Friday, February 11, 2011

Sam Worthington - Hollywood titan who's muscling in on the big money

Surrey-born Sam Worthington found fame with mega hit Avatar. He tells Kaleem Aftab that he can't wait for the two sequels

The secret to earning the big bucks in the movie business is to be part of a successful franchise. Vanity Fair's annual list of Hollywood's highest-earning actors is filled with names of actors partaking in sequels and prequels. Top of the list of actors is Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), the stars of Twilight, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, all earned salaries to make football players green with envy and Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr earned a cool $31.5m. By all accounts, Sam Worthington is about to become a very rich man indeed.

The Australian actor is set to star in the two sequels to Avatar, which the director James Cameron is gong to make, and is about to start production on the sequel to Clash of the Titans, provisionally titled Wrath of the Titans, which is likely to guarantee more zeros on the bank account.

Worthington is considered to be Australian despite having been born in England. Born in Godalming in 1976, his father, a power-plant employee, and his mother moved to Australia when he was just two months old. Not that there would be any debate that he belongs to the Antipodeans, as soon as he opens his mouth the Aussie accent is thick.

Worthington likes to banter. When I meet him, the actor is telling his publicist how he just cut short the previous journalist's question about what films he likes to do, by answering I do what I like to do otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. Even his publicist calls him a "smart ass".

His muscular frame is befitting of an action star. It's a throwback to the Eighties in the days when beefcakes destroyed cars before the emasculation of the action hero that took place in the early part of the last decade. That process reached its worrying conclusion when Adrien Brody was asked to fill Arnold Schwarzenegger's combat fatigues in the Predator reboot. Worthington's chest squeezes against his T-shirt and his biceps pop out of the sleeves.

The talk of Avatar sequels is always likely to create a buzz and the actor as yet admits that he doesn't know what direction his character, a former marine who takes on the shape of a blue Avatar when visiting the planet Pandora, is likely to take: "Jim is writing the book at the moment. The Avatar novel, or the Avatar encyclopaedia, whatever it is, and once he's finished that, then he'll have a structure to proceed with the two films as then he'll know what he wants to do."

Cameron is writing a prequel that goes into depth on the previous lives of the characters, although the back story will likely only feed into the new films that the director has stated will go deeper into the world of Pandora.

The 34-year-old says that his life has changed "100 per cent since the release of Avatar". He has lost all anonymity and is recognised in the streets. More in jest than to be provocative he adds, "You end up having to do stupid shit like this in order to promote a movie and your work load increases."

However, he soon veers from the usual cliché about actors not wanting to do interviews by adding, "But that is something you want. You want to be able to sit down and promote the film. I come from a world where we don't have the opportunity to do stupid shit like this and for 10 years I was making films in Australia where I never got a chance to do this. So I'm in a lucky position."

He takes it all with a pinch of salt and wants to stick to talking about movies, "because if people care whether I like sausages of what my view of the world is, I'm not a fan of that."

There is a realism to this response as he knows that being part of the most successful movie of all time ensures that audiences will be interested in everything that he does and that he has chosen a career that means he's open to public scrutiny. His way of dealing with it is to play the game but to try and do it on his own terms while amusing himself.

As I sit chatting to Worthington, there is a shaft of sunlight coming through the curtain straight into my eyes, and squinting I ask if I can close the curtain. Worthington asks, "Is it burning your eyes?" and then starts laughing and saying, "It worked." The spotlight has momentarily been turned.

Before the franchise movies hit our screens, the actor will this year be seen in more adult-orientated fare. He's the star of John Madden's film The Debt, where in the sequences set in 1965 he plays a young Mossad agent who is sent to East Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal. His character, David, is in love with his fellow agent, played by rising star Jessica Chastain, but it's unrequited as she is dating the third agent played by Marton Csokas. The film is based on the 2007 Israeli movie directed by Assaf Bernstein.

Worthington also plays Keira Knightley's husband in Last Night. Their marriage is tested when Worthington's character, Michael Reed, has to go away on an overnight business trip with his colleague Laura, played by Eva Mendes. Back in New York, Knightley bumps into an old flame played by the charming Guillaume Canet and decides to go out to dinner with him. Massy Tadjedin's then delivers a will-they-or-won't-they-cheat narrative.

In both films, Worthington's romantic state is pivotal. He says, "In Last Night, my character is complacent, he eats food and he watches sport while his beautiful wife is getting dressed, he doesn't even say that she is beautiful until at least four scenes into the movie. While in The Debt, he's trying to fill a whole that is in his life because his parents are dead, his family is wiped out and he believes that this girl can fill this void, but it's all a bit too soon and so they are totally different sides to unrequited love. One is unrequited love and the other is that he doesn't give a shit."

He wanted to do Last Night because,"I have been every one of these four main characters. I have been the guy that has looked at the Robert Frost 'what if' in a relationship, I've been the complacent guy, I've been the predator, been the guy that has cheated and the one that has been cheated on. So I could identify with each of them."

Asking what role he prefers to be out of those he describes, he responds, "I prefer none of them to be honest. I prefer to have a relationship that is loving and good. If anyone says that they prefer to be in any one of these people's skins, they are a ridiculous idiot, because each one is going through something that you hope people will identify with but not too closely, otherwise their partner will find out and kill them."

Worthington was believed to have been in a strong relationship with Natalie Marks, a fashion stylist who he met at the offices of his management agency over three years ago. At the end of January it was reported that they had broken up.

In regards to his attitude to getting complacent in relationships, he tells me, "You work at it, and if you are bored at working at it, then get out of the relationship. Also with complacency, if you have been heartbroken, shouldn't you work harder in your next relationship? I think that if it is getting stale then you should get out. I think you should be able to be on the other side of the world for eight months and the relationship should hold. I'm a romantic at heart."

Also coming soon is Man on a Ledge, the first fiction film to be directed by Danish documentarian Asger Leth. In an ostentatious manner the Australian describes the film as about "a man on a ledge".

When pushed for details, he adds, "The guy is on a ledge. I'm not going to give too much away. You can go on the net and Google it. Why am I doing your job?"

When I remind him about the amount of information one finds online he adds, "You have to wade through it all, wade through it and it's described on the net."

It's about a suicidal man who attempts to commit suicide while his brother commits a heist, starring Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell and Ed Harris.

What is a surprise given the critical drubbing is that Worthington is so up for doing a sequel to Titans. He states, "The thing is the first film we got criticised a lot for, but now the good thing about the sequel is that we are not beholden to an original story and we can learn from the mistakes of the first and hopefully improve on it. I mean there is a surprise that we are making a sequel because of the critical drubbing but no surprise when you consider that Clash of the Titans made half-a- billion dollars."

And it's money that talks loudest in Hollywood.

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