Sam Worthington Interview, Terminator Salvation

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down with Sam Worthington to talk about his new movie, “Terminator Salvation.” Set in the year 2018, Worthington plays a human-machine hybrid named Marcus Wright whose internal battle reflects the larger conflict and is the key to the story.

Marcus Wright's last memory was of being put to death for committing a crime; he has no knowledge of how he came into this world or what his purpose is here. "Marcus had been on death row," says Sam Worthington. "He was put to death. But then he wakes up in this post-apocalyptic world and has to go on a surreal adventure to figure out why he isn't dead."

To create a strong anti-hero opposite Christian Bale's John Connor, the filmmakers cast Worthington, fresh off his experience working with "Terminator" creator James Cameron on his upcoming film "Avatar." "Sam is a fundamentally tough guy, but at the same time, he shows innate human sensitivity," says director McG. "He holds his own with Christian, which is a tremendous feat considering how formidable an actor Christian is. It was very clear from the beginning that Sam was our guy."

In addition to “Terminator Salvation” and “Avatar,” Worthington also stars in two very different upcoming independent features which are currently in post production: the romantic drama "Last Night," opposite Keira Knightley and Eva Mendes; and the post-World War II dramatic thriller "The Debt," directed by John Madden and also starring Helen Mirren. He is currently filming the action-adventure fantasy epic "Clash of the Titans," playing the lead role of Perseus under the direction of Louis Leterrier.

 A native of Australia, Worthington graduated from Sydney's prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 1998. In 2000, he made his feature film debut with a starring role in the Australian film "Bootmen." His performance garnered him an Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. His subsequent Australian film credits include "Dirty Deeds," with John Goodman, Toni Collette and Sam Neill, for which he earned a Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor; and "Gettin' Square," with David Wenham. He also had a small role in the World War II drama "Hart's War," starring Bruce Willis. However, it was his layered performance in Cate Shortland's critically acclaimed and commercially successful 2004 film "Somersault" that brought Worthington international attention, an AFI Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and his second FCCA Award nomination. Worthington went on to star in the title role of Geoffrey Wright's 2006 contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth." He has also been seen in John Dahl's "The Great Raid" and the horror thriller "Rogue."

Worthington is a terrific actor and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us about “Terminator Salvation”:

MoviesOnline: You’ve been working on these high-level, big productions for some time now. Is this surreal for you?

Sam Worthington: I started Avatar in 2006, and I’ve been working non-stop.
 
MoviesOnline: You’ve been working, but now the publicity starts and people actually know who you are. Is that a different adjustment for you?

Sam Worthington: Nah, it’s the next part of your job. You know it’s coming, so you do it. Your job is to sell the movie you spent four months dwelling over, and that McG has spent the last year dwelling over. Hopefully, we can sell it correctly and people will go and see it.
 
MoviesOnline: Were you a fan of this franchise?

Sam Worthington: I reacquainted myself with it before we shot. I was maybe 14 or 15 when the second one came out, so I remember the liquid man because it was pretty revolutionary. Seeing them again, you realize just how talented Jim Cameron is as a storyteller.
 
MoviesOnline: Can you talk about doing the stunts in this film and the injuries during them?

Sam Worthington: Well, you get beaten up. It’s Terminator. It’s not fuckin’ Pride & Prejudice, is it? You know what you’re steppin’ into, so you take a few hits and you take a few knocks. Just putting an actor in those situations, the audience is seeing the character gettin’ blown up, running through minefields and gettin’ shot at, and it draws them in a bit more. We’re not bustin’ ‘em out going, “Oh, that’s a stuntman.” It keeps them involved in the story. I think all of us tried to do as much as we could, before the insurance got involved.
 
MoviesOnline: It’s amazing to see that there is not tons of green screen and that there is a lot of real-life robots and stuff?

Sam Worthington: Yeah. McG is very smart. Instead of looking at a tennis ball, the guys at Stan Winston’s would build an actual robot, as a point of reference. In this day and age, that’s the smart thing to do. With a lot of blue screen and green screen technology, audiences are tuned in. It’s good to have a point of reference.
 
MoviesOnline: Wasn’t the acting in Avatar almost all green screen, though?

Sam Worthington: Yeah, but Jim is very clever, in the sense that he tries to make it as real as possible. Even though you’re in a big grey soundstage with nothing there, he will try to give you as much as possible to make the terrain and the place real. There would be plants to walk through and, if there was an explosion, they’d throw shit at you, and things like that. Acting is reacting. You can’t just react to nothing. That’s too hard a task to ask any actor. You always need something tangible. 

MoviesOnline: Did James Cameron say anything to you about being in Terminator?

Sam Worthington: I told him that they wanted me to do it, and I said, “Here’s my take on the character and here’s what I want to do with it,” and he told me, “Just don’t fuck it up!” That was about it. And then, he went back to filming Avatar. As Jim said, he wants to look at it, as a fan.
 
