Since Wrath of the Titans in 2012, Sam Worthington has successfully made the transition from leading man in studio blockbusters to dependable supporting actor in independent films. Following his last appearance as Perseus, the actor has peppered his resume with excellent turns in efforts like The Keeping Room, Everest and Hacksaw Ridge. Now, he’s back in theaters to play lead Mack Phillips in the upcoming film adaptation of the bestselling novel, The Shack.
Mack’s life is destroyed when his youngest daughter is abducted during a camping trip, with nothing but her clothes recovered from a secluded shack. After receiving an invitation possibly from God, he returns to the shack where he embarks on the spiritual journey of a lifetime.
A few weeks back in New York City, we had the chance to sit down with Worthington for an exclusive interview. The actor dished on his new film, how he selects his roles, updates on the Avatar sequels, worshipping James Cameron and a whole lot more.
Check it out below and enjoy!
In The Shack, I appreciated that the embodiments of God, Jesus, the wind and wisdom were all represented by a prism of ethnicity. For a film very much about love, how important was that?
Sam Worthington: I think that’s derived from the book. That’s how the writer approached it. Octavia Spencer’s character comes in the most non-threatening form to him. If it was done in the way of a dominant male like we perceived God to be, Mack would have shut down. I think he did it that way because it’s a modern interpretation.
The way you have all these angelic ethereal beings coming to the rescue of a broken man’s soul, it takes a lot of parallels from something like A Christmas Carol.
Sam Worthington: I can go even one step further. The Wizard of Oz, man. You got the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow all helping Dorothy find her way home, and so Mack is trying to find his way home and all these people offer this selection of lessons that he has to go through and quests that he has to go through, each getting more and more raw in order to come out of the cloud on the other side and get home. Those types of stories work because our lives are not just one set path. It’s a collection of different trials and tribulations that we can then look back on and go, “ah, that’s what I learned from it.” It’s just sometimes when we’re on those paths we can’t see the lesson. We can’t see how to get there and that’s the scary bit.
Mack goes through probably the most painful event a parent can experience — the loss of a child. How do you even begin to put yourself in that place and stay there?
Sam Worthington: I had a son. My first son was born three months before the movie, so that opens up a whole pool inside you that no one can tell you what that it is and I can’t explain what that feeling is that I have for my son. As an actor, I always believe you’re pulling from your own resources. That’s all you have and then that marries with the script and marries with what the other actor gives you. So you do use bits of yourself regardless, whether you want to or not. It informs the character and informs the behavior.
It’s more a case of how do you let it go rather than how do you stay in it. You don’t want to be coming home living in the head space of that pain and what you’ve generated or revved up or created that day. It’s how do you let that go and realize that, even though it’s all based in truth. It has to be. I’m not very good unless it’s searching for that truth under imaginary circumstances. If you don’t let that go, you’re going to go crazy. You come home to your kid and the day is gone. But that’s the fun bit of the job, exploring an array of emotions in one day that some people may not even take on in a lifetime. That’s the fun bit.
You’ve had some really amazing supporting roles over the past few years. We just saw you in Hacksaw Ridge, which also deals with faith – from a different angle – but it’s absolutely an integral part of the film.
Sam Worthington: I think Everest deals with faith, as well. How do you get these men off the mountain alive and what happens when they die. The belief.
Are you able to bring certain aspects from one character to the next? Do you find parallels or do you prefer to start from scratch and build your characters from the ground up?
Sam Worthington: It’s kind of weird because sometimes the role allows you to be completely different from what you are. Something like The Keeping Room, you get to look different.
You were an excellent villain in that film.
Sam Worthington: I played that as a love story. He’s in love with the woman. But that’s a character. The voice is different. The gait is different. You’ve created something different. Then sometimes characters are quite close to you and it’s only through their circumstances and what they’re going through that a character comes out that’s not you. People sometimes can’t see it. They’ll say Sam is the same in this movie as in that movie, but I’m not. Unless you know me, it’s not me. I’m not Mack. I’m not the guy in Hacksaw. The situations give you the character. Character is created by action. So whatever the actions of that person in the movie is will give you the character.
Sometimes there’s a similarity between them. I gravitate towards characters that are trying to find their way in the world. In the sense of they all seem a bit lost. The guy in The Keeping Room is lost. He just wants love. Mack is lost. In Avatar, he’s lost. Perseus is lost. [laughs] There’s a theme that I keep getting back to of trying to find a life that has ease and calm in it. In Cake, the guy is lost. I can keep going back even to the ones in Australia. [laughs] It’s only something I’ve realized in retrospect. It’s not something that you plan because it’s not like I’m searching for that. It’s just something that I’ve been drawn to or comes out of me when I look at each movie.
The older you get affects it, too. So you start getting roles that have father issues and being a parent because you gravitate to understanding that. In Hacksaw Ridge, he’s a parent. In The Shack, he’s a parent. I did another movie recently where he has a family. That’s because I’ve got a family. I’m evolving. Maybe in my thirties and twenties, I was lost, trying to find ease and then you’re on this other journey. But there are the similarities between the characters. Which I’ve only realized when I look back and that’s what gives them this kind of similarity in spirit.
Is there anything else that you consciously look for when you’re choosing roles? Is it just case by case?
Sam Worthington: No. Read the script and how does it make you react or feel. Then sometimes you ask who is the actor? Where does it shoot? The basics. But it always comes down to that script. When you read it, what’s your reaction or connect? Then some if you read them three years later, they connect to you more. That’s what’s really weird. But there’s no grand plan, man. There’s never been a grand plan. It’s always been one job at a time and is this something that I think an audience will connect to? If I connect to it there might be someone else who might connect to it, too.