As great as it was for him to score “Avatar”, the years following the enormously-successful 3D smash haven’t been as kind to Aussie actor Sam Worthington. His hugely-anticipated follow-up project “Terminator Salavation” disappointed at both the box-office and on score cards, and 2010’s “Clash of the Titans” remake, in which he had lead billing, fared even worse. But 2012 is the year Worthington hopes sees his luck turn around, and with roles in such promising films as “Man on a Ledge”, “Drift”, and “Wrath of the Titans” there’s a few chance he’ll get his wish.
We caught up with Worthington to talk about the year ahead and specifically, his head-turning role in the top-rate thriller “Man on a Ledge”.
So you’re over your fear of heights?
I don’t think I had a fear of heights, I think I had a fear of falling and hitting the ground. Oh yeah. I think anyone with anyone with half a mind would be scared when you’re at 200 odd feet. I think I had a bit of fear. Actually trepidation is more the word.
So how do you deal with that given the circumstances of making this movie on the ledge?
I’m one of those actors who reads the story, gets lost in it and then forgets he has to do it. I said to myself ‘it’s called Man on a Ledge, dickhead, you have to get out there’. The first time I got on the ledge I said ‘just roll the camera and let’s see what we get’. And that’s the first bit you see me doing in the movies, the first time I ever did it. So I was lucky I didn’t burst into tears and go into a foetal position. It would’ve been a bit different for the film. You would have to lure me back in with lollipops.
Does it get easier when you know have a really good team working with you, in regards to safety?
I always put my trust in the stunt coordinator, without question. And I know there’s a safety line on me. My only thing was I didn’t want to feel it, I didn’t want to ever know that I’ve got it on because otherwise I’m just going to be thinking about the line all the time. And every now and then when I did slip or fall over or trip off it clicked into place but for that brief second you’re like, ‘Oh! There you go,’ and life flashes before your eyes before it clicks.
I had it real slack, so it was just for a precaution because in the end you do get a bit comfortable up there. It was just when you got cocky you needed to rely on it.
How much was actually shot on that ledge?
Quite a bit. The idea was to do a lot in the studio because we had no idea how much you can actually film on a ledge and what I would do. So I got out there and started to get a bit more confident, the camera crew was getting a bit more confident. So suddenly before you know it you’re going ‘let’s do another scene’ or ‘let’s try this stunt’ or ‘what else can we do’? So it was quite surprising how much we shot.
So the camera crew was up there with you?
Yep, swinging on ropes next to you. They did it worse than me. If you watch this movie, don’t worry about me, worry about who’s shooting it. These guys are hanging off, they’re flying, they’re on the ledge with you all harnessed up. And you sit back and they’re the ones going, ‘this is a cool job’.
They were on flying cranes. The main DOP is a guy called Paul Cameron, he does a lot of Tony Scott’s movies. He’s fearless. He was coming out of the ledge, he was doing stuff on the ledge with this storm picking up. I’m going, ‘I don’t think the lighting is right now Paul, shall we go in?’ It’s fucking amazing.
How was the scene with the helicopter?
We couldn’t actually get a helicopter in there, by law you couldn’t get a helicopter that close. But they just blew a lot of wind at him and I kept on saying ‘ramp it up, ramp it up,’ trying to blow me off. So the more realistic it was, the more I had to hold on.
After Avatar and Clash of the Titans are you looking for more stuff like this that’s more performance rather than effects focused?
I pick a movie that I would go and see, to be honest. I read it and go ‘would I pay $16 to go and see it?’ Because my responsibility to an audience is to give them their money’s worth and if this is worth going to see and shot correctly then hopefully we’ve done our job correctly.
So when you’re reading the script you’re not thinking about how much CGI or green screen there is?
You might be subconsciously, but really I look at it and go, ‘Yeah I’d go and see that, cool.’
Is it true you actually shot the prison scene in Sing Sing?
Yeah, the old section. Scary place that is. I’ve seen it on Law & Order and things like that but to be there you can feel the ghosts.
We were there a couple a days, I think it was. But I didn’t really need to go and meet prisoners and stuff like that. I’ve done that in other movies. I don’t really like prisons. Most people don’t, I guess especially prisoners.
We’ve seen you as a special forces agent and a cop recently. Is there a trend developing?
I think it’s just what I get offered. I’d love to do a comedy. You know, I think me, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, that’d be a comedy I’d love to see, like Curly, Larry and Moe.
There is action in this but a lot of the film is just you on the over, more of a drama.
I thought about films like The Negotiator with Samuel L Jackson and Phone Booth with Colin Farrell. I liked those movies and I said let’s just steal from them and make an exciting version of that. It was a nice idea to have an action movie where the action is rooted to the one spot – how do you keep that dynamic? And in the case of this film it was all about the pacing, that was definitely an appeal to me.
It was a clever tactic having you as a diversionary tactic while Genesis and Jamie do the heist.
I’m not going to feel too sorry for him since he got to spend time with Genesis Rodriguez while I’m out with the fucking pigeons. But yeah it was a clever idea. And I like the fact that it’s low-brow as well. It’s not all this whiz bang high technology. They’ve got a skateboard and firecrackers and a fire extinguisher, and to me that was the funny aspect of it while I’m throwing wads of money off to slow down the crowd. You look at it and it’s almost farcical but that’s what keeps it light and popcorny I think.
It wasn’t high extreme like Oceans 11. I like the cliché of sticking the thing in front of the camera, and in a genre like this we’ve seen these movies so we wanted to embrace it and also embrace the clichés of it. It’s called Man on a Ledge, you know what you’re fucking getting. It’s about a movie about a man getting on the ledge and getting off the ledge.
