The Big Read: Chris Hemsworth’s training secrets
Superheroes are invincible, impermeable, unblemished. So it’s not really that much of a shock to learn that Chris Hemsworth, He Who Is Thor, appears to made of similar stuff. As well as the physique necessary to play the Norse god of thunder, the Australian actor is polite, humble and charming. He is, it seems, as spotless as his record: there are no stories about him doing anything other than nice things.
“You know why that is?” Hemsworth says. “I encountered the temptations that you can make you fall off the tracks when I was working onHome And Awayin Australia. No mobile phones with video cameras back then, so you got away with more.” He pauses for a moment, possibly wistfully. “There was nothing outrageous, so no one was paying attention to any of it, but now there is so much more scrutiny around your behaviour.”
Hiscover shoot, in Los Angeles, however, is not perfect. “It was bloody hot today,” says the 33-year-old Australian after the cameras go back in their cases. “It was a little bit sweaty, but all good. The wrong sort of heat for a photoshoot, but the right kind of heat if you're at the beach.”
Chris Hemsworth was born on August 11, 1983, in Melbourne, middle son of an English-teacher mother and social-services counselor father. Growing up along with elder brother Luke and younger brother Liam, he experienced urban and outback living as the family moved to and from Melbourne a couple of times. Luke and Liam also became actors: Liam, who was engaged to Miley Cyrus for a while, starred as Gale inThe Hunger Gamesmovies and will be front and centre in next year’s sequel toIndependence Day; Luke is a steady presence in Australian TV and films, and was the first of the three Hemsworth boys to appear in the soap operaHome And Away. They also each did short stints onNeighbours,obviously.
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Chris stayed in the soaps longer than his kin: three-and-a-half years on Home And Away as Kim Hyde, whose most unfortunate of many tough breaks was to nearly perish in a helicopter crash after being airlifted to ‘safety’ following a cake-triggered explosion at a wedding. He left Kim behind in 2007 and headed east over the Pacific Ocean to live in Los Angeles. “Way back, when I was onHome And Away,” he recalls, “I had my sights on going to Hollywood and giving it a crack. The films I had grown up on came from that part of the world. It's the centre of things, where the industry is. I'd given myself a few months, with an amount of money in the bank before I had to turn around and come back, and luckily I got work quick and got a visa.”
His first screen role was as the warm-up act in 2009’sStar Trek, playing the noble father of Captain Kirk in the film’s pre-titles prologue. Just a few weeks after the film came out, the announcement came of his casting as Thor. Two outings as the thunder god and another two with his Avenging friends have taken up much of his time since. But they have also made him a globally recognised star of enormous movies.
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Away from superheroics, he has been James Hunt in Ron Howard’s biopic Rush and the world’s greatest hacker inBlackhat, a thriller fromHeatdirector Michael Mann that earlier this year became Hemsworth’s only box-office flop. To play a man who can shine light on the darknet, Hemsworth underwent one of the less commonly discussed actorly crash courses: learning to type.
“Well, it was that and the basics of coding and hacking,” Hemsworth says. “I was being taught by a young guy who is a mathematics genius. But he happened to love surfing – the ocean, that is – like I do, so we spent a lot of the time looking up surf movies and talking about surfing, then Michael would come in the office and we would change the screen to a page about maths and computer science. It was pretty consistent with how I acted in school classrooms.”
Watch the finished film you can’t tell that Hemsworth goofed off in hacking class, but you can recognise that there’s more to him than his movie star good looks: the man can act, and carry a film, without a hammer in his hand. This side of Hemsworth was also very much on display playing Hunt. He certainly wasn’t cast for his physical similarity to the maverick British F1 driver, yet he nailed Hunt’s swagger, charm and hint of vulnerability, if not quite his cut-glass accent.
“Playing James scared the hell out of me more than anything for that exact reason – here was this Australian playing a genuine British hero. But there is no better motivator than fear, and that certainly was chasing me down through my prep and making that film. I was incredibly thankful that it was received in such a great way, and people weren't offended by what I did with him.”
