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In Depth

People In Film | Sam Worthington

Sam Worthington | Tough and Tender

John Madden’s The Debt shuttles back and forth between two different time periods. In the 1960s, three Mossad agents – David Peretz, Rachel Singer and Stephan Gold – are sent on a mission to East Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal, and while everything doesn’t go as planned, the trio return to Israel as heroes. 30 years later, the same three agents suddenly are forced to pay for the secrets they left behind during that famous mission. The actors playing the older agents (Ciarán Hinds, Helen Mirren, and Tom Wilkinson) are mirrored by a younger, equally talented cast (Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, and Marton Csokas). For the character of David, a passionate but awkward patriot, the filmmakers needed an actor who could be both focused and confused. As Madden explains, “David’s idealism becomes at risk and he doesn’t know how to handle that.” Long before Avatar turned Sam Worthington into a global name, Madden had seen the young actor in a small Australian film, Somersault, and recognized that he had a special quality: “Sam has this attractive, masculine, powerful presence but he also has a vulnerability…I felt that he could capture the contrasts of David.”

Sam Worthington | A Working-Class Actor

Worthington in Somersault

While Sam Worthington was born in England, he moved to Australia with his family when he was six. His was a working-class childhood of scuffles and sport. He joked with Details magazine that he never had any boyhood dream of being an actor: “Growing up, you tended to just go through school to get out, then figure out what you want to do in this big ball of mud." His father helped him find that answer when, at 17, he gave his son a one-way ticket to Cairns – on the other side of Australia from Worthington's home in Perth – with a single instruction: “Work your way back.” As Worthington told UK Cosmopolitan, “I nannied, bricklayed, worked in a sandwich store, anything to get me from one place to the next.” In addition to seeing the country, the young man learned the power of hard work, a lesson he got to apply when two years later he inadvertently got picked to attend National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). He’d gone along to support his girlfriend at the time, but after the audition, he made the cut and she didn’t. Three years later, at the age of 22, Worthington graduated from NIDA, and started working. In 2000, he was nominated for an Australian Film Institute award for his performance in Bootmen, a comedy about a steel-mill worker with dreams of becoming a dancer. After a string of small TV shows and films, Worthington was cast as a sexually confused young man in the 2004 hit Somersault. That role won him the Australian Film Institute award for Best Actor (an honor he shares with the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Eric Bana and Russell Crowe), and eventually brought him to the attention of directors like James Cameron and John Madden.

Sam Worthington | The Director's Choice

After turning 30, Sam Worthington made a drastic decision. Even though he was moderately successful, he wanted to start over. So he sold everything he had, save his books and clothes. Soon after this purging, he got a casting call from an anonymous American filmmaker. “I did an audition and no one told me what the movie was called, who the director was. At the time I was stuck. Every actor fears unemployment, and there I was unemployed. Sold everything I owned and was just living in the car basically, not doing much,” Worthington remembered in an interview with Empire magazine. “About a week later they said, 'Jim Cameron wants to fly you to America.'” While studio execs weren’t completely convinced that they wanted to build a $200 million film around a fairly obscure Australian actor, Avatar’s director was. After six months of negotiations, James Cameron helped Worthington go from living in a car to being the star of a film that would become the biggest box-office hit of all time. In the movie, Worthington plays Jake Sully, a paraplegic ex-Marine who’s given a second life by his avatar, a member of the Na'vi race indigenous to the planet Pandora. "With a lot of actors, women love them, but they don't inspire men. I needed someone who could lead men into battle," Cameron told Details magazine, explaining why Worthington was the only choice for him. He added, "he impressed me as a tough guy…He had a flintiness about him." Indeed critics like Time magazine’s Richard Corliss recognized that quality when he wrote “the resolve and good nature he radiates make Sully one of those ordinary heroes who rise to extraordinary heights.”

Sam Worthington | An Action Star with a Heart

Worthington in Terminator Salvation

Because of Avatar’s long post-production period, many American audiences first saw Sam Worthington in McG’s Terminator Salvation, a film he made after Avatar. The film was a continuation of the Terminator franchise, the future apocalypse robot adventure which Avatar director James Cameron kicked off in 1984 with The Terminator. Worthington told Comingsoon.net that Cameron’s input, after being told he’d decided to do the film, was “Just don’t f*ck it up!” For many, like New York Daily News film critic Joe Neumaier, he didn’t. “Part of the strength of the storyline is due to Worthington's subtle, empathetic performance,” Neumaier wrote in his review. Worthington continued his action (and green-screen) work by revising the famous Greek hero Perseus in Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans. And while these films have more than proven Worthington’s toughness, other work, like playing opposite Keira Knightley in the very modern romance drama Last Night, shows he is more than just brawn.

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