Australian actor Sam Worthington, now 46, had tried and failed for many years to break into Hollywood. He even auditioned for the role of James Bond in Casino Royale — “I would have been another George Lazenby,” he jokes.


But then, after selling everything he owned – save for a bag of clothes and a bag of books – he was invited to audition for the lead role of Jake Sully in Avatar. The studio, Fox, didn’t want him. They wanted someone more established, a star. But James Cameron believed in him.

“That man changed my life,” Worthington says, leaving little doubt of whether he ever considered not returning for a sequel. “If the boss says, ‘jump’, I jump. I’m his soldier, man.” He’s even on board for Cameron’s proposed five-movie saga. “I’ve read all of the scripts,” he says. “I know exactly where we’re going.”

“I’ve grown a lot in my career thanks to Avatar and the doors that it opened for me,” says co-star Zoe Saldana, who plays Jake’s wife Neyteri, but is perhaps better known for her role as Gamora in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

“I feel grateful to be part of something so special. But the test when it came to the sequel was time. We were always waiting. ‘Is it gonna be now? Is it gonna be now?’”

When the call finally did come years later, it found a Worthington and Saldana that had grown almost in parallel with their characters. Worthington, for instance, describes the young man who walked into his Avatar audition as “fearless and reckless, similar to Jake in the first film".

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But Jake has changed. He’s a family man now, a father of five, and not the wild Na’vi warrior he used to be. Worthington can relate. In 2014, he married Australian model Lara Bingle, and together they now have three children.

“When you’re young, you can risk it all,” he says. “But as soon as you become a dad, your head’s on a swivel, because you’re always looking out for them.”

In a remarkable quirk of symmetry, Saldana has also become a parent of three children, after marrying Italian artist Marco Perego in 2013. Much like Worthington, motherhood has given her a profound sense of empathy for the plight of Jake and Neyteri, who are caught between fighting for their clan and protecting their family.

“Something interesting happened to me when I became a mother,” she says. When you love something more than your life, the fear of losing that, the fear of jeopardising its safety, it paralyses you. It puts so many things that were a priority in your life into a second perspective. So I was definitely able to use my personal life to relate to Neyteri.”

Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water. Disney

For Worthington, who went on to star in films such as Terminator: Salvation and Clash of the Titans, Cameron’s exploration of what it means to be a family provided him with a sense of emotional depth that had been missing from previous roles.

“I’ve done movies in the past where it was about a solitary hero,” he says, “and there was no responsibility or consequences. To be honest, I got a bit bored of doing them. But here, you have Jake dealing with ‘will his sons die in a time of war?’

"His kids want to be like how Jake used to be, and he has to turn himself into a pacifist to try and stop his family from destroying themselves. It’s pure emotion.”

A condensed version of this interview appeared in Radio Times magazine.

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Avatar: The Way of Water is showing in UK cinemas from Friday 16th December 2022 and the original Avatar is available to view on Disney Plus – you can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year now.

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