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Chris Hemsworth was almost a Thor loser. That's because to snag the role of the Norse god-superhero in the Marvel Comics movie Thor, recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray, he had to undergo a six-month auditioning process that included competing with his actor brother Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song) for the part.
Obviously, it all worked out for the Australian former soap opera star, who moved to the U.S. and made his mark as George Kirk, father of the young James T. Kirk, in the movie Star Trek (2009).
Two small releases followed, as well as co-writer Joss Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods and the remake of 1984's Red Dawn, both completed and awaiting release next year.
Hemsworth, 28, was born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and raised both there and in "Northern Territory, in a little Aboriginal community in the Outback, [called] Bulman."
As he describes, "My earliest memories were on the cattle stations up in the Outback, and then we moved back to Melbourne and then back out there and then back again. Certainly most of my childhood was in Melbourne" -- where he attended high school at Heathmont Secondary College -- "but probably my most vivid memories were up there [in Bulman] with crocodiles and buffalo. Very different walks of life."
His parents, Craig and Leonie Hemsworth, later moved to Philip Island, where Hemsworth lived as well, he says. Aside from his younger brother Liam, he has an older brother, Luke. Hemsworth is married to Spanish actress Elsa Pataky.
He's reprising his role as Thor in Whedon’s upcoming Marvel film The Avengers, set for a May 4, 2012, release, and Thor 2, scheduled for release July 26, 2013.
Hemsworth also plays half the title role, opposite Kristen Stewart, in Universal’s upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman, also starring Charlize Theron.
We spoke with him by phone from Australia. Q. You and your younger brother Liam were both up for the part of Thor, and I gather it took forever to get you cast.
A. Yeah. I auditioned very early on and then I was out of the mix and he was in the mix, and then I got a second chance to come back in. I guess I sort of messed it up for whatever reason. Then I was asked to send in another tape toward the end of the casting process.
My mum was visiting me at the time in Vancouver [where The Cabin in the Woods was shot], so she read Anthony Hopkins' lines [in the role of Thor's father, Odin] and held the camera and helped me with the audition. So she kind of got me back in there, I guess, as well. Q. A boy needs his mom.
That's right. And Liam and I would run [through the script] together and try to work out what we thought Ken [director Kenneth Branagh] wanted or what we thought of the character. We're pretty competitive in everything else we do, as brothers are, but this tended to be a bit of a team effort. Q. Were you and Liam living together at the time?
A. No, we weren't. He'd just moved to the States and I'd been there for a couple of years, so it was great having him around. Q. You come from a soap opera background and in this movie you're working with against RADA-trained Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston, Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, Ray Stevenson from the Bristol Old Vic. How do you psych yourself up to play the central role around those kind of people?
A. People like that elevate your game, and if you leave yourself open to learn from them and walk in with humility, I guess then it becomes back-and-forth. On-set experience in general, I think, is the key. It's about feeling comfortable in navigating your way around a set.
And whether it's a soap or whether it's classic theater, it's all about your attitude: Just work hard and be open to exploring different ideas and taking risks and going with the spontaneity of it all. Q. Did anybody -- I'm thinking Hopkins in particular -- come down, put his arm around you and say "Here's a piece of advice?"
A. No, he treated me very sort of equal. I certainly walked in very intimidated. I'm thinking "God, how am I going to pull this off?" and couldn't have felt more supported by him.
He'd ask me about my [physical] training programs and what have you. He was on a real health kick and was on the treadmill every morning and lifting weights. It was all very sort of, I guess, normal in a sense.
I expected to walk in and have these great quotes to come away from and what have you. But what impressed me was his enthusiasm for work, how friendly he was and what an interesting person. The whole cast is just a good group of people to be around. Q. So you’re at Comic-Con last summer on the Thor panel, and all of sudden Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, your co-stars in The Avengers, pop up on stage with you. You’re a young actor, now they're your peers -- what goes through your mind?
A. I was just waiting for security to pull me off the stage at that point, you know? There's a big part of me going, "What am I doing up here? I don't belong here in amongst these guys." It was so exciting. I didn't actually know that we were going to do that -- they kept it a big secret from us as well. Q. Did you get to chat with them backstage?
A. I did a little bit. I don't know how much I said that was of any great interest. It was all filtered by my brain going, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, what is this?" Q. "Mr. Downey, I've always liked your work."
A. Yeah, it was a bit like that. Q. So how does one play a god when the god isn't, say, Jesus?
A. It became about humanizing it, in a sense. The sets and the story and the costumes tell us the larger-than-life elements, and for us [actors] Ken kept saying, "Just make this personal. It's a scene between a father and son, or two brothers. Find the truth in it."
Someone said to me a long time ago, "If you're ever playing a king, it's more about how the other actors relate to that character as opposed to what that character does." They all lean in, listen very carefully to him, or they speak to him in a certain tone or bow or whatever.
Q. You battle one of the most amazingly visual Marvel antagonists, the Destroyer. In this case was it a guy in a costume, was it animatronic, was it CGI?
A. Yeah, there was sort of a reference point to how high it was or what exactly I was looking at, but that was certainly the most computer-generated villain I was fighting in the film. The rest, most of the time, were actual people in costumes and what-have-you. Q. What was it like the first on the set? The first day of a movie really sets the tone.
A. I remember it was in the Frost Giant world on a big set with ice glaciers and things. I remember thinking how huge it all was and [Branagh] was incredibly excited.
The scenes I wasn't in, I'd watch him behind the camera or at the video village, watching him getting really excited and jumping up and down at certain moments of the sequences.
He looked like he had a great amount of fun, and certainly did through the whole thing. For more by Frank Lovece, visit http://franklovece.com.
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