Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub
If there was any debate about James Cameron’s casting of Sam Worthington as the lead in his upcoming sci-fi epic “Avatar”, “Terminator Salvation” will stop the chatter. That’s because Sam absolutely holds his own against Christian Bale in the film, and I have to say, I left rather impressed with this relative newcomer.
And I’m not alone.
Because after shooting “Avatar” and “Terminator Salvation”, Sam has been working non-stop and he’s currently shooting the remake of “Clash of the Titans” – another big budget action film. So if you enjoy his work this weekend when the film comes out, you’re about to see a lot more of him.
But enough of my intro. Below you’ll find a transcript of my recent roundtable interview with Sam. During our time we talked about not only making “Terminator”, but all the other projects he’s involved with. And while some actors are guarded with their answers, Sam is refreshingly honest, and I loved the way he didn’t pussyfoot around certain things.
As always, you can either read a transcript after the jump or click here to listen to the audio.
“Terminator Salvation” opens this weekend, but you can see some clips now by clicking here.
Question: Sam, what were the biggest challenges of this part for you?
Sam Worthington: The biggest challenges, it was an extremely physical movie. So I was actually trying to bring some sense of depth and gravity and truth within all the big bangs and explosions and tumbles in the film. That was the biggest challenge
Did you do a lot of your own stunts?
Sam: You do as much as you can—I think Christian’s the same–before the insurance people step in. This day and age you’ve got the Bourne franchise and audiences want to see you. That’s part of your character.
You spent quite a bit of time in makeup, didn’t you?
Sam: Yeah it was six to eight hours at the most, when they put all the prosthetics on and they digitally do, you walk around like Cirque du Soleil because you’re all blue. But that’s not hard, you’re just sitting there. The hard part is those guys doing it for six or eight hours, they’ve got the hard part.
When you say blue, you mean you had blue parts where they’d put in the CG later?
Have you been a fan of the Terminator franchise?
Sam: I reacquainted myself with it obviously before we started. But I would have been what, 14, 15 when the second one came out. I remember the liquid man back then. I think when you reacquaint yourself you see what James had done, the level of expertise he has as a storyteller. Our job is to try to do a movie that hopefully kind of gave something to the canon of movies or it’s a fucking waste of time.
Did you see something in that canon that you wanted to bring forward?
Sam: I wanted to make a role where he’d actually feel pain ‘cause I’d never seen that, I’d seen a bit of it in Blade Runner but I’ve never actually seen a movie where a cyborg or a robot hurts, not only physically but mentally and emotionally. I wanted to ramp that up a bit.
What is it about the Terminator franchise that makes it so popular?
Sam: Any good science fiction will reflect the mirror of society today and in Jim’s first two in particular and in this one hopefully, is a case of man’s humanity, and you know I think it has a lot of hope in it even though it’s bleak and dark. It’s got these heroes standing up against a bunch of bullies. I kind of like that message. My nine-year-old nephew is the barometer for movies as far as I’m concerned, and if he gets the message of ‘don’t get bullied’ and ‘don’t be afraid to stand up and take a stand,’ I think that’s a good message to send.
Are you still working with James Cameron now?
Sam: I know he’s still working. He’ll call me up in a minute if he knows I’m in town, I’m fucked!
I wondered if he had any curiosity about doing this?
Sam: No, he’s busy doing Avatar. He passed on the franchise a while back. I think he’s keen to see if we fucked it up or not, to be honest. That was his message to me anyway, do your best and tell the story you want to tell.
Difference between working with Cameron and McG?
Sam: Two different beasts. The movies are two different beasts. McG is very passionate about movies. He’s an Energizer Bunny. His enthusiasm rattles across the whole of the cast and the crew. He doesn’t stop. And there’s a similarity there with Jim, an excessive nature and making the best damn movie you can in that period of time. The difference is Jim’s got five years and we had four months. Whatever you had you had to film it. That’s the similarity but the difference is they’re two different people.
