To say that the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark would be a tough act to follow may be the understatement of the century, but imagine what director Kenneth Branagh and producer Kevin Feige must have gone through when they had to cast the Norse God of Thunder that is Thor.
When Chris Hemsworth’s name was announced for the role, most people outside his native Australia only really knew him from a small part in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek playing Captain Kirk’s father, and few could believe that he could embody such a massive presence with so little experience.
In the time since they finished filming, SuperHeroHype has had a couple of chances to meet and talk with Hemsworth, and we’ve found him to be a lot like Thor himself, a jovial giant who may look intimidating as he towers over you, but is actually quite affable to talk to. What’s odd is that this interview you’re about to read was done mere days after returning from CinemaCon, where we had a chance to chat briefly with the actor before seeing an extended bit of footage.
Since conducting this interview, we’ve also had a chance to see the full movie, and while we can’t review it just quite yet (soon!) we will say that if you’re a fan of the character either from the Marvel Comics or any of the cartoons in which Thor has appeared, you will be really happy with what Kenneth Branagh did with the movie and how Hemsworth embodies that role.
SuperHeroHype: We spoke very briefly last week but since then I’ve had a chance to see a good amount of footage from the movie as well as an amazing sizzle reel that Disney put together for "The Avengers," which I’m not sure if you’ve seen.
Chris Hemsworth: I did see a sizzle reel. I don’t know if it’s the same one you saw, but I did see a little. Was it interviews and scenes cut together?
SHH: Yeah, it had interviews and some comic book artwork…
Hemsworth: Yeah, that was cool.
SHH: Yeah, very cool. It’s funny ‘cause when I spoke to you last week, I hadn’t seen anything except the trailer so I was at a bit of a loss.
Hemsworth: Good, good, so we’ll have something to talk about. (laughs)
SHH: Let’s go to the beginning. I remember at the CinemaCon awards ceremony, you mentioned living in the outback five hours from a movie theater, so were comic books a part of your child at all? Were you familiar with any of these characters?
Hemsworth: Uh, no, not back then. By the time I actually came on board and did the film, there was some sense of familiarity with it, and I don’t know where that’s from. I’m sure I saw a cartoon at some stage or because of the wide circulation and because he’s been around for forty or fifty years that I knew something, but no, I wasn’t really a comic book reader.
SHH: I know a lot of American television got over to Australia, and I’m not sure if it got to your neck of the woods, but I wasn’t sure if those old Marvel cartoons ever got there, the ones from the ‘60s.
Hemsworth: Yes, I think maybe they did at some stage, because as I said, I knew something about it, and maybe it was also from the Norse mythology and the Vikings. I love that world and I had a fascination with it, so maybe there was something in there, too.
SHH: What was your audition like for the role? Who was the first person who called you… Kevin Feige?
Hemsworth: My very first audition sucked (laughs), and I didn’t actually get a call back. That was it, and then a few months later, I somehow got an opportunity to have another go, and I came at it with a different attitude, and was determined not to mess it up this time, and had four or five auditions and in the end, one Saturday morning got a phone call from Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Feige and Craig Kyle, the guys at Marvel, and said, "Congratulations, you got the part!"
SHH: One thing I liked about the footage I saw that we got to see some stuff in Asgard, which is big and theatrical, but we also see Thor on earth and you really captured what I like about the character which is when he’s on earth, he’s arrogant but loveable. Was your background more theatrical before getting into movies or were you just doing television?
Hemsworth: Mainly television in Australia. I did a small amount of theater in high school and one of the things I actually did was "Much Ado About Nothing," which Kenneth Branagh did the film version of, and I remember at that time of my life, I had no real interest in Shakespeare, nor did I understand what I was actually saying, so I just watched his film and kind of stole all the ideas. (chuckles)
SHH: Which role did you have and who played him in the film?
Hemsworth: I played John Pedro, which is Denzel’s character. Heh heh.
SHH: There’s been a lot of questions about Kenneth directing a big movie like this, because I think "Frankenstein" was the biggest movie he’s done, which didn’t have nearly as much FX or big action scenes. Was it just like any other movie where he found a way into it? How did he bring everyone into this world?
Hemsworth: Look, I mean, it’s an incredible amount of work. I was hugely impressed, and Ken, he has such knowledge about filmmaking, now on a scale of whether it’s a small independent film or these films, essentially it’s the same sort of thing. There’s just more pieces to the puzzle and it’s more expensive, but Ken is a storyteller and knows that down to the wire, he knows character development, and obviously, he’s very educated in the Shakesperean world, that olde English tone is very similar to where Thor is from and that regal royalty, but also Marvel is such a machine. It has so many talented people working amongst them with the special FX and sets and everything, so it’s a collaborative process but Ken is certainly the leader and took full charge.
SHH: Had you ever done any action before this or did you have any sort of sports background to do some of those action scenes? There’s some pretty impressive fighting in the scene I saw.
Hemsworth: Yeah, I boxed for a lot of years and grew up in Australia in the bush and had a very rough and tumble childhood. We grew up outdoors, building forts and making all kinds of weapons and rope swings and getting into mischief, and I think that probably prepped me more than anything else, it’s that kind of life experience and having two brothers who beat the hell out of each other as young blokes. But also, there was an incredible stunt team to train me up and help me develop this side of the character.