MoviesOnline: Did you get together with Moon Bloodgood and work out your scenes with her beforehand?

Sam Worthington: Like any scene, you dive in on the day. You kind of have an idea of what you want to do, and you see where it goes. We did talk about things, obviously, but I find that, in making any movie, it’s about exploration and a bit of friction. If you get a bit of friction, you can produce a pearl, and I think some of those scenes are like that.
 
MoviesOnline: How was it to work with Christian Bale?

Sam Worthington: I find Christian extremely passionate and dedicated. People call him intense. I hate that fuckin’ word. I hate it! He turns up, does his job, and it’s all about the story and the character. To work with a guy like that is actually a privilege.
 
MoviesOnline: What was your take on your character? How did you see this guy?

Sam Worthington: To be honest, I looked at him as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. That was always stuck in my head, about this person waking up in another world and finds himself as they go on this yellow brick road and find the heart, the brain, the sensitivity, and all these characters you meet. And, he’s going to Skynet, which is Oz, to ask the question, “Why am I not fuckin’ dead?” That’s how I looked at it. That’s why I’m wearing a blue coat. Dorothy wears a blue dress. Things like that were stuck into it. Alice in Wonderland, same thing. That’s how I approached the character. I also wanted to be a robot that felt pain, not only physical, mental and emotional, but here’s a guy who wanted to die for his sins and the irony is that he wakes up and he can’t die. He’s stuck and his penance is to suffer, until he transforms and becomes a better human being.
 
MoviesOnline: What kind of backstory were you given, and what kind of backstory did you come up with yourself?

Sam Worthington: We all came up with our own backstories, to be honest. Now, it’s that he killed a brother and two cops. That was McG’s idea. I had my own backstory. To be honest, I didn’t want you ever to know what he did. It’s personal. We ADR-ed that line because audiences were coming back going, “What did he do?,” so we put it in. But, I personally wanted you never to know. The guy’s obviously done something wrong ‘cause he’s on death row, but if you say he’s a pedophile or a psychopath or that he accidentally killed someone, then you already have a preconception of him, and I didn’t want that. As it stands, I think it’s okay. It’s still a bit ambiguous. Did he kill the brother?
 
MoviesOnline: What was McG’s reaction to your Dorothy analogy?

Sam Worthington: He thinks I’m mad as hell. He’s a good director. He lets you come in and do your job, and gives you little, subtle hints along the way, until you’re on the right path. That’s what any good director does. They don’t treat you like a monkey or a puppet. They implore you to bring in whatever you can bring in. My job is to bring in as much as I can, and then he goes and puts it together. That’s my job.
 
MoviesOnline: When you’re working on something like Avatar, is there a lot of physical precision involved?

Sam Worthington: Kind of. You’re never dictated by the technology with Jim. Jim is paramount to the actors. Everyone thinks that he’s technology driven, but he’s the best fuckin’ acting director I’ve ever worked with. He picks up on subtleties and details that you wouldn’t believe. So, he’s employed me to come in and do my job, and then we use the technology and I work with him. It’s give and take. Jim isn’t a dictator. He wants it fuckin’ high, but so do I. I’m not there to get pushed around. I’m there to work with the man. And, that’s why I got the job. I don’t get pushed around. I’ve done 10 years [of acting] in Australia. I didn’t do that for nothin’. We worked together. It’s a privilege to work with directors who like pushing the boundaries and taking risks, like McG. He’s taken a hell of a risk on this movie, with his career. That’s what I like to be a part of.
 
MoviesOnline: Can you give a little bit of your background and how you got into acting?

Sam Worthington: I was a brick layer. I built houses and never wanted to act. When I was 19, I met a young girl who auditioned for the premier drama school. I auditioned with her for moral support, to cheer her along. I got in and she didn’t, and she dumped me a week later. We weren’t seeing eye to eye. I didn’t know what wings on the stage were. I thought Chekov was on the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek. I didn’t realize he wrote plays. So, I was a sponge that took everything in. And then, you finish your sentence after three years and they release you for good behavior, if you’re lucky, and you go and work, and you learn how to act. I’m still an infant in this, but it’s been 10 years. I’ve always thought that you do as much as you can, in your own country, so you can sit in a room with Jim Cameron or McG and offer something. That’s my apprenticeship. You don’t build a house and then go, “Hey, can I do the Twin Towers project?” No one’s going to give you the job. So, my belief is that you do as much as you can, and I looked at other actors in Australia who have done the same thing.
 
MoviesOnline: You’re doing another big fantasy project right now with Clash of the Titans, right?

Sam Worthington: We’re filming it, at the moment.
 
MoviesOnline: What attracted you to that?

