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04.01.10

Hollywood's New Macho Man

Sam Worthington—who biked to the Clash of the Titans press conference while wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt—has filled a virile void the boyish Pattinsons and LaBeoufs can't.

Sam Worthington’s simmering presence doesn’t exactly scream Cinema Star! what with that faded Iron Maiden T-shirt, the formidable brow, the buzz cut and the smirk. As he sauntered into the lily-scented Four Seasons Hotel meeting room, he looked like a bike messenger who’d lost his way. (He had, in fact, pedaled over from some undisclosed location.) “The first time you meet him,” said Clash of the Titans director Louis Leterrier, “you’re like, ‘Courier, this way.’”

But much to the delight of the Los Angeles junket press, Worthington salted his movie chatter with F-bombs, flirty banter, and cheeky bravado. Occasionally, he’d erupt into unbridled staccato laughter. Compared to the parade of domesticated, cardigan-wearing dudes Hollywood has served up as leading men in the last few years, Worthington’s little performance left the room rosy-cheeked and slightly abashed, as if we’d all been gently goosed.

“I hit 30, I woke up looking in the mirror one day, didn’t like what I saw,” Worthington said. “So I sold the fuckin’ mirror. Sold everything else. I call it Control-Alt-Delete, you know?”

“I'm not in this profession to be famous,” he told the room with that unblinking, Semper Fi look that comes so naturally to him. “That's a byproduct of the size and scope of the movies I do. You want to be famous; you'll go broke. This job is too hard.”

There will be no quiet indie dramas for this guy. He didn’t sell everything four years ago and camp out in his Toyota Camry just to woo a few bespectacled co-eds. It’s go-time, James Cameron-style. Clash of the Titans is his first film since the box-office behemoth Avatar. Neither film pretends to be anything other than a popcorn-chomping thrill ride, and Worthington wouldn’t have it any other way. He says he’s in this business to “give the audience their 16 bucks’ worth.” “You get to the point where you play with the big boys,” he said. “And I want to do big movies.”

Bring it on, Sam. Those brick-laying years chumming it up with calloused day laborers in Sydney are finally paying off. Hollywood needs you and your machismo now more than ever.

“He’s really a no-bullshit guy,” says Clash of the Titans co-screenwriter Phil Hay. “He’s very grounded in the real world, in his life experiences. And I think that comes through in that devil-may-care attitude. He never aims it. He just kind of goes for it. It doesn’t feel calculated.”

But don’t be fooled by all that blue-collar bluster. Worthington has legitimate acting cred. After dropping out of high school and working construction, he landed a scholarship to Australia’s National Institute for the Dramatic Arts. As the story goes, he was following a girlfriend to the audition and on a whim, he gave it a go himself. That eventually led to a TV series and a few notable film roles, including a gruff rancher’s son opposite Abbie Cornish in 2004’s Somersault and MacBeth in cult director Geoffrey Wright’s 2007 contemporary adaptation.

But apparently it wasn’t satisfying enough for Worthington. “I hit 30, I woke up looking in the mirror one day, didn't like what I saw,” he said. “So I sold the fuckin' mirror. Sold everything else. I call it Control-Alt-Delete, you know?” It wasn’t, he said, his decade-long career that dissatisfied him. What was it then, you ask? “That’s between me and the fuckin’ mirror, isn’t it?” All right then.

Worthington has an undeniably masculine charisma that makes him, as Cameron once put it, “an old-school tough guy.” And that truly sets him apart from so many actors of his caliber, in his generation. (He's now 33.)

Today, the roles for young male actors fall somewhere between Robert Pattinson’s fey vampire and Seth Rogen’s geeky everyman. James Franco is a hell of an actor, but he’s awfully pretty. All due respect to Ryan Reynolds and Shia LaBeouf, but are they manly? Jake Gyllenhaal and his biceps could make the leap to macho this year with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Ryan Gosling has his moments. And yes, Star Trek’s Chris Pine and Tron Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund certainly show promise. But none of these fine young actors possess the kind of combustible energy that Clint Eastwood or Russell Crowe or even Nicolas Cage had in their 20s and early 30s.

“I think we’re back to the 1950s where there was Cary Grant and then there was Montgomery Clift and Steve McQueen,” said one high-profile agent, who has shepherded a few boys’ careers into leading-man territory. “There are very few straight, strong leading men who aspire to be actors and are actually good at it.”

No doubt that’s why Worthington’s name is linked to almost every hot script in town, from the title character in Dracula Year Zero and British comic strip space pilot Dan Dare to the remake of the Danish thriller The Candidate. Johnny Depp replaced him after Worthington dropped out of The Tourist, if that says anything. And then of course there’s Avatar 2 and probably Avatar 3.

Worthington, for his part, hasn’t changed his lifestyle to fit his newfound superstardom. He still, he says, doesn’t own anything. Except maybe that bike. And though he doesn’t come right out and say it, the actor hinted at the true motivation for that fateful morning in front of the mirror. He tried to explain the fatalistic impulse to sell it all by paraphrasing British poet Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If.”

"If you can risk it all on a pitch and toss and lose,” Worthington said quickly, “You're a man."

Indeed.

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Gina Piccalo spent a decade at the Los Angeles Times covering Hollywood. She's now a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and her work has appeared in Elle, More and Emmy. She can be found at ginapiccalo.com.