Action star Sam Worthington has been to the top of the world with his lead role in Avatar, and now he’s on the edge with his new film, Man on a Ledge. In the film featuring Jamie Bell, Elizabeth Banks, Anthony Mackie and Edward Burns, Worthington plays an ex-cop named Nick Cassidy who pretends to threaten to jump off a building in order to distract New Yorkers from another elaborate scheme.
I sat down with Worthington to talk about Man on a Ledge in one of Chicago’s tallest buildings, the Trump Tower. We discussed his haircut in the movie, being a humble Australian in Hollywood, “Avatardians,”and more.
Man on a Ledge opens nationwide on January 27.
I have seen the short documentary you directed, ‘Enzo’ (link at the bottom). Has being on many different types of film sets made you want to get back behind the camera at all?
I like film sets in general, because I think you always learn. Being a director takes a different set of skills to lead something that big. I don’t think my skills are right there yet, but I do like putting a camera on other people and making them feel comfortable, because that’s all a film set really is. Everyone’s feeling confidence in each other. The technical side of it [is something] you’re always learning. But being able to rally troops together and give them confidence, I happen to find quite easy.
Speaking of film sets, with this movie, I’ve heard you’re afraid of heights.
Like 200 feet in the air – I look out the window [of this room] and I’m afraid of falling out of that.
Are there other film sets you’ve been on in which you’ve had to face a fear in a similar fashion?
Every single one. Even if it’s a massive stunt you do, or a movie that you know isn’t going to be appreciated, or even just starting a movie is fearful. It’s subjective. It’s not like building a car engine, where it’s going to work or it’s not. It’s always going to up for criticism – it’s always fearful.
Did you see ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’? Did you hear about the height sequences?
I saw an interview with Tom [Cruise]. Tom understands what an audience demands, and his main thing to make the audience come see the movies – I agree with that same philosophy. My job only exists because of an audience. I wouldn’t make movies otherwise. You keep trying to deliver the audience more spectacle, and if you change that when you become a stuntman or something, that audience gets thrown out of the film. They notice it. You’ve broken their suspension of disbelief. You want them to stay in the movie as much as possible, whether that means getting out like he did, or me getting out on the ledge the whole time.
You did a lot of your own stunts?
Ninety percent. Jumping off the building is me, jumping over the ledges is me, the car chases are me. I don’t mind that, it’s part of the fun. I wouldn’t do it in normal life.
Is that your handwriting on the “suicide note” in the movie?
Do you agree with Nick’s morals in this movie?
It’s a bit of an extreme. I think that’s the conceit of the film. You’re accused of stealing something that doesn’t exist, so the only way to prove it exists is to steal it back. I don’t know if I agree with that, or disagree.
You’re a big Motorhead fan. What music does Nick listen to?
Not much in jail [laughs]. Someone told me he should listen to Rush, I had never heard of that band. My agent reckons that with a haircut like that, Nick should listen to Rush. I thought that was a great compliment. It’s not my type of music. I like Metallica.
What else do you listen to?
[Jimi] Hendrix, anything.
Do you like your haircut in this movie?
I did it specifically. It’s an old ’80s movie, and I wanted an ’80s style haircut with the mullet. It’s Martin Riggs, Lethal Weapon. The producer said, “What the hell are you doing?” And I said, “It’s not a period piece. The pallet of the film is the period, we don’t make these simple genre movies.” We’re not twisting and rebooting the genre, we’re going alongside movies like The Negotiator and Phone Booth. They’re the movies I look to. I want this one to be next to them at the video store. We embraced the cliches of these movies. We put our own spin on them, but we embraced them.
You have a string of playing cops and soldiers, from ‘Texas Killing Fields’ to ‘Avatar’ to this. What do you find most compelling about these characters?
They’re the ones that are offered to me. You wouldn’t see Man on a Ledge with a f**king ballerina on the ledge, would ya?
If you played the ballerina, I would.
It’s not a biker standing up there.
Which mass of people is more intense? New Yorkers of Avatar fans?
[Laughs] Avatar fans. “Avatardians,” or whatever they call themselves. The Japanese Avatar fans are the most passionate. They wear masks. They actually made a place in Japan, renamed it the “Hallelujah Mountains,” and you can get married there. I’ve seen it online. People are dressed up like Avatars. You’re right up in the clouds.
Do you think James Cameron knows about it?
I think he does. I think he fully endorsed it [laughs].
I have interviewed a few Australians before, like David Michod for ‘Animal Kingdom’ and James Wan & Leigh Whannell for ‘Insidious.’ They were all very nice. What secret do Australians have to being nice?
You’re privileged to be working here. We have our own industry. I wouldn’t say we are very nice to each other back home. To each other, we’re pretty brutal. When you’re coming out here, you’re allowed to play in a different ballpark. You handle it with respect.
There’s a small video of you on Youtube having a beer with a guy doing a “30 Days” project.
Yeah, he was at the pub. He just walked up, and I said, “OK.”
Did you get a free beer out of it?
No, but it took all of five minutes.
Did being in a massive movie like ‘Avatar’ provide any challenge to your humble perspective?