Sam Worthington: Who wouldn’t want to run around in a dress and kill the Kraken. That’s the appeal. I read the script and was jumping around the bed with a ruler, and my girlfriend was looking at me like I’m nuts. She said, “This is the one you’re going to do, isn’t it?,” and I said, “It’s deep, trust me.” But, I had a take on it that I gave (director) Louis Leterrier and the studio, and they were mad enough to let me loose and see if it can work.
 
MoviesOnline: How will it differ from the original?

Sam Worthington: We’ve been filming it for two weeks now and I’m more bruised and battered than I was on Terminator. We’ve taken on Medusa, we’ve taken on the witches, and then we just kill everything else. It’s a bit more brutal. There’s no togas, or there’s very little togas. I said, “I’m not wearing a toga. Bugger that!” You can’t look manly in a toga, I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it. Louis is a very good action director, so it’s going to be exciting and big, and my job is to bring the heart.
 
MoviesOnline: How different is your character, compared to Harry Hamlin’s performance?

Sam Worthington: I’m going to play it exactly the same. [Laughs]
 
MoviesOnline: What’s your take on Perseus?

Sam Worthington: It’s hard for me to discuss that because I’m in the middle of it. It’s something that, when we go and promote that movie, I can tell you whether it worked or not. I’m in the middle of discovering whether the take is gonna work.
 
MoviesOnline: Do you live in L.A. now?

Sam Worthington: I go where the work is.
 
MoviesOnline: So, you don’t have a house back in Australia?

Sam Worthington: I’ve got two bags. I’ve got a bag of books and a bag of clothes. I sold everything before I went and did Avatar, and for the last four years, I’ve been going back to back to back on jobs. So, at the moment, I’m living in a hotel up the road with me mates.
 
MoviesOnline: What’s in the book bag?

Sam Worthington: Just lots of books that inspire me and that I’ve read, over the years.
 
MoviesOnline: What was the most dangerous stunt for you to do in this?

Sam Worthington: Being strung up wasn’t a very good day, but that helped the scene. I didn’t want to be strung up, and neither did the character, so that helped. And, jumping off when the truck blows up was difficult. You’re doing things that a stuntman can do. I’m not a trained stuntman, but I’ll try to give anything a go. Some of the wire stuff is a lot more difficult than it looks.
 
MoviesOnline: What was your reaction when you finally saw it all cut together?

Sam Worthington: I think it’s fast. I think it’s the movie that McG told me he wanted to make, and that’s good. I get excited. You’re in it, so you can’t be too objective because you know what’s coming next.
 
MoviesOnline: Did you guys have any time to hang out off set and blow off some steam in Albuquerque?

Sam Worthington: There’s not much to do in Albuquerque. There’s green chili and weaving. That’s about it. And, the hours were long. I do an extraordinary job, so I try to live an ordinary life. I go home and wash and cook and do bullshit. I watch TV.
 
MoviesOnline: There’s probably never been a movie like Avatar, where nobody has seen a scene of it and there’s no trailer, but people are expecting it to be the second coming. Have you seen any of it?

Sam Worthington: Yeah. I watched it recently.
 
MoviesOnline: Does it live up to the hype?

Sam Worthington: It’s amazing! Jim said, “The hype is gonna kill it.” Jim is not nervous. He doesn’t get nervous. It’s not the be all and end all. Hopefully, what this does is open up a world of the possibilities of what motion capture can do and the possibilities of what this 3-D technology can achieve. Hopefully, it starts that kind of revolution, and I think it will.

MoviesOnline: When you choose the projects that you’re going to do, are the expectations in your thought process at all?

Sam Worthington: No. I pick because of the director. You’re working with them, and my job is to facilitate their vision. The second thing is, “Would I go see the movie?” There’s no point in doing something for four months, or 13 months, that you wouldn’t go and see. That seems ridiculous.
 
MoviesOnline: So, you’re okay with all of the hype that comes along with projects like those?

Sam Worthington: That’s just part of the fun, isn’t it? I guess I’ll find out. My mates are sick of seeing my head. If this happened when I was 22, it could be a bit overwhelming. I’m 32. I know who I am, so I’m just going to enjoy the ride. As long as it doesn’t affect my work, and I keep producing work of a certain quality, that keeps me in the game, then I’m okay. As soon as it starts affecting what I can achieve, or I feel that I’ve got nothing to offer, I’ll go back to bricklaying.
 
MoviesOnline: Were you ever approached for The Green Lantern?

Sam Worthington: I think they’ve been talking to people. I’ve been talking to (director) Martin Campbell about it. It’s one of those things where they’re still doing the script. I said, “Give me a script. Let me have a look at it.” I like Martin a lot. I met him on the Bond stuff, and I like his work, but the second step is, “Is it a movie that I’d go and see?”

“Terminator Salvation” opens in theaters on May 21st.

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