Sanctum's Rhys Wakefield on James Cameron, Extreme Acting, and the Aussie Invasion

rhys_wakefield_sanctum500.jpgIf the breakout debuts of Ryan Kwanten, Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas, and Teresa Palmer introduced a new generation of young Australian actors to Hollywood, the arrival of 22-year-old newcomer Rhys Wakefield marks the full-fledged Aussie Invasion. The young star of this week's 3D underwater actioner Sanctum, who plays a 17-year-old cave diver trying to survive and get along with his estranged father, moved to Los Angeles last week, has already worked with the highest-grossing filmmaker of all time (executive producer James Cameron), and, like a pro, has learned to keep mum on the high-profile scripts he's got piled up at home.

With a sweet, sly smile on his face, Wakefield flirted with the idea of hitting up Cameron for a part in Avatar 2 -- he's also expressed interest in playing Peeta in The Hunger Games adaptation, a role that'd be well-suited for the athletic blond actor -- and recounted the physically demanding experience of filming the extreme waterborne adventure Sanctum.

There are quite a few of you Australians who've made the leap into Hollywood.

It's interesting. There are a lot of Aussies littering the place. I hope people aren't sick of us just yet!

Is there a sense of community, or unity, among you?

There is a sense of community. I worked with a lot of those guys - Chris Hemsworth, who's about to play Thor, and Isabel Lucas - on Home and Away.

Ah yes, Home and Away: Australia's most prolific talent factory! What is it about that show that has jump-started so many Hollywood careers?

Yeah! I mean, the turnaround on that show is so quick you have to learn fast, on the job. I think it's the best thing to do. It's like paid training. You work so fast, and you can see what works. You get constant feedback from watching yourself.

After acting on Home and Away and in smaller Australian films, how did this breakout role in Sanctum come to you?

I was in L.A., actually, when the briefing for it came to me from my Australian agent. It's kind of funny. I put down the test on tape here in L.A. and sent it off, then two days later Jim [Cameron] responded really well to the test. It was a really crazy thing! Then I flew back to Australia and met with the director, Alister Grierson, and with the actor who plays my father, Richard Roxburgh. Then it kind of came about; it was a fairly long process because they were still organizing the pre-production process.

How ironic, to come all the way to L.A. just to get your big break on a film back in Australia.

Yeah, it was! It was so weird. What a converted experience.

You were able to work with James Cameron on your first Hollywood production, which is a huge opportunity for an up-and-comer to have. What was your first impression of him and what sort of discussions did you have about the film and your work?

He has just been so supportive to me, a really nice guy. It's a very humbling experience, meeting him. He's one of the most successful filmmakers of all time -- I think he is the most successful filmmaker, the highest grossing -- and it's really humbling to meet him and see how relaxed he is. But he's kind of like a boy; he's like a child, with his child's imagination. But he has the intelligence and resources to back it up and make it reality, which is an exciting thing. I'm quite geeky in many ways and it was fun to talk to him about how what seems like science fiction isn't science fiction anymore. The technology, space travel, underwater travel... it's all very interesting.

Did working with Cameron on Sanctum give you an inside line on getting a role in Avatar 2? You've worked with him now, you've got the underwater filming experience...

[Laughs] We will wait and see.

Sanctum is inspired by an incredible true story, it's got genre elements, there's the father-son relationship and the coming of age arc. What was your initial reaction when you read the script? What kind of movie did you think this was going to be?

The film itself is dressed and packaged as -- and is -- a big action-adventure film, and it's such a boys' film in that way. But the core and the heart of it, the thing that really ropes the audience in right to the bitter end, is the father-son relationship. And that's what I loved about the script. It was such a pivotal part of the production. So getting that right was very important.

Richard Roxburgh plays your father; you two look quite a bit like you could be related.

We get that a lot!

You and Richard play a very intimate, angst-ridden father-son dynamic. How did you establish that chemistry with him off the bat?

They wanted to get us on the screen together, in the same frame, to make sure that we looked similar, and the director and Jim were like, "Great!" I'd met Richard once before at a friend's dinner, actually, which is really hilarious. He's so relaxed and funny, I've gotten on with him from the start. Catching up on this film and getting to know each other in these harsh environments and learning all these crazy skills, you bond with someone when you're out of your comfort zone a lot. So that just happened organically.

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