Chris Hemsworth on new project In The Heart Of The Sea
Actor Chris Hemsworth swaps his superhero suit for sea legs in his latest big-screen adventure. The Thor star tells Susan Griffin how all his childhood dreams are coming true.
Chris Hemsworth had such a great time playing the glamorous Formula One driver James Hunt in Ron Howard's Rush, he made a beeline for the director's next project, In The Heart Of The Sea.
"He created an environment on Rush where I felt I could take bigger risks and I hadn't felt that kind of trust before. I said, 'If you're not sick of me, we can maybe do it again'," says the 32-year-old of the former Happy Days actor, who's helmed the likes of Splash, A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13.
"Ron had the same passion and excitement for the script (as me), so it happened really quickly after that," continues the tall and athletic Australian, known for playing the hammer-wielding Thor in the Marvel Comic movies. The movie's based on Nathaniel Philbrick's bestselling book about the dramatic true story of the Essex.
In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship was assaulted by a mammoth-sized whale.
The real-life maritime disaster inspired Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, but that told only half the story. In The Heart Of The Sea reveals the encounter's harrowing aftermath, as the crew are forced to do the unthinkable in their fight for survival.
"It's this epic, seafaring adventure with a beautiful backdrop and real edge-of-your-seat sequences, but it's a drama at the heart of it and you don't see that combination very often," says Hemsworth, who plays the vessel's veteran first mate Owen Chase. In order to do the story justice, he, along with actors Cillian Murphy, Benjamin Walker and new Spiderman Tom Holland, endured a strict diet.
"I lost a lot of weight for Rush, as I'd come off the back of Thor, but this was even more intense," explains Hemsworth, today looking every inch the movie star, in simple black jeans and white T-shirt.
"Plus, Rush was very glamorous in the sexiness of it all, whereas this was brutal and raw. We were wet 90% of the time and exhausted. Really cold when we shot in London, really hot when we shot in the Canary Islands, and then you're just in rags."
Heeding a nutritionist's advice, they gradually reduced their calorie intake, week by week.
"The 500-calorie period was only for a couple of weeks. If you do it for four weeks, someone told me, you start to mess with your metabolism. So I think we did it the healthy way."
The normally laid-back Hemsworth does admit he was a little more trying at home.
"I think my wife (the Spanish actress Elsa Pataky) prefers me putting on the weight," he laughs.
"She doesn't have to put up with the mood swings, as you're highly sensitive to the most trivial things. My wife's like, 'Oh, just shut up and eat something'."
The film was shot two years ago, and since then, the couple have had twin boys, Tristan and Sasha, now 22 months, who joined their older sister India (3).
"We all travel together if it's going to be a four-month shoot. It'd be insane to try and bring them on a Press tour, but we try not to go longer than two weeks apart. And we've been lucky to have shot a number of films over here and be together."
That includes The Huntsman Winter's War, which is due for release next year, and sees the actor reprise the titular gruff Scot who appeared alongside Twilight star Kristen Stewart in Snow White And The Huntsman.
"I didn't want it to be as dark and heavy as the first one," reveals Hemsworth. "I was proud of it, but also wished it had more fun and adventure. This one has a lot more humour to it."
Stewart doesn't appear in the new movie, but Charlize Theron, who played the evil queen Ravenna, returns - and they're joined by Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt.
"I felt like I had three sisters, because they were all getting stuck into me, it was hilarious," says the actor with a grin.
"I was just trying to keep up, because they're all witty as hell. They have their fair share of smart-a*** attitude, so it was great."
He was surrounded by even more women on the set of the Ghostbusters reboot, starring Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy in the lead roles.
"I hadn't done that much improvisation and I remember calling Paul (Feig, the director) the night before, having a bit of a panic about it.
"He said: 'Just trust me'. On set he would throw out ideas and suggestions and the girls would throw stuff in and it would just take off - he keeps the camera rolling for hours.
"It's chaos and everyone's cracking up and trying to hold it together. It's a whole different way of working to what I'd done in the past, but awesome.
"It's good to be uncomfortable," he adds.
"I feel like the moment it becomes too familiar, you lose a bit of that spark. That anxiety and fear gives it that bit more energy."
Raised in Melbourne and the Australian outback with brothers Luke and Liam, who are also actors, he recalls that they had "the best childhood and we're all still super tight".
He explains: "We weren't from an acting town. None of my friends were doing it and I didn't go to drama school, so it was a pretty far-reaching dream.
"At school, I remember people going, 'Well, that's nice, but what are you really going to do?' But my parents were the ones who went, 'Go for it'. I had that safety net and confidence and support to go and have a crack at this business."
In 2004, he moved to Sydney when he was cast as Kim Hyde in Home And Away. He left the soap in 2007 and, four years later, was playing superhero Thor on the big screen. "I was dreaming about it as a kid, watching movies and thinking 'I want to be part of that'. So now, to be doing it? All the time I go, 'Is this actually happening?'
"I think there's some big kid in me still just playing make-believe in the backyard."
- In The Heart Of The Sea is released on Boxing Day