What has this last year been like for you? You’ve gone from being someone not recognizable to getting all these high profile films
Sam: I’m enjoying the ride, for starters. Any actor wants their movies and their work to be seen. You don’t make a movie or get into this profession for your work not to be seen and just to show them to your mates at home. So I’m liking the fact that people are going to get to see my work and fingers crossed, they’ll like what I’ve produced. We’ll soon find out, won’t we? I might not be working next year. And all this, it’s just on a bigger scale than what we do in Australia.
People say you work for free but get paid to promote—agree?
Sam: Yeah, pretty much, totally. I’m Australian, we work for free anyway
Do you like the physicality? Were you planning to have that be part of your acting career?
Sam: Getting beat up and blown up? It’s part of the character, part of telling the story. I don’t mind running, I don’t mind taking a few knocks. But hopefully it’s just not ‘Sam’s an action dude.’ Tha to me is not what I wanted. I wanted to bring a sense of weight and emotionality of doing Australian films and bring that into a bigger blockbuster, so you’re not just kind of grunting and groaning and running around. That’s what I wanted and hopefully it came across.
What’s your regimen, what do you do to keep in shape for this kind of role?
Sam: I get up. I don’t go to the gym and shit like that.
Was there any boot camp or weapons training for you?
Sam: Well, I AM the weapon. It’s not that hard, when you’re running through a minefield and they’re blowing shit up all around you it’s not that hard to run faster. That’s the way I look at it
Anton said you all worked on the script when you came to Albuquerque and worked out scenes
Sam: Yeah there was one scene where we were kind of teaching, with the rope, and it was crap and I said I wasn’t gonna do it. The script is a blueprint, which is what I kind of believe, and we’re there to tell a story. Things have to develop. The script is like an infant and when you’re making it it becomes a teenager—everyone is yelling and fighting and rebelling. And in that scene it wasn’t working. It was one of the lamest gags I’d ever read. I said ‘we don’t have to become friends, let’s bond another way.’ Anton said, ‘are we allowed to do it?’ I said, ‘I don’t care if we’re allowed to do it, let’s do it.’ They can say it’s crap and go back to the original. My job is to come in and help McG facilitate the movie and facilitate his vision in the film. And however I do that, my job is to come in and make the best story that I can tell and if that means taking the script and rejiggering it, then fine. Luckily we had a director who wanted input from everybody. He wasn’t just ‘I’m the director, this is what we’re doing.’ It built a solidarity amongst the cast and crew as well. It tells a better story so we can stand by what we did
Do the same with Jim?
Sam: Yeah, I work it out with Jim. That’s what he hired me for. I’m not a puppet, man. ‘I can make this work, but if we change this line it will be a better scene.’ We argue, argue, argue, and either he wins or I win. Either way, you’re making it better. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about being a fucking puppet or a monkey. It’s about pinging it and making it alive.
Were there other scenes in Terminator where you did this?
Sam: You change certain things, you cut a lot of the stuff. I’m a big fan of less is more. You don’t need to spell it all out. I’d rather…that’s how I think. So certain scenes I tweaked or go, ‘that line is shit, can we get rid of it?’ But that’s the process of making any film. You’re investigating the script and trying to make it real and alive. So that kind of struggle and friction, you know, that’s how a pearl is made, sand…
Have you seen the final version of Avatar?
Sam: I’ve seen the latest cut. A lot of it isn’t all rendered. What’s my thought on that? It’s a fucking beast that’s going to kick everybody in the head
Can you talk about your character?
Sam: He’s a former Marine who goes to another planet to drive these remote controlled bodies called Avatars. That’s basically it.
What’s more challenging, Terminator or Avatar?
Sam: Two different beasts. Totally different. With Jim it was 13 months non-stop, eight months of motion capture. This we shot four. Avatar was 13 for me and I was short. Jim’s been working on it five years.
Have you seen it in 3D?
