IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Once a hero…
Cindy Pearlman
Friday, June 08, 2012

…always a hero, or it seems with Chris Hemsworth, whose third movie as a valiant rescuer hit cinemas last week. Here, he talks of all three films, the nerve-wracking stunts involved — and the sucker punch from a certain female 
co-star that really, really hurt.

Anyone who’s seen the record-shattering hit The Avengers, or for that matter Thor (2011), has a hard time thinking of Chris Hemsworth as anyone but the hammer-wielding god of thunder, Thor. If he’d had his way, however, the Australian actor might have played quite a different superhero.

“This isn’t exactly the manly kind of stuff I’m supposed to share with the press,” Hemsworth admits with a laugh, “but, before I was Thor, I had other superhero dreams. I used to pretend that I was Batman’s sidekick, Robin. I had my own Robin costume. Why I wanted to be the sidekick, I just don’t know.” Hard to picture? Well, that’s because you weren’t in Melbourne in 1990, where Hemsworth was growing up as the middle of three brothers. In those days, if you’d dropped by the Hemsworth house, you might have spotted young Chris putting his dreams into action.

“I would run around my yard in a nice pair of green underwear, a yellow T-shirt and a red cape made out of a towel that was previously in the garbage,” the actor confesses, speaking by telephone from his Los Angeles home. “I was only seven, so it’s not that crazy. I was also quite resourceful. The next day I’d put on different-coloured pants, throw that red towel around my neck and be Superman.”

That practice with a red cape doubtless stood Hemsworth in good stead when he starred in Thor and The Avengers as a Norse deity whose costume includes, yes, a red cape. The success of Thor, and the ongoing mega-success of The Avengers, has vaulted the 28-year-old onto Hollywood’s A-list.

Whether he stays there will be determined in part by the returns on his new film, Snow White and the Huntsman, which opened on June 1 in a highly competitive season at the box office, pitted (among other heavy hitters) The Avengers.

The film takes the classic fairy tale and expands it into the story of the Huntsman (Hemsworth), a solitary woodsman who is ordered by the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) to take her hated rival Snow White (Kristen Stewart), “the fairest of them all”, into the woods and kill her. Instead he winds up protecting her and then joining her in an epic battle to topple Ravenna and seat Snow White in her place.

“Initially I thought I knew the whole story,” Hemsworth says. “It’s the kind of tale where you think there is nothing more to tell. (Then) I realised that it’s an epic story and much darker than I imagined.” As for his own character, the Huntsman fascinated him. “He’s an open wound,” Hemsworth says, “which was a new type of character for me. The guy is a mess.”

The Huntsman does emerge as the hero in the story, of course, which was fine with Hemsworth. “I love that we can be swept up in these fantasies with larger-than-life heroes who really do know right from wrong,” the actor says. “These heroes still want to save the day in a world where that doesn’t happen very often in real life.”

Playing that sort of character can be dangerous, of course, but Hemsworth says that his roughest scene didn’t involve ducking magic spells or battling evil henchmen, but rather a sucker punch from Stewart. Even for a man who has been belted by the Hulk, that one hurt. “Kristen packs quite a punch,” he says ruefully. “She hit me hard in the nose. I was ready to buckle.”

It’s unlikely that Snow White and the Huntsman will rival the success of The Avengers, of course. In that extravaganza, directed by Joss Whedon, Hemsworth returns as Thor, this time teamed with the stars of several previous Marvel movies, including Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. “It was a nerve-racking experience,” Hemsworth says. “We were like this amazing dysfunctional family who were finally belonging somewhere, because these are characters that really don’t belong anywhere else.”

The stunts in that film made Snow White and the Huntsman pale by comparison. “There was a moment when Hulk and Thor are fighting,” Hemsworth says. “Hulk backhands Thor through a wall. I was on a wire being yanked hard out of shot.” Another moment was even more painful. “I was on a wire and had to land off a cliff,” he recalls. “The first few takes I landed face-first into the dirt. It was so un-superhero-like of me.”

Thor may not have the Marvel Universe prestige of Spider-Man or the X-Men, but Hemsworth enjoys playing the character. “I like that he has this childlike quality to him,” the actor says. “He truly believes that, if you believe in something and want to do something, then it gets done. Kids don’t care about someone else’s opinion; they just care about what they want. Thor is true to who he is as a person.”

Hemsworth was born in Melbourne, but travelled Australia as a boy with his family, including older brother Luke and younger brother Liam. They moved to the Northern Territory and then settled on Phillip Island, south of Melbourne. “I always had a love of storytelling and film, and finally decided, ‘Why not become an actor?’” he recalls. “When I want something, I have tunnel vision.”

He studied English at Screenwise Film & TV School for Actors in Sydney, and got his big break when he was cast on the Australian soap opera Home and Away (2004-2007). In 2006, he also hoofed it up on the Aussie version of Dancing with the Stars. Hemsworth decided to test the waters in Hollywood, and made his American debut in Star Trek (2009), playing George Kirk, the future father of James T Kirk, the legendary starship captain. He landed a legendary role of his own in Thor, and has no regrets.

Well, OK, maybe one.

“I didn’t keep the hammer,” Hemsworth says. “My older brother said, ‘Take the hammer home. Take the hammer home! You can show it to everyone who comes over.’ But I just couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t have been right.”

Hemsworth, who actually is in three current films — he has a supporting role in The Cabin in the Woods, filmed in early 2009 but released this year — isn’t sure what he’ll do next. His future dance card is sure to include both Thor 2 and The Avengers 2, however. That’s a great deal of superhero action for one guy, but Hemsworth is up for it.

Off-screen, Hemsworth married Spanish actress Elsa Pataky in 2010, and on May 11 they welcomed a daughter, India Rose. “We love the country and the name,” he says. They have a place in Los Angeles, but their permanent home is in Australia. Fatherhood has brought some new perspective, he adds, including the realisation that true heroism doesn’t involve swinging mystic hammers or battling evil queens. “My dad works in child protection,” Hemsworth says. “Now, that’s a real hero.”

 

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