Avatar - Sam Worthington
Jake (Sam Worthington) meets his avatar, a genetically engineered hybrid of human DNA mixed with DNA from the natives of Pandora © 20th Century Fox

He’s an Australian, portraying an American, on a planet called Pandora. Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully in James Cameron’s eagerly awaited science fiction epic, Avatar. Sully is an ex-Marine who replaces his deceased brother in the Avatar Program, a human settlement on the planet of Pandora. There his consciousness is linked with an avatar, a remotely-controlled biological body that can survive in the lethal air.

In the movie, the actor goes between shooting live action sequences to pure CGI as the avatar. It was an experience he will never forget.

What was the attraction in doing this movie?

It was all of it. I needed to work and I was at a point in my life where I was reassessing a lot of things and out of the blue comes [a call from Jim Cameron], and that just shows you you’re on the right path, because you’re coaxed to continue.

Did the technology help you as an actor? Was it liberating?

Avatar - Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldana
Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) teaches Jake (Sam Worthington) the skills he’ll need to survive on Pandora © 20th Century Fox

You look like a Nascar, because you’re wired up and they did pit crews in the morning. They’d come in and put six power packs on you, you’ve got a helmet camera operator, so by the time you play into the system, so to speak, you are exhausted. But when you’re in there, the fact that you’re wearing all this stuff disappears, the fact that the other person’s wearing it disappears and you look in the other person’s eyes and do your job. It’s liberating, there’s a freedom to being in that space, because you’re not playing for a camera. You have a camera there, you can’t hide, you’ve got to be on every second, and you just invest in the moment.

Did you ever worry that the emotional moments wouldn’t work so well?

Yeah, that was my biggest concern and fear. I try to be a subtle actor and was that going to translate, was that going to come through when all the information went into the computers and turned into a code, or whatever it does. Jim assured me that it would and pushed WETA Digital to come up with an answer and you can see it, every smirk, every flicker of the eye, it registers just like a normal close up, and it’s my performance one hundred percent.

Avatar - Sam Worthington and Stephen Lang
Jake (Sam Worthington) and Quaritch (Stephen Lang) get a virtual look © 20th Century Fox

We see Jake through several transformative experiences, physical and mental, what were the biggest changes in his character for you as he moved forward?

He blossoms in the avatar form and gets a freedom, so to speak, and the dilemma is where does his allegiance lie? Does he listen to his heart and do the right thing when people are being bullied and victimized, and I think the biggest turn is without knowing it he becomes a hero. I think there’s a hero in all of us. You get knocked down you get back up again, that’s a hero. Sully’s a guy who was just looking for something worth fighting for, and he wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say, ‘I’m a hero,’ but he becomes one. He just does the right thing. That’s a great message.

I read that you tapped into your own nephew’s energy.

I just wanted to have a playfulness and a childlike quality, because movies open our eyes, there’s a child in all of us and that’s what spectacles like this do, it takes us back to what we were like as kids, it astounds us, you read online people saying, ‘It’s amazing, I haven’t seen anything like this since 1977 [when Star Wars came out],’ to me that’s what the power of movies is, they transport you, they can make you think a different way.

Avatar - Sam Worthington
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a reluctant hero © 20th Century Fox

What was the most challenging thing in this movie for you?

The most difficult part was getting the job, convincing a studio an unknown Australian can do it. With Jim, he gives you the courage to dive in and part of my job was the training. You hit that a hundred percent because that’s the opportunity in making a movie, that’s the gold for you. Selling it is the hard part, making it is easy, it’s expanding your mind and your heart, and you just dive in. I don’t mind learning new things; I’m a lucky man in that sense.

Were you feeling any nerves before the premiere of the film?

I think all of us tried to come across as cool, calm and collected. But I’m sure we had a bag full of butterflies in our stomach. There’s nothing we can do about it now, you can’t change the movie, it’s locked up. I stand by the product one hundred percent because it’s done by Jim Cameron, and the pressure isn’t on us. I think we give it to an audience and hopefully it blossoms and hopefully this movie can make a difference, that we can [see the world] through other people’s eyes. I think the movie’s cool.

When you first saw the finished film what did you think?

I thought we now know what Jim has been doing for 12 years. If he keeps going the way he’s going he might have a career!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.