Fa­ther­hood was Wor­thing­ton’s foun­da­tion for ‘Shack’

Ac­tor plays griev­ing dad who meets God in adap­ta­tion of book

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Patrick Ryan @PatRyanWrites USA TO­DAY

Avatar is more than make-be­lieve for Sam Wor­thing­ton’s sons.

With a theme land based on James Cameron’s block­buster movie set to open May 27 in Or­lando at Dis­ney’s An­i­mal King­dom, “my kids are go­ing to be lucky enough not only to go (there), but to the Avatar set, which it­self is like a Dis­ney World,” says Wor­thing­ton, 40, who ex­pects to be­gin shoot­ing four planned Avatar se­quels this year.

Be­fore then, the fa­ther of two boys (his old­est is al­most 2; the baby is 4 months old) with model Lara Bin­gle will show his pa­ter­nal side in the re­li­gious drama The

Shack (in the­aters na­tion­wide Fri­day).

Based on Wil­liam P. Young ’s best-sell­ing Chris­tian novel, which has sold more than 20 mil­lion copies world­wide since 2007,

The Shack charts the spir­i­tual jour­ney of Mack Phillips (Wor­thing­ton), who wres­tles with faith at an aban­doned abode where his daugh­ter was ab­ducted and killed years be­fore. Through en­coun­ters with God (Oc­tavia Spencer), Je­sus (Avra­ham Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Su­mire Mat­sub­ara), Mack learns how to for­give and move for­ward.

USA TO­DAY caught up with Wor­thing­ton, who also was in an­other film about faith, Hack

saw Ridge, which won two Oscars on Sun­day.

Q How did be­ing a fa­ther help you tap into Mack?

A When you have a child, there are emo­tions you can­not and don’t want to even de­scribe, so you’re more open to deep feel­ings in­side you. ... Es­pe­cially when the story in­volves the loss of a child, you un­der­stand the deeper con­nec­tion to it.

Q The Shack has been con­tro­ver­sial with some re­li­gious groups be­cause of the gen­der- and color-blind cast- ing of the Trin­ity. What do you make of the back­lash?

A A man was re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing away (Mack’s) child, so if God had taken a male form, it would’ve been too con­fronta­tional. God does come to us in the form we need him most, and I think that’s what it’s say­ing.

Q Are you re­li­gious?

A I wasn’t raised re­li­gious. I think I was about 19 (when) a friend gave me the Bi­ble and said, “Maybe you should read this.” Since then, I’ve been read­ing it and gone to churches around the world. I’m kind of on the same jour­ney as Mack was, in terms of what is your faith, what is God, and how is that re­la­tion­ship? It’s some­thing that’s un­fold­ing.

Q How did mak­ing this film af­fect your spir­i­tu­al­ity?

A I had my (metaphor­i­cal) shack; I had built that. The shack is a para­ble for all the guilt and grief of life that you hold onto. ... The Bi­ble shows you ways to for­give what peo­ple have done to you, for­give God for let­ting it hap­pen and, most im­por­tantly, learn to for­give your­self and let go of all that bur­den. I kind of had no un­der­stand­ing of how to do it un­til I did the movie and read the book, and thought, “It’s a grad­ual process. It takes time and you can’t do it alone.”

Q Both this and Hack­saw Ridge are films with char­ac­ters whose faith is tested. Is that a co­in­ci­dence? Or do you find your­self drawn to th­ese types of sto­ries?

A You look back and go, “Wow, I must’ve been search­ing for some­thing there.” And I was look­ing for lessons I can hand down to my sons — maybe that was the rea­son. But it cer­tainly wasn’t at the time. It’s just in hind­sight that I think maybe those con­ver­sa­tions about faith, why we’re here and why things hap­pen (were) what I was search­ing for.

PHOTOS BY JAKE GILES NETTER

Mack (Sam Wor­thing­ton) finds help from Papa (Oc­tavia Spencer) as he takes a spir­i­tual jour­ney in The Shack.

Mack Phillips (Wor­thing­ton, cen­ter) meets the Holy Trin­ity of Je­sus (Aviv Alush, left), God, aka Papa (Spencer), and the Holy Spirit, or Sarayu (Su­mire Mat­sub­ara).

Wor­thing­ton had a deep con­nec­tion with his char­ac­ter.

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