Chris Hemsworth went from being an Aussie soap star to the embodiment of the Norse thunder god, nudging to the head of the pack of blond Hollywood newbies — and what killer hair!
A year after arriving in Hollywood from his native Australia, Chris Hemsworth found himself in the actor’s purgatory of unemployment for nine months. After a brief turn in the 2009 Star Trek reboot—he played Captain Kirk’s father and was killed by Romulans in the first five minutes—Hemsworth was contemplating quitting and heading back to Australia. Out of luck and work, he paid the rent by babysitting his manager’s kids. Yes, the brawny Hemsworth was a babysitter.
Just as Hemsworth’s American dream was turning into a child-rearing nightmare, Buffy the Vampire Slayer maestro, screen wizard, and all-around comic-book god Joss Whedon spotted him in the casting crowd, felt the heat of his evident star quality, and turned the spotlight on him. “Just after that period of not working,” says Hemsworth, in his preposterously low baritone, “my first job was The Cabin in the Woods, which Joss wrote and produced.” The journey proper had commenced.
The director and actor bonded, turning Whedon into the first of many blue-chip ambassadors for Hemsworth. Another director, British Shakespearean don Kenneth Branagh, demurred to Jimmy Kimmel — on casting the star in the mold-breaking superhero flick, Thor — that Hemsworth “is built like a concrete shipyard and looks very fetching with his shirt off.” But breaking out with a film like Thor can come with certain preconceptions.
“Being that size, you are very quickly stereotyped. Clearly, you can’t be talented if you’re that bulky. He’s going to be a meathead, you know?” Hemsworth muses. “You do wonder if you’ll be restricted and not allowed to do anything else. But what it gives you far outweighs those negatives. Kenneth Branagh, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins — this was not your average blockbuster superhero thing.”
Thor propelled Hemsworth to the A-list, joining an elite band of emerging leading men, a new Brat Pack looking 21st-century movie stardom, lantern-jawed, in the mirror. They might, more assiduously, be dubbed the Frat Pack—it’s not a cerebral school of acting. What it lacks of the new intellectual British school of post–Daniel Craig tortured souls (Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy), it makes up for in effortless sports-bar cheer. You’d trust every one of them with a basketball. They are adorable, in person, as on film. And Hemsworth is the most likely to break out of this mold and achieve Hollywood mega-fame.
Hemsworth’s arrival in Tinseltown was opportune, around the time Channing Tatum — a supporter and ally of both Hemsworth and his younger brother, Liam — was the alpha male of this new pack. Hemsworth is managed by the husband of Tatum’s agent, and he would frequently chase roles Tatum had turned down. “Channing made a good point about audiences these days having ADHD,” Hemsworth says. “You can’t keep away for too long. Stars are pumped out. We live in a different age. The movie is a lot bigger than the star. There are plenty of guys you can throw into action roles, but you have to capitalize on it.” And capitalize on it, Hemsworth shall.
“All this was mostly luck,” Hemsworth says of his career. Light years away from his acting drought, the 28-year-old is 2012’s poster-boy for Hollywood masculinity. As he speaks in a North London photo studio — a familiar habitat given his increasing celebrity — it’s apparent, five minutes into talking to him, that he’s possibly the straightest man alive. From his boot-cut, distressed denim and his deep voice to his shoulder-length hair (a remnant of that hammer-wielding Norse god), he has a butch construction-worker vibe — even with a ponytail.
He also has a manly reluctance to gossip or discuss his personal life. Hemsworth’s foxy Spanish wife, the actress Elsa Pataky, is expecting the couple’s first child. When asked if the baby was planned, he bats it back: “Er, yes and no. I have to be elusive about that,” he says.
This year, he’ll open two summer blockbusters, reprising the thunder god in Whedon’s The Avengers — alongside a dizzying cast of costars (such as Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Evans) — and starring in a darkly gothic fairytale retelling, Snow White and the Huntsman. He drops a mention of being invited to a personal preview screening of the latter with his costars: “And Charlize and Kristen and I all could not believe how amazing it was.” He doesn’t mention the surnames, Theron and Stewart, because he doesn’t have to.
Hemsworth will soon wrap Ron Howard’s Rush, playing the British Formula One racing ace, James Hunt. In it, he faces his toughest test yet. We’ve seen him captivate as the action man, the living comic, the superhero, the presence. But can he inhabit a flawed antihero? “I hope so,” he says, without a trace of self-assurance. “It’s an acting thing, solely. It’s character-based.”
That he’s having a moment isn’t lost or unappreciated. “I’d love to say it’s all about hard work, and, yes, that’s a component,” Hemsworth says, “but I know so many actors who are hard workers who it’s just not happening for. I’m not about to complain.”
Hemsworth has a judicious balance of humility and ambition. He gets a little “aw, shucks” shy at any mention of his evident physical advantage. His ego is in direct in verse to his musculature. He is a man’s man with enough sensitivity to appeal to the girls and gays. Onscreen, he’s possessed of the unique ability to make superheroes look human. And being simultaneously hard and soft is tougher than he makes it look.
When asked when he was first aware of being looked at, he flips the question back. “That’s… interesting,” he muses, as if he has never considered it before. But a good-looking man gets looked at, surely? “It’s so easy to sound fake sincere when you talk about looks or whatever, but I never thought, Oh yeah, great, I look like this, therefore I ought to get that. We all have the same insecurities.”
Hemsworth was brought up the middle child of three brutally handsome, strapping, field-hand-type brothers in Melbourne, Australia. He spent his young life between suburbia and the Outback, where the family decamped to a farming community in the Northern Territory. “My mum always used to say to me that, out of her three boys, ‘Chris, you were the girl,’ ” he recalls. “I’d speak to her about far more things than [my brothers] would and far more things than she needed to hear about, too. I was a chatty kid.”
Chris’s first break was a role in the Australian soap opera, Home and Away, where he played a troubled teen. Previous alumni of the show include Russell Crowe, Heath Ledger, Melissa George, Guy Pearce, and True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, lending a strange Hollywood pedigree to graduating from this shallow parochial drama pool. “I was able to make mistakes, and no one gave a shit about me,” Hemsworth says. “You come to America, and, if you do a big TV show, then you can be overexposed, or old, before you’re new. You get the positives from an Australian soap without the negatives.” As a result, Hemsworth arrived in L.A. in peak physical condition with three years grueling daily acting experience. Or, as he puts it, “I had done a lot of nothing.”
His younger sibling, Liam, joined Chris in Hollywood not long after and is currently starring in The Hunger Games. “I’m reminded, now that my little brother’s working a lot, how much more interesting he is,” he says, humbly. “So I give him a punch when I see him.”