If you’re not aware of the upcoming superhero film Thor by now, your head must’ve been stuck in the clouds—although given the subject matter, that might not be such a bad thing. Over the past several months, distributor Paramount has staged an all-out media assault, at the center of which is star Chris Hemsworth, a 6’3” Australian actor whose breakthrough performance as the title character is, indeed, something of a force of nature. On Sunday, Movies.com sat down with the bemuscled 27-year old at the Los Angeles press day for Thor, where he talked about his ongoing collaboration with director Kenneth Branagh, getting comfortable with the prospect of playing a literal god, and learning the same lessons his character does as he crosses a new threshold of creative and commercial opportunity.
Movies.com: What was your introduction to Thor for the film, and what was the audition process like? Did you go in there with coasters taped to your chest?
Chris Hemsworth: I came in there with a hammer and a blonde wig [laughs]. But my introduction to the character was the first audition; I hadn’t read the comic books previously and didn’t know too much about it. The audition process was across sort of three or four months, and I was involved, and then out of the picture, and I sort of got a second chance, and through that period I read some of the comics, and by the last comic book I read, I felt far more informed than I was previously about it. Also, I’d gotten to know Ken [Branagh] a little better, and understood what he wanted.
Movies.com: What did he want?
Hemsworth: He wanted someone not to come in with a fixed opinion and idea of what they wanted to do, but someone who was going to be able to explore it with him and go to the places he wanted to push it. Because I think that’s a much better way to work – you no longer walk a tightrope of sort of right or wrong, you continually explore different ideas and you challenge your initial interpretation. So I just went in there kind of loose with it; I knew my lines and did my work, but I made myself available for the direction he wanted to send it in.
Movies.com: How much of the experience of playing Thor was a constant learning process? By the time you got on set for the first time, did you have a confident sense of how to play him?
Hemsworth: I think you end up knowing the character far better at the end of the shoot than you do at the beginning, no matter how much rehearsal you do prior to that, because once it’s on set that’s when it’s actually happening. Again, I learned a hell of a lot through the film, and you often look back on previous things you’ve shot, whether it’s in that picture or something else, and go, oh, I wish I knew then what I know now. And that’s just part of learning, but I certainly walked in and tried to learn as much as I could about the comics, and Norse mythology, and had ideas. But through working with Ken, and watching Anthony and Natalie [Portman] and Tom Hiddleston [work], I certainly felt myself sort of soaking things up every day.
Movies.com: How can you stay true to the comic or the mythology when you have a script in front of you and a character to develop and give personality to?
Hemsworth: I feel like research is about sort of training your instincts. It doesn’t become such a conscious thought process on set; you fill your head with ideas and motivations - and it doesn’t even have to be on that topic, it can be very sort of random. And then you get on set and sort of throw all of that away and you just try and be in the moment and react and simplify it, I think.
Movies.com: How tough was it to figure out a balance between the theatricality this world demands, and a humanity that the audience could connect with?
Hemsworth: I had a great script and great actors and a great director, and with all of those elements, I tried not to think about it; you want to ideally have someone that you trust a lot, and someone who you’re open to allowing them to steer the ship, so to speak. I mean, it is a director’s medium, and I think the costumes and the sets and the story takes care of those elements, and it’s more Ken’s focus. For me, it was more about making it truthful and making the scenes as real as I could and grounding it, because we’re playing gods, but you don’t want to walk in thinking, how do I play a god? You’ve just got to personalize it and say, okay, father and sons, brothers, I can relate to that – and ground it.
Movies.com: Was it up to him what level of humor would be there? Obviously you want to communicate authority, but Thor isn’t a humorless guy, even in Asgard.
Hemsworth: Obviously we get cast because there’s an element of us that someone sees that they want to bring on screen; it’s not just because we’ve come in and done this completely different interpretation or something. And I certainly like to have fun with things and have a good time, and actually Ken saw a photo of me and the other cast at a party, and I was there giving a big smile and a thumbs-up, and he said, “that’s what I want – I want some of that in Thor!” And so that was a good thing – I thought, okay, cool, you know, having fun with your friends – and it’s that thing about personalizing it again.
Movies.com: The logistics of this seem to be much bigger than that of Star Trek, which was also an effects-laden film. How easy was it to get acclimated to the universe and the prospect of wearing this ostentatious costume?
Hemsworth: I think a costume always helps, especially in this film. Anthony Hopkins was saying he wrote at the top of his script, “no acting required,” because the armor does the work. He said that to me on set when we walked on, and we both had a chuckle about it. So these costumes make you feel a certain way, stand a certain way, and as in Star Trek, being on the bridge of a spaceship certainly felt different than being in a coffeeshop or something. But I guess the similarity would be you just want to make it real; whatever environment you’re in, you still want to make your personal journey truthful.
Movies.com: Is there a point where you got into costume and go, this is awesome, but I still feel a little ridiculous?
Hemsworth: You know, when you were standing on set amongst everyone else in costume in this extravagant sort of sets that had been created, you feel you fit in. And you then walk down the lunch line and everyone’s in jeans and a t-shirt, you feel ridiculous (laughs).
Movies.com: Are there any real-world parallels or lessons you can take away from playing a character like this? His journey, for example, is to learn a degree of humility, which Hollywood is not always altogether keen to breed into its stars.
Hemsworth: Sure. I think humility is certainly the key to learning, because you leave yourself open to other possibilities. And I’ve always been aware of, or my dad used to say, that’s going to be your key in this business, not closing yourself off to new possibilities, but being open to them, and new ideas. And Thor’s powers are stripped away and he has to earn the right to have those privileges, and certainly in this business you see people given certain amounts of power in varied forms, and abuse that. It was a nice reminder, sure, but it was something my parents instilled in me anyway. And I heard Tom Hanks say, fame just magnifies what you are, it doesn’t change you necessarily, and I think that’s really true, because with all of the things that are going on, I keep getting asked, how are you going to handle it, and how will you stay grounded, what have you, and I don’t feel any different. I feel very excited to be working, and I kind of laugh when I see billboards and things, but it doesn’t tell me, oh yeah, I’m a better person, or whatever. I really just feel very lucky to be working and to have all of this happening.