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One person who clearly loved what he did with him wasRush’s director, Ron Howard, who teamed up again with Hemsworth for his latest movie,In The Heart Of The Sea. The film is based on a 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, which tells the tale of a whaling ship sunk by a sperm whale and the attempts of its surviving crew to make it back to shore in the smaller boats the ship carried for hunting the best. A contemporary survivor’s account partly inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick; Hemsworth was inspired to pitch the modern book to Howard not long after they finished working together on Rush.
“I loved seeing these guys thrown into the most utterly dreadful, most challenging extreme situation and seeing how they respond to that,” Hemsworth enthuses. “They responded in different ways but mostly came together, showed an incredible amount of courage and will to survive. These guys drifted for 90 days in small whaleboats and all sorts of dreadful things ensued, but the courage and bond they formed through that... that I found compelling and fascinating.”
Hemsworth was also up for the challenge of making as much of the film as possible without recourse to CGI. Filming took place in the Atlantic Ocean off the Canary Islands, and wet sets at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire.
“In the studio,” Hemsworth explains, “we had replicas of the ships in a massive pool and we were getting shot at by water cannons. The whole thing was on a gimbal where the boat could be flipped on its side and we would go flying out of the boat. It felt like the world's craziest, most extreme fairground ride. And then we went off to the Canaries and spent months on the ships at sea.” It was there that Hemsworth and his co-stars, including Cillian Murphy and the soon-to-be-Spider-Man Tom Holland, did something that certainly could not be achieved with digital effects – the extreme weight loss suffered by men adrift at sea for months.
“We couldn't go away for a month, get skinny and come back,” says Hemsworth, “we had to do it while we were shooting, in sequence of the film and the story. So there was a real strong bond between the actors of us against them – them meaning anyone who was fed and able to eat proper food. At one point, a day’s rations were a boiled egg, a couple of crackers and a celery stick. I reckon about 90 per cent of our conversations were about our favourite foods and what we're going to eat when we're finished.”
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It was toughest for Hemsworth, who had already shed his Thor muscle mass to makeBlackhat, immediately before shootingIn The Heart Of The Sea. Check the trailer for the latter: dude looks thin.
“I was skinnier than I had ever been before, especially for one particular scene towards the end of the film. You stop looking at the numbers and weighing yourself, because that way lies madness. At least we were losing weight together. The bond was kind of incredible. It reminded me of being on a football team growing up back home, where you've got each other's backs and you'd do anything for each other and you'd all have the same sense of humour. You become one unit and you don't often get that on a film set. The problem with losing weight for a film is that you're underfed: it’s less healthy than gaining weight. The challenge is not a physical one of lifting weights and putting food in your stomach, it's the emotional... brain chemistry. A chemical imbalance that leads you into endless conversations with yourself about food. What you can and can't eat, how much. I've always had the voice in there, which I can't say I'm a fan of a lot of the time. This particular instance, that voice certainly took full advantage of making me feel guilty if I did snack on something I shouldn't.
“To get back to looking like Thor is simple: I get in the gym and work out. I don't mind it - it keeps me fit and healthy and enjoy that. I've got to eat more calories – certain types of calories and all clean – and it can get boring, eating chicken breast and protein and rice and so on. But at least you're fed properly.”
As Thor, Hemsworth has the toughest task of the actors and actress pulling on a superhero costume for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson as Hawkeye and Black Widow, respectively, play all-but unknown characters only hardcore fans knew about, so they had few preconceptions to overcome. Similarly, Robert Downey Jr had no problem turning Tony Stark and Iron Man into an extension of Robert Downey Jr. As Captain America, Chris Evans has little to work with; there are in-jokes about how dull and boring Cap is. And with the greatest respect to Mark Ruffalo, a fine actor for the part of Bruce Banner, his Hulk is all CGI - they did not have “must be massive and bright green” on the casting notes.
But Hemsworth has to be the god of Thunder. He already had the good genes to be big and blond, but his costume bulges with godlike muscularity because of hours, weeks and months of hard work in the gym. There’s no mask or CGI for him to hide behind. The twoThorfilms are the least straightforward of the Marvel movies, with one foot in Tolkien-like fantasy and one in superhero lore. Their star has to be a leader of men, a warrior and an alien from another planet in love with a mortal woman. He’s part Superman, part Russell Crowe’s gladiator and part Aragorn fromThe Lord Of The Rings. Thor is harder to make believable than his Avengers teammates, and it’s to Hemsworth’s great credit that he has managed it so well that a third solo film,Thor: Ragnarok, is due in the summer of 2019.