Sam: Yeah. You see the playback in 3D. 3D for Jim is like digital for Danny Boyle. That’s just the format Jim likes. He believes it brings the audience more into the screen. It’s not ooga-booga, it’s literally you’re looking around shit. And with it being photorealistic it actually pings in a lot better. Your brain starts to buy it. It doesn’t get distracted and distanced. You believe you’re on Pandora.
Did you have that kind of immersive experience while watching it?
Sam: Yeah from what I’ve seen in 3D, yeah. It looks like we shot it in Hawaii, it’s that fucking real
Are there themes in Avatar of a post-apocalyptic world that are similar themes to this movie?
Sam: Kind of, in the sense of hope, that’s definitely a theme in Avatar and this. Humanity, people finding hope in desperate times, which is good in this day and age.
Were you psyched to go toe to toe with Christian in your scenes with him?
Sam: I was chained up, and I was nervous as hell because he’s a guy that I’ve watched his work and I admire. This is a guy whose movies I’ve rented at the video store and here he is in front of me. ‘You will not kill my mother!” Half the time I’m looking at him going, ‘this aint’ fucking real, is it? Oh shit I’ve got a line!’ He’s extremely giving. People call him intense, it’s the wrong word. He’s dedicated. He’s passionate about the story. He doesn’t give a crap about selling it. He gives a crap about the story, are we on the right path? Are we telling the story? I love that.
What surprised you about him as you got to know him?
Sam: That he doesn’t care about how big his trailer is. He walks around in his fucking track pants and he’s dedicated to the work. A guy of that kind of magnitude or that big a star who isn’t walking around like ‘I’m the fucking king’ I love that. He’s there for the work.
What’s going on with Clash of the Titans?
Sam: At the moment we took on the Medusa and we took on the witches. We go back and take on a heap of scorpions and then we take on the Kraken. We’re running around in a dress, fucking killing everything!
Is it a remake of the one from the ‘80s?
Sam: Yeah. It’s the same kind of general story, we just ramped it up
Did you take a look at the Harry Hamlin performance?
Sam: Oh I want to do it exactly the same. That guy’s gonna come after me…no, I had a take on Perseus that I said to Louie and he went with it and the studio kind of liked my take, and we’ll see if it works
Comes out when next year?
Sam: March, I think. It’s real quick. We’re done in two and a half weeks. It’s extremely quick
Where did you shoot Avatar?
Sam: Eight months on a motion capture stage here and five or six in New Zealand.
Based in Australia or here?
Sam: I go where the work is. I don’t have a real home. When I got Avatar I sold everything that I owned because I knew it was going to be a long journey. I’ve got two bags and that was four years ago and I’ve been working ever since and I’ve still only got two bags—a bag of books and a bag of clothes. That’s about it. My base at the moment is up the road.
You said when you came on to Terminator the script was an infant, when you come onto a project and the script is in that stage, what gives you the confidence it will be a good project in the end, the director, other actors, what is it?
Sam: I sign on to any project because of the director, because they won’t change and you’ve got to feel confident that you’re in good hands, in their vision. McG had a clear sense of what he’s doing. We just came in and added the color, added the details. That’s to me what it is. He had an idea of what the painting should be and my job is to come in and give him as many colors as possible so he can go and make the movie he wants to make. That’s how I look at it.
Have you already started thinking about projects beyond Clash of the Titans?
Sam: Haha, I’m doing as much as I can till people realize I’m a sham! Obviously they throw shit at you, and we’ll see how this goes and they’ll throw shit at me and anything that piques my interest I’ll do. I like working
You must be craving a drawing room comedy
Sam: I did a drama, just me, Eva Mendes and Keira Knightley in New York, in normal dress and I craved a gun and a sword, to be honest with you. It was bizarre. The kissing scenes, I wasn’t getting the same sort of rush
Is that Last Night?
When does it come out?
Sam: I’ve no idea
It’s an indie, right?
See a place for yourself in future Terminator movies?
Sam: I hope so. They haven’t written a script. You might know something I don’t, man