Man on a MIS­SION

Mos­sad has proved more in­trigu­ing than the Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice for one of Aus­tralia’s hottest exports, writes James Wigney

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

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

fic­tion­alised spies.

‘‘ 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.’’

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