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“I love playing him,” says Hemsworth, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan of this world that I’m lucky enough to be a part of. With the next movie, I’ve been on the phone and emailing the Marvel guys going, ‘Where’s my script?’ I want it early because I’m a fan, and because we can get it perfect. Marvel are very encouraging to hear our ideas, especially at this point when we’ve done a few movies : there's a much greater appreciation for what we might bring to the table.
“I’m always interested in how the worlds intersect and looking at other films, how Thor would interact with other characters, could we make them work in his world. I like it when we do things differently with Thor, and it's by branching out that we do that. What’s the third film about? There are place-holding ideas at the moment, but that’s all they are.”
Over the summer of 2019, Hemsworth will star in two very different blockbusters. First, in April, isThe Huntsman,a prequel to Snow White and The Huntsman, which without Kristen Stewart’s Snow White will focus more on Hemsworth’s handy-with-hand-axes Eric and the returning wicked stepmother played by Charlize Theron. He was based in in London for part of last summer while filming it; not the best place for a recognisable Aussie to be when England were winning The Ashes.
“Every time I bumped into someone, they'd be like, ‘Ha! Yeah, the cricket!' and remind me that we lost. It was funny, because I've never followed cricket. I don't mind it on the beach or the backyard, but watching the game? Bores the hell out of me. I just don't have the patience for it. I needed to move a bit more for my sport when I was a kid, needed a bit more excitement. I know that's offensive to cricket fans, but it was never my thing." After that, Hemsworth will be playing the receptionist in the rebootedGhostbusters, in which women will play the four fighters of phantoms. It’s a good gag to have Hemsworth manning the front desk, but it’s not a total gimmick. He has already showed his comedy skills in a supporting role in Vacation and a well-received appearance on the US TV show Saturday Night Live. Expect to see more of his funny side in future.
“I think my personality gears more towards comedy than it does towards Thor, but Thor was my introduction [to acting in films], so the assumption was that's who I was and what I wanted to do. Then I did Saturday Night Live, and that opened up those doors. People went, 'Oh, maybe he does have an interest in comedy'. I reckon that comedy helps with drama, and drama with comedy. Hell of a lot fun. It adds years to your life spending your day laughing. It feels so good that it can't not be good for you.
“Being a part of Ghostbusters was incredible, especially as I grew up with the original. It was a crash-course in the improv world. It's amazing the speed they all develop lines and story in that way, and it was nice for me to try and play catch-up and be amongst it.” But Hemsworth’s immediate future is catch-up with real life. With wife Elsa Pataky, a Spanish actress most recognisable as Elena, the Brazilian cop, inFast Five, Fast & Furious 6andFurious 7, Hemsworth has a daughter who turns four in May and twin boys who turn two in March.
“You catch the look on other people’s faces – ‘I don’t know how you do it, three kids under four’ – but it’s normal for us. We’d have liked three eventually, so if anything having twins was a nicely efficient way of getting there. They’re great kids, we’re lucky with that, but there is a lot of planning involved. So much scheduling. But we’re lucky also in that we both do jobs that don’t feel like jobs, and it something we love. There’s travel and time away, but you make it work.”
He and that efficient family will be catching up in their home in Bryon Bay, about 500 miles north along Australia’s east coast from Sydney - having cracked America, he moved back last year. As fate would have it, he’s having problems with the neighbours.
“There are too many sharks around my place at the moment,” says Hemsworth. It’s no exaggeration: there have been so many attacks in 2015, including one fatal, that the regional government in New South Wales are planning to tag and track sharks in an attempt to reduce their interaction with humans. “I don’t know if that would do any good. Sharks are a thousand times better than us in the ocean. The only thing you can do is swim or surf only when there are lots of people, so the odds are reduced a little bit.” As he laughs, you can’t help but think that even the most apex of predators would leave him be.
Video: Bloopers That Make Us Love Chris Hemsworth Even More
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