If the following words aren’t giving you the entire Hemsworth experience, may I recommend you visit The Vine for a few minutes of video interview with the man himself. You won’t regret it!
It’s a fairly sizeable suite in a swanky Melbourne hotel, but when Chris Hemsworth walks in my first impression is that this room ain’t big enough for the both of us. Sure, the Australian actor has stripped away some of the 10 or so kilos of muscle he strapped on to play Thor, the Norse god of thunder, in the big-budget comic-book adaptation of the same name but he remains a tall, broad and kinda intimidating presence nevertheless.
Happily, that presence is offset by a friendly manner and easygoing charm that is just apparent off-screen as it is in his performance as Thor, the charismatic, headstrong prince of Asgard whose hot temper and flair for warfare sees him reignite an old feud with an ancient enemy and subsequently banished to Earth by his imperious father, Odin (played by the imperious Anthony Hopkins).
Stripped of his powers – and his weapon of choice, the badass hammer Mjolnir – Thor must learn humility if he is to become the ruler Asgard needs. And the stakes are raised even higher when his cunning brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes a play for the mythical kingdom’s throne.
Best known for his role as Kim Hyde on the long-running Seven soapie Home and Away prior to taking a crack at Hollywood, Hemsworth slowly rose through the ranks with supporting roles (such as his brief but memorable turn as Captain Kirk’s doomed dad in the opening scene of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) before getting a shot at playing the Marvel Comics superhero for director Kenneth Branagh.
But the role of Thor was a much sought-after one, and Hemsworth admits that he nearly stymied his chances in the early stages. “I’d always loved Viking mythology and its sense of adventure, and early on I had that feeling of ‘Yeah, I understand this’,” he says. “But I actually had a few bad auditions at the beginning, so I guess I was wrong! By the time I came back in for the final audition, I’d read some of the comics and discussed things with Ken. But it wasn’t until I got on the set for that audition and put the costume on that it really felt like ‘Yeah, this is good. Now I feel like it, now I can do it’.”
The process of landing the role actually became a bit of a family affair for Hemsworth. His younger brother Liam was vying for the part early on but was ruled out, and the two brothers would discuss what Branagh might be looking for in a portrayal of Thor. “When Liam was no longer in the mix, I got another phone call for an audition,” says Hemsworth. “And my mum was actually visiting me at the time, so she held the camera for my audition and read Anthony Hopkins’ lines!”
Working with Branagh, the actor and filmmaker best known for robust Shakespeare adaptations like Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, Hemsworth was given a crash course in the history of Thor – both from the Marvel Comics adventures released since the early ‘60s and the Norse mythology from considerably before that – as well as an unofficial curriculum that the director might offer some insight into the character.
“Ken gave me The Art of War, the Hermann Hesse book Siddhartha and various others,” Hemsworth recalls. “He said it wasn’t a test or anything but if I wanted to read them, well, great. And I did find them useful, even just on a personal level. I mean, Siddhartha is a very philosophical journey, a man asking big questions and trying to find his place in the world and the meaning of it all. And while it’s under different circumstances, Thor undertakes a similar journey, one that teaches him humility and shapes who he is.”
In the end, however, Hemsworth’s biggest task was making the story seem real, even when it involves a hammer-wielding Norse thunder god cast out of his magical kingdom. “There’s this fatalistic attitude in Norse mythology – everything was pre-ordained for them so there was no fear about doing anything,” he says. “That influenced a lot of my performance as Thor but really I was just looking for the truth in the scenes and making it relatable. The costumes tell us something, the sets tell us another thing, the attitudes displayed by the other actors tell us something more – from there, it became a matter of ‘Well, it’s a scene between a father and son’ or ‘It’s a confrontation between two brothers’, so you find your motivation and you make it real.”
It was made easier, he says, by the presence of collaborators like Branagh, Hopkins and Natalie Portman, who plays Jane Foster, the astrophysicist who discovers Thor when he literally falls to Earth in the New Mexico desert.
“From Ken, it was all about learning the truth of things, not just playing a role,” he says. “You’re simplifying things, really, humanising this god and making him relatable. And also challenging your own interpretations and sending your performance in different directions. I picked up on Hopkins’ enthusiasm and appreciation for the whole process. 112 films on and he’s still saying ‘How much fun is this? Isn’t Ken wonderful?’ And Natalie is as sweet and wonderful as you’d imagine – very collaborative, very funny and plenty of integrity about what she wanted to do with the character. It just elevated the whole process.”
Having signed a six-picture deal, Hemsworth is well and truly in the Thor business now – he’ll reprise his role opposite Robert Downey, Jr (as Iron Man), Mark Ruffalo (as the Hulk) and Chris Evans (as Captain America) in the upcoming superhero-ensemble adventure The Avengers, which begins filming in a few weeks under director Joss Whedon. “Working with those guys is just hugely exciting,” he says.