SHH: Which is your preference? Do you enjoy doing the big theatrical Asgard scenes or more of the fighting?
Hemsworth: Look, I love the physicality of those big fight sequences and action, but I got into this business because I love the acting and the intimate personal moments where you really go deep into this character’s motivations and try and find the truth in what he’s saying. That’s what’s exciting for me, and I do love all the action stuff as well. Yeah, but at the end of the day, the acting is truly what I’m in it for.
SHH: On both sides of the rainbow bridge, you have two heavy-duty actors, you have Anthony Hopkins on Asgard and Natalie Portman on Earth. Which scenes did you end up doing first and how intimidating was it on your first day with either one of them?
Hemsworth: The first stuff few shot was all the Asgardian stuff, and it was kind of perfect, because it was Thor at his biggest and best. Full costume surrounded by other people in full costume and magnificent sets and this hugely fantastical world, and Anthony Hopkins was amazing and incredibly supportive and fun and such appreciation for the business. That sort of attitude is infectious, and then we shot the Earth-bound stuff with Natalie and me as an actor all of a sudden out of costume and without the hammer felt pretty much fish-out-of-water, but it was perfect for the character. That’s what he was supposed to do.
SHH: Did you grow your hair long for the part or did you just wear wigs?
Hemsworth: It was a wig, very detailed and sculpted and designed around my hairline and everything. (laughs) I’d forget it was there half the time and I turned up for the wrap party and a bunch of people said, "Oh, you cut your hair" and I was like, "No, that was a wig for the last five months." (laughs)
SHH: In the footage at CinemaCon, we saw a little bit of Asgard but it mainly focused on Earth, is there a lot more Asgard stuff? How far into the movie was that scene?
Hemsworth: It’s sort of back and forth and without giving too much away, it’s about these two worlds colliding, so there’s this constant juggling act with those two worlds.
SHH: I was wondering about that because we didn’t really get to see much of that and I was curious about some of the other characters like Tom’s Loki, who is one of my favorite Marvel villains after Dr. Doom. I was curious to see how evil he got.
Hemsworth: Well, they don’t want to give too much away, and they’re sort of giving everyone a taste of it, but no, the best is yet to come, that’s for sure. (chuckles)
SHH: I think it was brilliant, because it was exactly what we needed to see to get some idea what the movie was going to be like.
Hemsworth: Yeah, I really love that second trailer as well. It gave you much more of a broader sense of the film, and you really get to see, "Wow, this is not just an action film" or what have you. It’s got some real heart and some real humor in it, and it really is a fun ride.
SHH: I think Marvel has always found Thor to be one of the harder characters to sell because he is a God, and it’s harder for regular people to relate to him.
Hemsworth: And that was a big focus with us, was making it truthful and simplifying it and not getting caught playing Gods and humanizing the Gods in a sense and really working out… "Well, what’s the truth behind this scene? It’s a scene between a father and a son or brother to brother," and that we can all relate to. That was a hook for us.
SHH: Thor also has an arrogance yet he always remains likeable, so what do you tap into in order to keep that balance?
Hemsworth: It’s the cockiness and arrogance but it’s all done with a smile and a sense of fun, you know? It’s not necessarily abusive, it’s more just that he has a strong opinion and this is why, but he loves an adventure, and that’s very influential with his friends and the Warriors Three and his brother. I think he’s the kind of guy who meets down the pub and you have a beer with and you have a great time.
SHH: I’m curious if you’ve been to Scandinavia yourself or had any encounters with Scandinavian men about you playing Thor?
Hemsworth: Uh, no, I haven’t. I have a very Nordic background, and they say, "Ah, yeah, that’s fantastic. My grandfather was named Thor!" or something, and that’s always cool to hear.
SHH: I’m not sure if you realize but American men are getting little resentful of Australian men being these big tough guys and making us look bad.
Hemsworth: I felt very thankful to come here and get work… (chuckles) and I hope people don’t start to resent us and allow us to continue to work her, because it’s a great place and this is where the entertainment business happens.
SHH: Oh, believe me, it’s not the studios or producers who resent you, it’s just all the fat guys like me who can never be as big or tough as you.
Hemsworth: (laughs) Awwwww, nah! Come on!
SHH: I know you’ve done a couple other movies before doing this including "The Cabin in the Woods" and "Red Dawn" for MGM, so have you heard anything at all about what’s going on with them? I know a lot of people who want to see both movies.
Hemsworth: Yeah, look, I want them to come out too. I shot those films a couple years ago, and I’ll be unrecognizable by the time they come out, because I’ll have been seven years younger. (chuckles) I’m hearing later in the year, once MGM sort out their issues. I’m hearing a lot of buzz about both of them and great feedback. Fingers crossed, we’ll see them later in the year.
SHH: Do you keep in touch with the filmmakers of both movies?
Hemsworth: Yeah, I see a few of the actors, Josh Peck and Joss Hutcherson, and the director Dan Bradley, I chat to a bit. Also, Joss Whedon wrote "Cabin in the Woods" and he was on-set when Drew Goddard was directing, so yeah, it’s all very incestuous this business, isn’t it? (laughs)
Thor is now playing internationally and hits North America on Friday, May 6.