I think working with Jim [Cameron] … he keeps you grounded. You don’t get caught up in hoopla, and with Avatar he knows how well you are going to handle things. But even when you make a movie like that, you don’t know how it is going to be. It could be the biggest bomb of all time. Jim, when he casts, he isn’t thinking that he has a hit. He just aims to make the best movie. But in the back of his head, he casts people whose feet are on the ground – because his feet are on the ground. He’s a down-to-earth man.
Has being in the highest grossing movie of all time at all put you on a different level of stardom?
You can’t think of it like that. It’s not like you’re done making movies. You make a movie like this, or a Wrath of the Titans, and you think of it like, “This exists because an audience wants to see your films.” The audience is one who ultimately decides. The a**hole [star] is the one who says, “I don’t want to sell it.” Then why did you make it in the first place? Look at Jim, and how many interviews he does.
Do you listen to or watch anything on set to prepare for a film?
Years ago, [when working] in Australia. It depends on the job. Sometimes you just get fixated on a film. And watch a film over and over in the trailer. It’s all I watch. When I was doing Terminator: Salvation, I watched Gladiator (starring Russell Crowe). It’s all I watched. I don’t know why. It was on loop. I don’t know why. It has little to do with Terminator. Or, you get fixated on food.
For this, I drank Coca Cola. I’m not a fan of Coke, but I drank that and ate cheese sandwiches. A lot of the time with tomato soup. I don’t think it’s anything so much as going to the same job every day. You get caught in a routine when you make a movie. For some reason that routine helps [you] stay in character, or helps [you] understand that you’re making a movie.
Do you know of any other actors that work with food like that? I’ve never heard of it.
It’s weird. I don’t, but for five months I ate nothing but tomato soup. It’s ridiculous. But it’s just like you’re going to the same set, wearing the same costume. Organically, that happens.
I asked Anthony Mackie this question, and he said “Don Cheadle.” Whose career would you most like to emulate?
I find those questions impossible. It’s like “What’s your favorite film?” It’s impossible. Just too many.
Favorite action film?
Too many. Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, Beverly Hills Cop, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, Die Hard With a Vengeance.
No Die Hard: Die Harder? [ed. – No one likes Die Hard 2].
I like William Sadler. I like the twist when they fire the clips. Total Recall … any Schwarzenegger movies. Action is subjective to how you’re feeling on that day, and it should be there to entertain you. It’s not there to make you go out with an M50 and start shooting people. They’re entertainment.
Do you keep that in mind when you’re making an action movie?
Yeah. The audience should be going and getting a rush. Their “oohs” and “aahs.” When Tom Cruise is hanging from a building, they are getting their rush from that. When we’re doing a car chase, it should be like that too. And [action movies] are the hardest movies to make, technically. People think you get in the car and drive fast. But it takes more time than any sequence driven by dialogue.
It seems that people can take action sequences for granted.
And also, Tom Cruise has never won an Oscar. Bruce Willis, never won an Oscar. Steve McQueen never won an Oscar. Take a look at Bullitt, for goodness sakes. That’s one of the best action sequences in any movie. Bullitt is awesome. Look at Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Andy Serkis is f**king unbelievable. And when he is going to get his due?
When he gets out of mo-cap?
And he’s done that’s before.
How do you feel about stuntmen not being recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences?
Look at someone like Vic Armstrong, and all the movies he has done. I’ve had the privilege of working with other great people as well. They have their own award show. But all the guys who work on Batman and Bourne – holy sh*t. They raise the bar. And they have confidence in actors. All the Bourne guys, for me, that changed the game. Matt [Damon] was doing a lot of his own stunts. We had that back in the ’50s with the cowboy films. Then that dissipated, and then Bourne and Batman pushed it. I’ve worked with a lot of those guys. They give you supreme confidence. You have a bit more fun yourself.
Talking about other actors who haven’t been nominated …
But I think it’s more a level recognition, the way the general public recognized them, it’s just weird how sometimes it is a lesser thing. And I look at those guys and think, “There’s something about that that’s hard to do.”
Do you think Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger have received that level?
I don’t know. It goes back to the audience. Joe Blow on the street is going to be talking about Die Hard more than he will An Education, as far as I am concerned. That for me is the barometer.
Is that who you’re making the movie for?
People on the street? Yes. Critics – you get a free ticket. Someone that works digging a hole, and then has to spend that amount of money to take his family to a movie, that’s not cheap. If I don’t make it exciting for him, I haven’t done my job. He or she is the only person I care about.
If you could insert yourself into an action movie from the past, which would you choose?
Too hard … The Magnificent Seven.
Which would you play?
The eighth one [laughs]. You can’t take away any of them.
But not the sequel.
I don’t mind the sequel. I love it. When was the last time you watched it?
You watched The Return of the Magnificent Seven?
And I watched Magnificent Seven before, and they really meld together.
Yeah, but the story for Return of the Magnificent Seven is pretty cool. Look at Death Wish and Death Wish 2, man.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Nothing. It’s poor choice.
Favorite summer movie?
That’s ridiculous, you can’t answer that question. If you said this year, I’d say Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
If you could be someone for 24 hours and then go back to being yourself, who would it be?
Churchill. No idea why, it just popped in my head.
Age of first kiss?
Edward Burns said around sixth grade. I was curious as to how you’d compare.
Probably him [first]. He’s married to a model [laughs].
Sam Worthington’s short documentary Enzo: