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How Sam Worthington Went From 'Booze And Self-Loathing' To Redemption

For most up-and-coming actors, scoring the lead role in a massive, high-budget Hollywood blockbuster must be the ultimate achievement. Throw in James Cameron as the writer/director, who's also aiming to continue the story within a five-film franchise, and you've got to think that when it comes to the rest of your career, you're all set. And with Hollywood success of that magnitude, there will surely be way more benefits to enjoy than just employment security. 

That's exactly what Sam Worthington faced when he scored the lead role in 2009's "Avatar." However, rather than fully enjoying this highly unique opportunity, Worthington found himself in a worse emotional place than he was before it. He recently sat down with Variety to discuss what it was like to star in the highest-grossing movie of all time and how he's changed between then and now. With the sequel, "Avatar: The Way of Water," finally hitting theaters, it's been 13 years since the first installment dazzled audiences and directed the public's eyes towards Worthington. 

Up until then, the Australian, 29 years old at the time, had done some on-screen work but nothing near landing his role in Cameron's epic film (via IMDb). He had just missed out on lead roles in "The Green Lantern" and "Casino Royale," before his enduring months-long auditioning for Cameron, who eventually awarded him the part of Jake Sully, the rough foot-soldier-turned-Na'vi-leader. But, unfortunately, life after the blockbuster was released turned out to be far from easy for Worthington to handle.

Post Avatar, Sam Worthington took roles he hated

Like most actors who score a role of a lifetime, Sam Worthington jumped on whatever big opportunities Hollywood threw his way post "Avatar." He continued to explain how, based on his analysis of the successful acting careers of his peers, he believed he needed to push through projects he didn't really want to work on to get to the ones he actually did. "I thought that's how you did it," Worthington admitted. Although now, looking back, he realizes this was the wrong plan of attack. "It wasn't healthy. The job isn't about trying to crack a formula. It isn't an algorithm." 

Worthington took on more leading roles in films like "Terminator: Salvation" and "Clash of the Titans," where he understood that the filmmakers' concentration was more focused on the action rather than the characters themselves. His disdain for this type of work, combined with his discomfort from being in the public eye, led Worthington to find ways to help him handle the feelings. And that choice was to start drinking excessively.

Worthington was turning to alcohol to deal with the mountain of emotions he was experiencing at the time. He explained how he would drink four or five glasses of champagne while waiting to get on a plane at the airport. Despite his wife telling him that she had never seen anyone drink so much, he explains how that still didn't resonate with him as being an issue. "I thought it was normal," he said, "I didn't like who I was. Drinking helped me get through the day." This reaction could have led to Worthington losing everything, from his career to his life, but instead, he decided to take back control.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Sobriety and focus has changed his life

It's now been eight years since Sam Worthington, star of the more-than-highly anticipated sequel, "Avatar: The Way of Water," had his last sip of alcohol. The experience of filming the next installment of this epic tale required the now-sober actor to tackle the role much differently from the first time around. Ironically, the growth of his character, Jake Sully, somewhat parallels the change Worthington has made in real life. 

James Cameron was clearly aware of this interesting parallel between character and actor.  "There was a real synchronicity between Sam and the character," he said. Cameron went on, "Well, a guy with kids does not make the same decisions. He's not the kind of mythic warrior that he was at the end of the first film." Jake Sully's emotional growth seems to be the type of character Worthington, who has, for now, stopped taking on big action roles, always wanted to play.

Of course, with a release as huge as the "Avatar" sequel, the inevitable promotional press tour must follow. However, with this go-around, now equipped with past experiences, Worthington aims to help guide the younger actors who may find it as overwhelming as he once did. "I feel protective," he said. "I want these kids to know that if there's any issues or questions, they shouldn't be scared to reach out. I'm not going to offer advice if they don't want it, but I can help them navigate what happens when stardom hits them."