Onscreen, Sam Worthington tends to play quiet, taciturn: the driven heroes of “Avatar,” “Clash of the Titan” and “Terminator: Salvation” and recently the tough army captain of “Hacksaw Ridge.” But get him talking, and you’ll learn a lot. Did you know the actor can be a bit of a nerd? He loves disappearing down Google rabbit holes, or reading books about the history of places where he’s filming. He was even very open to making “The Shack,” which is technically Hollywood’s latest Christian movie, but to him was an honest drama about a man dealing with grief.
Based on the bestseller, the film stars Worthington as a man who tumbles into depression after his daughter is murdered. He finds himself mysteriously lured to a remote shack, where he meets three enigmatic people, led by Octavia Spencer, who help him heal.
I’ve read that you’re a big reader, that you lug around a bag of books as you travel from set to set. Were you always that way, or did traveling and sitting around on sets do that to you?
I was always that way. I had a lot jobs that bored me when I was growing up. A building site can be a bit tedious, so books kind of get your imagination going.
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What kinds of books do you read these days?
Now it’s a lot of “Cat in the Hat,” because I’m a dad. [Laughs] But I like non-fiction books more the older I get. I’m into history, especially if I’m working somewhere. I used to live in Hawaii, so I immersed myself in the Hawaiian culture by reading about it. When you’re a teenager and someone’s trying to force it down your throat, you don’t care. The older you get, the history of the world fascinates you more.
It’s true. School is wasted on the young.
I live in New York, and I’m fascinated by what’s underneath the city, things like that. I’d look at the High Line and think, ‘What’s the history of that?’ That leads you to learn what it was used for, that they wanted to build above the street, because the trains [that used to run there] were killing too many people. That leads you down another rabbit hole, then another rabbit hole — why Tribeca is named Tribeca, why Canal Street is called Canal Street. You just keeping going.
So you’re one of those people who spends hours Googling.
Pretty much, yeah. I’m a bit of a Luddite, but the Google rabbit hole happens a lot. My wife will be like, “What are you watching? What are you reading? How did you end up here?” [Laughs]
You’re probably great at dinner parties. You could keep busting out weird, arcane trivia.
I don’t go to dinner parties, but if I did, yeah. [Laughs]
It almost seems like being an actor plays on that same instinct. All of a sudden you’re in a movie like “The Shack.” You’re not a very religious person, but this is a religious movie.
Some people think of it as a Christian movie. I never looked at it that way. I don’t look at all action movies as action movies, or thrillers as thrillers. That’s something that helps split up Blockbuster Video stores. I just found it to be an interesting story about a man who has to learn to forgive himself, and forgive God, and forgive the people who have done him wrong. That’s how I look at most movies: Does it hit me personally?
I think the best religious movies are really about other things, too. “The Shack” is about forgiveness and the difficulty of dealing with trauma.
That’s how I look at the Bible. The Bible is like a guideline for how to live a better life. The idea of “The Shack” is learning to forgive others and that the healing process is going to take time. It doesn’t happen automatically. It’s very hard to forgive people who have done you wrong, but here’s some steps you can take.
It’s a topic most of us don’t like to think about.
We’re all going to have some kind of tragedy in our life. Someone we love will die. How do we get past that? There’s always going to be someone to help you with that, whether it’s family or loved ones or God. We all think we’re communicating on our iPhones, but in reality it distances us more. Sometimes we do feel all alone on this planet, and it’s nice to have a movie that argues otherwise.
I do think social media can be great for finding people, but I do think you should meet your online friends in real life at some point.
I don’t have any social media. But I’m trying to be more social in my real life. My son’s at the age when he’s starting to discover what friendship is. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out, too.
I should ask you an “Avatar” question while I have you, since you’ll allegedly start shooting the sequels this summer. But I don’t want spoilers. So I’ll just say I think we just have to trust James Cameron. People always doubt his next movies, then they always wind up being the biggest things ever.
[Laughs] I love “Titanic” because Jim made a movie where everyone already knew the ending. The ship was going to sink; he wasn’t going to change that. He still made a movie that connected with everyone.
He’s an interesting filmmaker because he’s so powerful that he can make whatever he wants. You don’t get the sense that he’s just focus grouping, giving people what they think they want. It always feels genuine.
He makes movies that mean something to him but he also wants to entertain. He’s always searching for some connective tissue. He’s inspiring to be around.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge