Acting is enough of a high-wire act that literally being on a high wire seems like a superfluous challenge. But in Man on a Ledge, Sam Worthington ventures out onto a 14 inch perch 220 feet above the ground, giving a character’s fear of heights altogether real dimensions. But Worthington has thrown himself into one challenge after the next for the past three or four years, emerging as one of Hollywood’s go-to heroes when you need an actor who will run, jump, fight, or otherwise physically transform himself for a role.
Movies.com sat down with Worthington at the recent Los Angeles press day for Man on a Ledge, where the Australian actor talked at length about the challenges – and opportunities – of taking on the film’s vertiginous challenges. Additionally, he offered a few updates about some film projects he’s doing in the future, and examined the transition he’s made from being forced out on that ledge, career-wise, to taking the lead and jumping out there himself.
Movies.com: Since this is the type of thing you could do now completely with a green screen and a studio set, how much time did you actually spend on that ledge? And how much did you want to?
Sam Worthington: I did quite a bit of it. We built two in a studio because no one had any idea how long we could be up there, and what we could do, so I stepped out there and it was 220 feet in the air and it was only 14 inches wide. But we realized that the more confident that I got, the more we could do different scenes up there, the more we could improve the action up there. And then the camera crew got more ambitious as well, so the d.o.p. I was working with was Paul Cameron, who did all of Tony Scott’s movies, so he’s used to throwing the camera around and he got really excited. So we started spending more and more days up there, so overall we spent a lot more than we imagined we could – which was great. We kept going and going.
Movies.com: How easy or difficult is it to balance character and action in a film like this?
Worthington: I think you just find that balance. I think what appealed to me was it is an action movie where your lead actor is stuck still for so long, and Jamie Bell is doing all of the mini-Mission: Impossible stuff, and everyone else is running around and he’s forced to stand still doing his Alamo-kind of moment. We do all of the other stuff, we ramped up the ending that was in the original script just to get a bit more of energy into it, and a bit more energy at the end. But that was the appeal, just to stand there and go toe to toe with Elizabeth; I thought there were some nice moments that were something different. But I had seen it movies and we looked closely at Phone Booth and The Negotiator and kind of stole the best moments from those, and thought, well, that’s the type of movie we’re making, and me and Lorenzo liked those movies, so we went, “let’s craft another one of that genre.”
Movies.com: You’ve worked in a lot of films where your character is opposite a lot of strong females. How does the gender dynamic work in a movie like this where-
Worthington: She’s Bruce Willis. That’s what I always thought she was. Even the way she wakes up, hung over, is like Bruce. And that’s the thing – she’s the smart aleck, and that’s what Elizabeth is good at, those kind of ballsy characters. She’s got a background in comedy and “30 Rock” and stuff like that, so she’s got that sarcasm and that wit. But I saw her in The Next Three Days with Russell Crowe and I thought she was terrific, so you knew that she could ground herself and go toe to toe with all of the boys in the piece. But she’s like a Zoe Saldana – she’s a strong force to bounce off.
Movies.com: How important or integral was the social justice aspect of this story, with Ed Harris’ character being a corporate fat cat and you being a blue-collar cop who is essentially paying for his irresponsibility?
Worthington: I think Asgar kind of looked into that, because Asgar’s last movie was The Docker, and he was fully aware of using the media and the crowd as another character. That wouldn’t kind of come into play in discussions with me and him, but I noticed it, and I think you’ve got to utilize both sides – the people telling him to stay, the people telling him to jump; it adds a different dynamic and it keeps the argument going of, is this guy wasting everyone’s time? Should we get him off the thing? It’s another cog to keep the clock ticking of when it the SWAT team going to jump.
Movies.com: You don’t get to spend too much time with Ed Harris.
Worthington: I get a couple of scenes with him, and he was more intimidating than standing on the ledge. He’s a very gentle man, but every time I’m looking at him, I’m going, John Glenn! That’s fucking Pollock! That’s the guy who created Truman! And the countless memorable performances that he’s done, you watch and learn. It’s like with any great actor, with Liam and Ralph [in Wrath of the Titans], you’re just lucky to be in the same scene with them, and you learn from and you get guided by them.
Movies.com: How do you get guidance from them. I can’t imagine they actually would give you advice.
Worthington: You can ask for advice, or you’re just in the scene and you’re watching them, so you’re watching as a fan, watching them going, “that guy’s good.” There’s something they do, that memorable thing that you just watch and you go, “that’s incredible.” It’s as if you’re watching a great musician; to try and put that into words, there’s just something about it that you take from it, or the way they handle themselves, or the way they just react to the world. It’s fascinating.
Movies.com: How do you turn that kind of awe into animosity?
Worthington: You f**king man up! (laughs) You do the scene, and if you’re not putting 110 percent into that scene, I’m sure Ed would bark at you and tell you to do that. But that wasn’t the case; our scene was over really quickly, and it was great fun. It was an absolute honor to work with him.
Movies.com: How does it feel now to be one of the people with the most experience on a film, as opposed to when you started and were kind of the novice?
Worthington: I was talking to [Wrath director Jonathan] Liebesman about that. It’s that weird thing of going, unfortunately directors only do one movie say two or three years because of the time it takes to set up and put together, and in that time, an actor has done ten movies, or at least three movies. So there’s a certain responsibility that you kind of go, well, we’re all in it together, but the director, no matter how much experience, he’s still the boss, and you get led by that. That’s what I mean by if you look at Ed Harris and Asgar, it’s only Asgar’s second movie, so Asgar’s obviously going to be shitting himself, but the way Ed reacts and act to him is very cordial and nurturing, and that’s very nice. Because if you kind of come in and bully, it’s pointless, and you’re not creating anything together.
Movies.com: What’s happening with some of the other projects you’ve been attached to, like Dan Dare, Drift and Quatermain?
Worthington: Drift we finished filming, and it was a great, exciting movie. They’re editing it now. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I had a lot of fun playing a weird character. And then Quatermain, Derek Haas and Michael Brandt handed in a new draft the other day, and that thing’s out there – that thing’s huge. And with Dan Dare, I know there’s another thing I’ve been talking with Basil about which kind of spun that on its head a bit, and we’re kind of figuring that out at the moment. And I like that process, I like sitting in with someone like a Lorenzo or Basil and figuring out what movie would we go and see, and then try and push that into a studio and try to make it.
Movies.com: What’s that process like for you now, pushing projects into studios?
Worthington: It’s a lot easier than ever, but it’s still a case of I like working with producers like Lorenzo because his way of thinking is like mine; his way of enjoying a movie is like mine – he’ll come to me and go, what do you think about this movie? And I’ll go, great, what do you need me to do? How do we tweak this together? And it’s nice to be and I’m very lucky to have that relationship with those guys. It’s just a lucky position to be in.