Man on a MISSION
Mossad has proved more intriguing than the British Secret Service for one of Australia’s hottest exports, writes James Wigney
WHEN Pierce Brosnan stepped down as James Bond in 2005, Sam Worthington ( pictured) made the list of three to replace him as the super- suave spy.
Despite an already solid resume in his homeland, including Somersault, Getting Square and Macbeth, he was then a relative unknown internationally.
But these days, after starring in the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar, Worthington wouldn’t have a bar of the part, just as he wasn’t interested when he was approached to replace Matt Damon in the Bourne spy franchise.
He’s more interested in creating his own legacy.
‘‘ I’m going to lay down a hundred bucks,’’ he says with a laugh when reminded he is still 3- 1 favourite with online bookies to replace Daniel Craig.
‘‘ What intrigues me more is the chance to start my own franchise and put my own stamp on a character that is iconic rather than just jumping on something that is already established. I like the risk of getting my own one going.’’
In his latest film, The Debt, Worthington finally has the chance to play a secret agent – but it’s about as far from Bourne or Bond as you can get.
He plays one of a trio of young Israeli Mossad agents on the hunt for a Nazi war criminal, known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, in 1960s East Berlin.
The emphasis is not on gadgets or superhuman powers, but rather on passion and idealism and the tension of tracking a real- life monster – not to mention the psychological stress of being locked up in a house as a love triangle plays out with his fellow agents ( played by Marton Csokas and Jessica Chastain).
‘‘ They were young idealistic people and not necessarily trained killers,’’ Worthington says. ‘‘ That’s the difference between Jason Bourne and James Bond and other
‘‘ They are almost world- weary, whereas we had an innocence we wanted to portray.’’ Worthington was making
Terminator Salvation – his breakthrough international role – in Albuquerque when he was approached by director John Madden to play the crucial part of the repressed, on- edge David.
Madden had seen the Englishborn, Perth- raised actor in the much- lauded Aussie film,
Somersault, which won him the Best Lead Actor AFI in 2004.
‘‘ He liked the fact that the [ Somersault] character was emotionally stunted. David, in a way, is the same kind of character,’’ Worthington says.
‘‘ His family has been slaughtered and in order to let those demons rest in peace, he has to complete this mission. Nothing is going to get in the way – not even his emotions.’’
To prepare for his role, Worthington read what he could find on the Israeli Secret Service and took lessons in its favoured form of martial arts, krav maga – an attacking form of self- defence. David, the most passive and tormented of the agents, winds up becoming something of a punching bag.
‘‘ I kind of got my arse kicked to be honest, mate,’’ Worthington says of the lessons. ‘‘ I didn’t really have to learn that much – just how to take a hit.’’
Worthington is part of a breed of local talent benefiting from Hollywood’s hunger for ‘‘ real men’’. Australian actors – think Hugh Jackman, Chris and Liam Hemsworth and Joel Edgerton – seem to have an appealing blend of masculinity and vulnerability that’s in short supply in the US.
‘‘ Sam has this attractive, masculine, powerful presence, but he also has a vulnerability,’’ says Madden. ‘‘ That’s what made him perfect for the part of David.’’ It’s a sentiment reflected by his
Avatar director James Cameron, who fought hard to have a relative unknown carry one of the most expensive films ever made.
‘‘ I had lobbied for him strongly from the beginning because I just felt he had something I hadn’t seen before in a guy of that age,’’ Cameron says. ‘‘ There was this amazing sense of not only authenticity, but personal power in the voice and his demeanour.’’
He also believes Worthington has the perfect mix of tough guy charm and vulnerability to become one of the biggest stars in the world.
The stardom game, however, is not one Worthington is terribly interested in playing.
He was working as a bricklayer when he was accepted into the prestigious National Institute of the Dramatic Arts in Sydney on a scholarship and was famously broke and living out of a car when he scored his big break in Avatar.
Worthington is also a straightshooter and wasn’t afraid to go toe- to- toe with Cameron – who has a reputation as one of the world’s most volatile and feared directors – if he thought he knew best. He is equally open about his own work.
Although Clash of the Titans, in which he starred as the sword- swinging Perseus, was a hit with nearly half a billion dollars at the box office, Worthington was nearly as scathing as the critics of his own performance, telling the
Hollywood Reporter late last year: ‘‘ I think I can act better’.
Having now finished work on the sequel, Wrath of the Titans, which will be released in March next year, he hasn’t changed his opinion of the first movie.
‘‘ I think I coasted on it,’’ he says. ‘‘ I liked what I did, but I have learned a lot more about the definitions of character inside these blockbusters.
‘‘ If you look at the Bourne movies – there is a definite character of Jason Bourne and I didn’t really have a handle on the character of Perseus and what I wanted to say within it.
‘‘ I kind of got my arse kicked to be honest, mate’’
‘‘ With this Perseus, that’s how we looked at all of it and you can create something that elevates the blockbuster rather than it being another generic, run- of- themill movie with monsters.’’ After finishing Wrath of the
Titans, Worthington returned home to Western Australia to make his first local film since
Rogue in 2007. He piled on the kilos and cultivated a wild- man beard to play a surfing photographer in the ’ 70s set drama Drift, which was recently filmed around Margaret River, and sounds like a rather thinly disguised excuse to hit the waves with his friends.
‘‘ One of my mates is the director and my other mate is the star – it’s kind of criminal really,’’ he says with a laugh. ‘‘ I am playing a surf photographer, which is a bit different, and I look a bit different.
‘‘ I have been stacking on the pounds a bit and I know I am going to get worked over the falls like you would not believe. I will probably get smashed into the reef and drowned – all for the sake of my mate’s movie.’’
But he does feel strongly about the industry that gave him his start and wants to continue making films in this country.
Worthington also has been enjoying his first real break in four years – but is still waiting for the phone call from Cameron about the inevitable Avatar sequel.
‘‘ He has told me the basic outline of two and three,’’ says Worthington. ‘‘ It’s monumental and extremely exciting. We don’t have a start date yet but it will be whenever Jim wants to go.’’