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Q&A: Sam Worthington on 'The Debt' and 10(!) 'Avatar' Movies

Sam Worthington in The Debt
Focus Features

Sam Worthington was plucked from obscurity (he says he was living in his car) when he landed his first American film role – that of a paraplegic marine in James Cameron's groundbreaking 3-D epic, "Avatar."

The 35-year-old Aussie has also played an empathic cyborg in "Terminator Salvation" and wore a mini-skirt (okay, a tunic) to play Perseus, the mortal son of Zeus, in the mythical money-maker "Clash of the Titans."

Now that he's gotten plenty of action, Worthington's about to reveal his dramatic chops in "The Debt," a thriller about a Mossad capture of a Nazi war criminal, also starring Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson.

We talked with the Debtor about more "Avatar" movies (possibly even 10), more "Titans," and his new "Zach Galifianakis" look.

The Debt
Focus Features

How'd the role of David in "The Debt" come about?
I was in Albuquerque filming "Terminator Salvation" and the director John Madden flew out... I thought, 'Any bloke who is willing to fly to f**king Albuquerque, I'll sign on because there's not much there but green chili and weaving.' We hung out and he's great, a sensitive man and very eloquent. His take on the script and what he wanted me to do with the part of David was interesting. He has an ease about him and he makes you feel safe. I always choose my projects based on the director.

You learned the Israeli martial art Krav Maga for the film. How did that help your performance?
It's a very aggressive form of defense. It's all about attack. If someone is coming at you with a knife, you might get stabbed four times but that's the price you pay for taking him down and that helps with the whole Mossad way of thinking, which is no matter what happens, keep going forward. David wants to get that mission done, no matter what the cost, to his sanity, to his own demons.

What do you prefer, an intimate film like "The Debt" that almost feels like a stage play at times, or the big FX movies?
Either way. Each job you do has its own challenges. That's the great thing about my job. Each one is a different journey. Whether you're stuck in a small room shooting in order, out on location shooting out of order or on a green screen stage, each one is just problem solving, trying to find the truth in imaginary circumstances.

What did you take away from "The Debt"?
"The Debt" is not about The Holocaust and Nazi hunters. It's about harboring a secret for so long that you know is wrong and the ripple effect it has on you and everyone close to you in the long term. It's made me more honest. I used to hold everything in, especially with loved ones, and now I'm much more honest. It's better to hurt them straight up than 30 years down the track.

Next you'll be seen in "Texas Killing Fields." What can you tell us about that?
It's based on a true story. I never knew this strip road existed and that all these women had been slaughtered and dumped there. It's still a dumping ground for murders, for women. When you see a table this big filled with photos of missing people and you know that half of them are still in the fields, it's quite touching. So you want to do a movie that sheds light on the situation. And maybe people will go online and maybe see a photo and say, 'I remember that girl' and shed some light on it. Maybe those murders will get solved and those families can have some peace. That was the responsibility I felt.

Also Check Out: 'Texas Killing Fields' Trailer

Avatar
Fox

You're reprising your role as Jake Sully in "Avatar 2" and "Avatar 3." Are you in contact with James Cameron about the status of these films?
Yeah, he called me on my birthday [Aug 2]. He's writing "the bible" right now. Someone else was writing it and Jim didn't like the guy so he fired him and he's doing it himself. He said he knows this world and this universe better than anyone else. He's told me the story of where he wants it to go. It's monumental, and knowing him, I know he wants to push the boundaries. That's the competition he has with himself, to always give the audience a better experience.

Do you know when filming will start? And is it hard to plan your film schedule to accommodate "Avatar"?
Tentatively, it’s summer next year, but who knows. Jim isn't under the gun. I know he's been playing around with the 3-D format, different ideas and how to shoot it and once he figures that out I'm sure he'll pull the trigger to go. I keep him aware of what I'm doing all the time. He's setting up shop in Manhattan Beach and when he says jump, I'll jump. I'd do anything for Jim. I'd like to do "Avatar" 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10!

You've said James Cameron changed your life. How so?
He raises the bar and gives you the courage to jump over it. He also changed my life as a man. He makes you stronger in the sense of being more focused and committed. If I'm going to do this job, he told me that I have got to challenge myself more, don't listen to anyone else, don't listen to the media or bloggers, just listen to yourself, push yourself. And if you feel you're just coasting, then get off the train but if not, keep going, it's a long marathon.

Tell us about "Clash of the Titans 2." What can we expect? Will they release another Kraken?
You'll have to wait and see. It's still the world of Perseus and Zeus and the mythology is still the same but it's [director] Jonathan Liebesman's take on it that makes it different. That's what will push it to another level. I would work with Jonathan the rest of my life. I love him.

Also Check Out: Sam Worthington, Space Hero... Again

What's one change from the first film?
Ralph [Fiennes] and Liam [Neeson], all of us felt a bit under-used in the first one. You've got people of that caliber and you put them in a shiny suit and tell them to stand here? A lot of us, to go back to it, that was one of our things. We wanted to give it a bit more depth, to utilize the talents of Liam and Ralph and their friendship in real life and build a bigger heart.

You have a lot of films coming out. And with the two "Avatar" sequels, your schedule looks pretty full. What do you do when you're not working?
I don't. I work. I'm really lucky. I get to travel to different countries and hang out with different people and do exciting things. I've got friends who are actors and I always figured if you get an opportunity to do this, why squander it? Why not take it seriously? Why not tell a good story if you have the opportunity to do that?  Why sit back on my laurels? Some people find that one movie every now and then is fine. I find that the journey is better than the end product.

Sam Worthington
Getty Images

How do you handle being recognized by fans?
I try to handle it with some sensitivity. It doesn't bother me if people want autographs and stuff like that because f**k it, they're the ones seeing your movies. It's actually quite nice and humbling. I mean, it's not that hard to write your name. I don't see why you'd get grumpy at it.  But I also can go under the radar a lot, especially now when I look like Zach Galifianakis (Ed. note: Worthington has grown his hair out for the surfing movie "The Drift"). I've actually got a picture of myself with him. I had it taken when I saw him in a bar and he was like, 'Who the f**k are you?'

How much of the characters you play comes from within you?
I play a dad in "Clash 2" so obviously I'm dealing with my f**king own issues there. But whether it's Perseus or David, the character is in your fiber. You bring stuff out of your own personality to infuse your character. Sometimes it doesn't work and you end up with a two-dimensional wooden character, like I've been accused of doing. And that's fine. It just makes me want to work harder to get my personality out.

Does this ever cause problems in your personal life?
My friends think I'm f**king nuts and relationships are hard. But you know, it's my job and it's a part of the job that I love.

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