Sunday 18 February 2018

Fast track to stardom

Chris Hemsworth has made the transition from kid in the remote Australian Outback to Hollywood heavyweight look easy, writes Will Lawrence

Will Lawrence

Chris Hemsworth is a true star in the making. He is also a remarkably lovely chap. "Something I love about my wife?" he muses. "Everything, I think." The 30-year-old Australian, who is best known for playing the Norse god turned Marvel superhero, Thor, is back on screen this month playing English F1 driver and international playboy James Hunt, a man who allegedly slept with 5,000 different women.

Hemsworth shines in the role, a paragon of charm and beauty, though the actor's real-life behaviour could not be further removed from the man he plays. The film is called Rush and is directed by A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon helmer Ron Howard, charting the rivalry between Hunt and Austrian race-driver Niki Lauda, during the climax to the 1976 season. The men were polar opposites, Lauda clinical and critical, Hunt more the risk-taking daredevil.

"I didn't meet many modern F1 drivers," says Hemsworth, "though I am sure there are guys who do live James Hunt's lifestyle now. The big difference is that back then it was the 1970s and it was a little more welcomed if you could get away with it, but nowadays there are so many sponsors who have too much money involved.

"I think people have got better at hiding that kind of behaviour," he adds, "because with TV, Twitter, the internet, anything you do, 'Pow!', it is available for the world to see. People are far more careful in what they do and also, in my business, certain actors' behaviour just isn't accepted any more.

"No individual is bigger than the film, like it used to be. You are far more replaceable than previously so people are reluctant to step out of line."

Hemsworth is not one to step out of line. He is on the cusp of becoming one of the biggest movie stars in the world. In the last few years, he's gone from a bit part in Star Trek and the reboot of Red Dawn to Thor, The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman. Now, such is his standing, he is in a position to get difficult films up and running, including an adaptation of In the Heart of the Sea, a book that charts the story of a whale attack on a 19th century whaling ship, a story that inspired Melville's Moby Dick.

The film is set almost entirely at sea and descends into cannibalism, neither of which is very popular in Hollywood. Such is the glare of Hemsworth's rising star, however, he got the film off the ground, recruiting his Rush director, Howard, to take the helm.

"Chris is a movie star," says Howard. "He really is." The director is not alone in his opinion. Acclaimed filmmaker Michael Mann, for example, cast Hemsworth in his forthcoming drama, Cyber, without even asking for an audition.

"I was in Costa Rica at the time with my family and we were like, what are we doing next?" recalls Hemsworth. "I thought I had better do something contemporary, after playing Thor and doing Rush, and having worked with Ron on Rush I wanted to work with more people of that calibre."

Cyber is an action thriller focussing on computer hacking and cyber-terrorism. "What you learn from those guys is priceless," he adds of his experience working with Mann.

"Michael had the script and he flew down and met me and we talked and instantly I was like, 'Wow!' It made me second-guess how I prep a film because way before even shooting, Michael had endless back story on my character. It was a no-brainer to work with him."

Hemsworth was born in Melbourne to Leonie, a teacher, and Craig, a social-services counsellor. He was raised both there and in the Northern Territory, in a small Aboriginal community in the Outback called Bulman. He is one of three brothers, the older sibling Luke and younger Liam also act, the latter a major star in The Hunger Games franchise.

"My older brother started acting before we did," Hemsworth says. "We all are excited by it all. It is a big novelty from where we lived and grew up in various parts of the Outback of Australia and then in Melbourne and then all of sudden we have a premiere. It is a pretty funny moment."

Hemsworth and his brothers caught the acting bug from their mum. "She always wanted to go into acting," explains her middle child. "She always had an interest and she helped me with my Thor audition. She read [Anthony] Hopkins' lines.

"She is not a High School teacher any more but she was at the time and she often thought she could go and do some acting classes, just as a hobby."

These days, Hemsworth himself has little time for hobbies. He and his wife, Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, 37, welcomed their first daughter, India Rose, in 2012.

"When she was pregnant my wife didn't change at all, but I did," he laughs. The actor had to shed 30lbs when moving from Thor to Snow White and a further 15 when starting on Rush.

"I find losing weight harder than putting it on, that's for sure," he adds. "I had more symptoms of a pregnant woman than my wife did. I was hungry and moody and tired. I was training all the time, running, running, running and eating less so I probably wasn't the best person to be around.

"I believe it was just me taking on the phantom pregnancy. But my wife doesn't buy that."

He had to pack that weight back on for his next film as Thor, The Dark World.

"Balancing the fantastical with reality is a tricky one," he says of the forthcoming film, which is directed by Alan Taylor. "The look of the film aims for a lot of scope and will be visually stunning.

"The locations we went to were amazing and we ended up filming in Iceland, which was incredible.

"The size of the film is the biggest they've aimed at and that was a credit to Alan. I hope people like the movie."

Whatever the outcome, people will no doubt enjoy Hemsworth's performance. He is a true star in the making, after all.

Irish Independent

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