You’re not seen with Jamie a lot but you still have to form a strong bond. How do you do that?
I’ve known Jamie a while so it was quite easy. And when he came on set, he shoved me a bit. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He goes, ‘Well you’re a tough guy, I got to be like a tough guy too.’ And I said, ‘I’m acting as well mate. I’m a pussycat. We’re both pretending here.’
But it’s good to know somebody, you have a freedom with them. I like the fact that the brothers have a go at each other all the time. That’s real. It wasn’t written that way, it kind of developed over the course.
When you were publicising Macbeth back home, everyone was asking if you were on your way to conquering Hollywood and you said you’d rather Hollywood would come to you. Mission accomplished?
I don’t know whether I should use the word ‘conquering’ anymore. I was a bit arrogant back then. Now I’m just a very lucky boy to be able to do the job that I love to do.
Where do you spend most of your time nowadays?
I spend a lot of time in Hawaii. I love Hawaii. I love their culture. I love the people.
Yeah it’s a hard thing to do in what’s available, to be honest. There’s not as many options as there is in America. So when there is one, you grab it. But I’m extremely conscious of always trying to go back home. The Drift was made by my mates, the only way they got their money was if bug-a-lugs put his hand up and said I’d be in it, and I said I’d do a small part, I didn’t want to do the big part because that’s not fair. Let’s give another actor in Australia his opportunity to showcase.
Is there a bit of ex-pats club over here, with you and Hugh and Nicole and all the others hanging out?
I don’t really hang out now, only when I do stuff like this. Like I said I spend most of my time in Hawaii. I just like getting out of the world.
Do you get home very much?
Not as much as I’d like.
Some Australian directors may be afraid to even ask you something now because you’re the guy from Avatar.
You never know. It’s just a really different system in Australia. To get the movie up, you’re relying on money from the government. It’s very hard for even for an idea that I have to be fully embraced. I get a lot of first time Australian directors saying to me, ‘Hey mate, if you could be in my movie you’ll help me, we’ll get famous.’ And I go well, fuck you. I don’t want to help you get famous I want to help you make a great movie. So I have to pick wisely too.
What kind of projects do you have in mind that you’d like to do?
I’ve been trying to get a bio-pic of some Australian icons that I like. I’ve mentioned one to one guy, I won’t say what the idea was, but he said ‘no one knows that guy outside of Australia’. I said, yeah but I didn’t know who Mickey Ward was when I went to watch The Fighter. If it’s done correctly the global market accepts it. Nobody knew who Chopper Read was and he started Eric Bana’s career in America.
Do you ever see yourself standing behind the camera?
I think you need a certain set of skills that I maybe haven’t grown into yet. The director, he’s the leader, he’s the boss and my job is to facilitate his vision. And you got to be strong and calm and you got to be forceful and work it with ease. So it’s a dichotomy that maybe I haven’t yet stumbled into.
Is there any one you really want to work with?
It’s a hard question because you haven’t met them. And when you meet them they could be a jerk. There are people that I’ve worked with that I wouldn’t mind working with again.
And you will soon.
I love Jim Cameron, we get on real well.
Now I know you can’t talk about plot, but are you pumped now to start meeting with Cameron and discuss Avatar 2?
I’m seeing him next week. Jim’s told me quite a bit and he’s just doing other things. He’s living his life.
What does that mean for you to see that on the horizon?
I’d love to get back into it. I like working with Jim. It’s a war, it’s a circus. It makes you better as an actor. So you go into the motion capture world there’s no hiding and he pushes you that much that all the cobwebs and bad habits I’ve picked up since then will be blown away. He might end up destroying me.
Is it a little easier when you’re standing on a ledge and there’s a real city and real people and everything around you is real?
Oh it definitely helps, yeah. As I said we just didn’t know how much we could do. And then you find the more we were up there, the more authentic the movie gets.
What did you think about the way the New Yorkers are portrayed in that movie because of the cheering of ‘jump, jump!’
I think a lot of them might have been disgruntled fans of my last movie.
I love the way that just put the camera down there on New Yorkers and they don’t care if there’s a camera crew blocking their way, they just want to get to work. A lot of them are just going, ‘fuck, just jump. Stop blocking my path.’ You know, that’s typical New York. I love it.
Was there anything new that you learnt about yourself by undertaking this project?
You’re learning all the time in my profession. You have to be, the audience demands that you keep improving. Before Man on a Ledge I did voiceover for [computer game] Tour of Duty, which is just me stuck in a room. And I’d come off Clash of the Titans and I didn’t have a very good time personally on that, I wasn’t happy with what I did on that movie.
And then just being in that room and yelling, doing whatever I wanted freed me up. So by the time I got to do Man on a Ledge, I though ‘why can’t I keep that freedom? It’s the freedom I had when I first started out’. Every now and then your insecurities in this industry stop blocking you and that’s when your performances get watered down. So I kept just trying to free it up a bit more so I’m always pushing myself otherwise you let your audience down.
So does that mean you feel better about the second Titans?
I love it, I love it. It’s absolutely awesome. I get that in the first one I let the audience down a bit by not delivering a character. I was a fucking generic, bland, action dude. I was like a Barbie doll. And I didn’t like myself for doing that. I dropped the ball.
In Wrath I wanted create a unique character that a kid can go, ‘I like this guy. I want to go on a journey with that character.’ And [director Jonathan Liebesman] cracked it.