justice. I liked that John [Madden, The Debt’s director] had this different take on it, because it’s the truth.

The Debt is another Hollywood remake of a foreign-language film. Where do you stand on those?

Well, I’m the f*cking king of remakes, aren’t I? That seems to be what’s been going on lately. But hopefully doing our version of the story takes a great yarn and puts it out there for a wider audience to appreciate. That’s a good thing. And you only do that if you think you can, not improve it, but add something else.

What’s the trickier language, then — German or Avatar’s Na’vi?

[Laughs] German, because I had no idea what I was saying. In the end I had to say to John Madden, “Just write it on a bit of paper, I’ll say it and I don’t give a f*ck what it means.” If you ask me now what half of it meant, I couldn’t tell you.

So you haven’t picked up anything useful that you could use in a bar?

Nah, “der haus” for “the house” is all I can remember. That’s it, that’s all I know. I suppose that might get me somewhere with a chick [laughs].

There’s quite a bit of hand-to-hand combat too. Did you train up?

I get my arse beaten. And I prefer that to actually being the aggressor. Krav maga [the Israeli martial art] is a really aggressive form of self-defence. You risk yourself in the fight, expect to get punched and still bring your opponent down. There’s something about that thinking that I thought worked well with the Mossad agents [we played]. They’ll get the mission completed at all costs.

So is it true that you’re taking a break from acting?

I am. I’ve been working consistently for four years and I’ve never taken time off, so I thought I would. But as always, bloggers and Googlers and whatever f*cking media spin it into, “That’s it, he’s retiring,” which made me laugh. I’ve worked back-to-back and haven’t stopped.

What will you do instead?

F*ck all. Nothing. That’s what I’m looking forward to: sitting on a beach, doing nothing, walking the dog — I’ve got a King Charles spaniel crossed with a bijon called Bacon — and figuring out what I want to do.

Is any part of your decision to take a break down to worries about overexposure?

For many years I didn’t work, mate. I was unemployed. It’s weird now that I get criticised for working. You can’t f*cking win, can you? You can’t. In my mind, if you don’t want to see my movies, don’t go and see them. If you don’t want to see my head, don’t, it’s fine [by me]. I just try to do as many jobs as I can, build up the calibre of my work and make the director and the audience happy. That’s the only way I look at it, mate.

You don’t seem to court fame. Can you go to the shops without getting recognised?

Seriously, I get recognised more at the moment because I’ve got a beard and people think I’m Zach Galifianakis. They go, “Hangover 2 rocked, dude!” But in reality, I’ve always been able to go under the radar. I had a big career in Australia but I could still go out to the local bar. I think if you want to get recognised, you can. If you want to drive around in a Ferrari and stay in the hotel where all the paparazzi are, it’ll happen.

So you’re not drawn to the flash cars and glitzy parties?

When I’m in London I go to a pub on Gloucester Road near the station and people in there aren’t expecting a dude from Clash Of The Titans to be sitting next to them drinking a Kronenbourg. And if they do spot me they just go, “Good job, mate.” They think you’re going to be in the Bahamas living the lifestyle. Not ordering a plate of sausage and mash [laughs].

We take it you’d never use your fame to meet women, either?

Nah, man, my mates exploit it all they can [laughs]. They always exploit it.

You got down to the last three to play James Bond but missed out on the role. Are you still gutted?

I wasn’t gutted at the time, man. It didn’t bother me in the slightest because you can learn from it and go, “Do you know what? I wouldn’t want to see a James Bond movie with me in it anyway.” [Laughs] The last time there was an Australian as James Bond it was George Lazenby and he f*cked it up. I don’t want to be the new f*cking George Lazenby. But you know, I learned a lot from that, which I took into the Avatar auditions.

Speaking of Avatar, what’s the latest on the sequels to the film?

I spoke to Jim [Cameron] recently and he told me the story and it’s monumental where he’s thinking of taking it. It’s just a matter of him writing the script, piecing it together and figuring out how to push himself. He wants a challenge. And he wants to improve the audience’s experience. He’s been mucking around with 3D and frame rates a lot more.

So the rumours about exploring Pandora’s oceans are true?

I think so, man. [James Cameron] went on a submarine for his birthday and he’s been doing a lot of free-diving. I happened to be working when he went underwater, but I’d have loved to go.

There’s also been talk of the cast going on a rainforest trip…

Yep, that’s an idea. I’m up for whatever Jim wants me to do. If he wanted me to go to the moon, I’d do it. He’s the type of guy that, not just as a director but as a good friend, challenges me as a man.

You must have had a lot of work offers since you played Jake Sully in Avatar. What’s the weirdest script you’ve every been sent?

A lot of the roles I get offered are to run around, yell and smash sh*t, but I got one that was actually set on another planet with a bunch of green kind of cat-like people. I was looking at it going, “Is this for f*cking-real?” [Laughs] So anyway, at the moment I’m considering it [laughs]. In all seriousness, I literally looked at it and said, “You’ve got to be joking…”

What can you tell us about Clash Of The Titans’ sequel? Some people were surprised when it was announced…

Yeah, we’ve filmed the sequel. The first film made half a billion dollars, which is why we’re doing the damn sequel, so we must have been doing alright somewhere. That’s a sh*tload of money for a movie that got canned [laughs]. That makes me laugh my head off. But the good thing is an audience went and saw it and hopefully we can learn from the mistakes of the first film. We’ve shot it in 3D, which is much better, and there’s a great new director [Jonathan Liebesman].

Did James Cameron have an opinion on the first film’s 3D?

Yeah, he hated it. He said it was sh*thouse. But he said he watched it in 2D and loved the story. He could see what we were trying for but audiences can’t get past shoddy 3D to appreciate the story.

Earlier, you touched on being unemployed, and you famously lived in your car for a while. That must have been a tough experience — how did you survive?

I would just bum off my mates. I’m not an idiot — I wasn’t scraping baked beans out of a can and crying over an open flame. I’d just turn up at my mates’ houses and ask them, “What are you cooking?” [Laughs] Or I’d suggest that they got a pizza.

And you used to be a bricklayer too. Had any other horror jobs?

I did heaps. When I was 17 I went to the other end of Australia and just worked my way back [home]. The worst one? Digging sewer trenches is tough. Putting anti-rust paint on top of a building in the middle of Cairns was bad. But guys do that stuff every day. I’m not going to beat myself up about it. It’s what you do to get you to the next spot or pay your phone bill, and guys do that all the time.

What have you made of your Aussie compatriot Shane Warne’s new makeover?

Shane’s gone metrosexual. I saw the photo of him and Liz Hurley and I thought it was a Madame Tussauds shot, to be honest. Sometimes you meet a woman and you change in order to keep her. So now he’s lacquering his hair and everything else.

As an Australian, we can’t let you go without getting your take on the rise of the English cricket team…

Oh, man. This shows how much it is having an effect: an Australian newspaper actually had an article about the success of the English cricket team. A few years ago that would have been sacrilegious and we’d have completely ignored it, but now there’s a whole f*cking article on it.

You were born in Surrey. It might not be too late to change your allegiance.

You think I could still come back to the English side? [Laughs] Ah, come off it!

The Debt is at cinemas nationwide from 30 September

(Images: All Star)