It’s mid-August, 2009. [Pretend for a second, with us.]
“Avatar” hasn’t made $2.4 billion dollars worldwide. It hasn’t picked up nine Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe Best Picture win.
In fact, the first trailer for “Avatar” has just hit the Internet (before the special IMAX day) and people have begun making “Delgo” jokes.
Amidst that backdrop, it takes confidence for Sam Worthington to stride in and meet a makeshift tent full of journalists to talk about “Clash of the Titans.” Fortunately, Sam Worthington is a confident man and, in this instance, he’s a confident man in a dress.
I guess it’s a toga that Worthington is wearing. Or maybe an ancient Grecian fighting blouse. But on first glance, it looks like a burlap skirt.
If you’re going to wear a burlap skirt, you have to own the burlap skirt and Worthington greets us all individually with a firm handshake, seemingly daring us to comment. He’s covered with dirt and made-up blood (or what we assume is make-up), as if he went 10 rounds with the last five guys who dared to mock his military gown. He plunks himself down, stares at us and immediately fields an “Avatar” comment.
“It’s a lot better than it is on the teaser,” he says frankly. [It turns out he was right, but remember it’s August 2009 here. We don’t know that.]
Then he fields a question about whether he feels ridiculous wearing shoes with the toes painted on them, because he is, indeed, wearing shoes with the toes painted on them, something one might miss if one were concentrating on the dress.
“I think this whole movie is pretty ridiculous,” Worthington laughs. “It’s the fun of it. We’re running around with rubber swords and rubber shields with a guy made of wood, jumping out of scorpions covered in goo. I think the whole point of this movie is it’s meant to be fun and bombastic, and to take people… I call it a Saturday morning popcorn movie your Dad would have seen. That’s how I’ve been approaching it. That’s just another thing to keep you reminded about it.”
In “Clash of the Titans,” Worthington steps into Harry Hamlin’s sandals (or into shoes with painted toes meant to stand in for Harry Hamlin’s sandals) as Perseus, just your average demigod forced to do battle with Hades (Ralph Fiennes) for his own life and the life of those he loves. It’s bad enough battling The Lord of the Underworld, to say nothing of a Kraken, a Medus and a motley crew of other creatures, but to do so in a skirt?
“Which is a lot harder than what it sounds…” Worthington says. “It flies up all the time so a lot of the shots get ruined cause they don’t want to allow your cheeks.”
The risk of indecent exposure is not all that separates Worthington’s Perseus from Hamlin’s cocksure legend.
“In the original, Perseus is part-man, part-God, as you know, and he accepts the God side pretty easily in the first one, accepts all the gifts the Gods give him, and to me, that wasn’t a very good message to give to my 9-year-old nephew or any kid, I think, is that you have to be a God to achieve something,” Worthington explains. “So one of these things I said to [director Louis Leterrier] and talked to Louis about was that he wants to be a man and do this as a man, and do it with other men. I think that’s a good message that anything is possible if you’re banded together as men, so that’s where it differs a lot. He’s rejecting the Gods a hell of a lot. And then the second thing is that Greek mythology, your destiny is set for you, and I thought that was another crap message to give to my nephew, because to say to him, ‘You’re already going to be destined to do this, this and this.’ I believe you can make your own fate, so we played against that, so my Perseus is, to use that word again, a boisterous belligerent kind of teenager, is how I’ve been playing him, who you tell him you can’t do something and he’ll run headlong into doing him and that gets him into a lot of trouble. He’s not the Golden Boy, he’s the teenager who has to learn how to grow up. That’s what I consider the main difference from the first film.”
If Worthington doesn’t sound like a huge devotee of the original… It’s because he’s not.
“I watched it before I started to familiarize myself. I got about halfway through it and nodded off a bit,” Worthington says. “I think it’s a bit corny. The messages aren’t kind of relative to now. I think the performances are a bit tame, and they’re stop-motion, which is good. Harryhausen, for what he did and how he did it — I read a book on him — it’s quite incredible, but the only reason… it’s not ‘Casablanca,’ to be honest. It’s worthy of a remake, especially with the technology we have nowadays to rev it up a bit, to turn it up to 11.”
