Monday, January 24, 2011

Up-and-coming 'Avatar' stars radically transform their careers

Sam Worthington had winnowed his possessions to two duffel bags — one for clothes, the other books — when he got a call from his agent asking if he'd like to read for a James Cameron movie. Suddenly, Worthington concedes, it seemed less urgent to quit the business and wander the roads of Australia, as was his original plan. "That's a call," he says, "that you have to take if you're serious about being an actor."

Zoe Saldana didn't need as much convincing. The actress, 31, had been pursuing a role in the sci-fi soap opera since she heard Cameron was returning after a 12-year commercial film hiatus following Titanic. "He was why I got into movies," she says. "His female heroes — Ripley (from Aliens) and Sarah Connor (from the Terminator franchise) — showed me an actress can be an action hero."

Seriousness has never been an issue for Worthington, a frank-talking Australian who worked as a bricklayer before taking an acting class to support a friend. Born in Surrey, England, the 33-year-old found most of his success before Avatar on Australian TV dramas such as The Surgeon and Love My Way.

But he was disillusioned with poor scripts and empty celebrity, and vowed to leave acting after the 2007 flop Rogue. "I was burned out," he says. "I wanted to control-alt-delete my life. I don't like being out of control of my life. I wasn't being rebellious. I was standing up for myself." Still, Worthington's intensity almost cost him the job. Like other stars of Cameron's films, Avatar's actors weren't given whole scripts, only a few select scenes. They aren't even told the title. The secrecy wore on Worthington, who during one read stormed off while "uttering some choice words.

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