Fatherhood was Worthington’s foundation for ‘Shack’
Actor plays grieving dad who meets God in adaptation of book
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.
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.