Of course, turning things up to 11 can be a brutal business, especially with Leterrier (“Unleashed,” “Hulk”) doling out the punishment. Many a Hollywood alpha male has enjoyed regaling reporters with tales of bumps and bruises. This Aussie doesn’t go in for that.
“I think any actor who talks in beatings-up is just talking himself up. I tend to not bring them up. I know what I”ve took. The boys know what I”ve took. We’ll leave it at that,” Worthington says. “Let them talk about their little knee scrape. I know who took the most. And that”s true. I do believe any hero is a person that can be knocked down. A failure isn”t a person who gets knocked down; a failure is a person who stays down, and to me, the great heroes take the beating, get knocked down and stand back up again. Perseus is defined as one of the great heroes in literature, so you gotta take that on board.”
But the machismo of not complaining about your battle scars does not, it seems carry over into not telling tales out of school about your equine co-stars, specifically the horse playing Pegasus.
“I hate that f***ing horse,” Worthington crack. “Have they told you that? How I hate the horse? I hate it, I hate it. I can”t get near the f*cking thing without it eating me. It tries to bite me. It”s got an attitude problem. He”s done more movies than me. He”s done ‘Alexander’ and ‘Prince of Persia,’ so it”s all hot shit now isn’t it? It doesn”t come out of its trailer, mate.”
To be fair, the horse probably came into the movie with more big credits than its human star. Worthington was cast in “Clash of the Titans” when he was an unknown quantity, before the fourth “Terminator” film failed to set off a storm at the box office and before “Avatar” became a worldwide phenomenon.
“I didn’t know who Sam Worthington was,” admits Leterrier. “I mean, everybody was buzzing, Hollywood was buzzing about Sam Worthington, all this stuff and everything. I really hadn”t seen any of his movies, and I saw ‘Somersault’ and I really liked his performance in ‘Somersault,’ but I hadn’t seen the big movies, and then I met him and he was down to earth, very humble, had really good ideas and there was something really interesting and sort of broken about him that I thought would make an amazing Perseus. The first Perseus I had written was more like the Harry Hamlin, a little wide-eyed, candid, surprised, but knowing Sam, now you’ve met him and he’s a little bit darker and I was like, ‘This is it, this is good, and this is like an interesting starting point for the character.’ So really, I was like, ‘Okay that’s good, I have my Perseus.'”
Worthington didn’t lack for smaller credits, like the aforementioned “Somersault,” but he says he doesn’t change anything for bigger roles of the sort that have been his bread and butter for the past couple years.
“No, because I don”t look at them as big movies, because to me, every scene, you basically just want something off the other person, that”s not going to change if it”s $200 million Greek mythology, outer space, or a $4 million Australian movie,” he says. “The sentiment is still the same. ‘I want to… what? Kill the Medusa. I want to… what? Save my friend.’ The bells and whistles are bigger, so there”s no pressure in regards to my work.”
But Worthington appears to put pressure on himself to keep his current momentum going and to keep taking interesting a big projects while the opportunities are presenting themselves.
“This has been my fifth one back-to-back since ‘Avatar’ so I have had a break of about two weeks after all these movies,” Worthington notes, to one or two gasps from the journalists. “I heard you say ‘Jesus.’ It”s so funny because every other job, like a schoolteacher, they work and work and work and only get a couple of months off. But other jobs do and I”ve always been of this belief that actors… or I personally can be inherently lazy, whereas there”s nothing wrong with working nine, 10 months of the year and working extreme hours and your days off rehearsing for your mates and go over your material. Bands do it, sportsmen do it, that”s why they”re at the height of their game, so I always thought with something like that, if I feel like I”ve got nothing to offer the project, I call ‘Time out’ and take a break, and I feel that after this, I will need to go and kind of let my hair down a bit and go and grow up a bit and find what I want to say in the next movie that I go to do.”
“Clash of the Titans” opens on April 2. Like that other little Sam Worthington movie, it will be released in 3-D.