Cover story, GQ Australia, Feb 2015.
Early afternoon. Bar. Thor casually orders two Red Hill pilsners.
“That’s a very easy beer to drink,” comes the smiley reply of the possibly- Portuguese waitress. She’ll be proven right.
This easy opening round comes at the end of the several hours Chris Hemsworth spent in front of the GQ lens. Goes without saying: most shoots with actors of a certain stature involve a punch of A-list fussing and faffing – the Blackberry-tethered manager/agent, the all-too involved publicist, the token, chatty, eternal-hanger-on mate
Not today. It’s not the Hemsworth way.
No, Hemsworth doing Hemsworth involves little more than some laid-back small-talk – AFL, surfing, his new Australian digs – and posing. He knows his angles and, yeah, he works them well.
We decamped, en voiture (that is, a generic Sydney cab – no limo or driver here), to an nearby, outdoor pub. Given it’s a Monday, the expectation was that it would be quiet. Wrong.
Hugged by some soft afternoon sunshine peeking through a mess of suspended greenery, the bar’s charm rests wholly on the fact it doesn’t feel like the first day of a new week. Not here. Not with our current drinking buddy and an afternoon of drinking ahead.
Hemsworth slides into a bench and stretches out, making his arms and elbows at home. A fitted grey tee sits atop breezy green chinos, a pair of Vans and a lazy mix of jewellery. He forces his thick blonde hair – damn is it handsome – back under a baseball cap while aviators are removed, revealing eyes that would be lost against a blinding-blue CGI backdrop.
The 31-year-old is one of the few film stars who actually feels in proportion to his silver screen frame. He’s 6’3, easy. For the interested parties: sure, there’s a bulge of Thor-sized bicep and pecs.
This year’s shaping as career-defining – maybe life-defining – for the one-time Victorian surfer kid. Five years ago, his biggest Hollywood credit was an impressive, if short-lived, turn as George Kirk in the opening scene of Star Trek.
He’s since helmed Thor (a billion-dollar franchise), impressed Joss Whedon (Cabin in the Woods), been rewarded by Joss Whedon (The Avengers - another billion-dollar franchise) and silenced sneering critics (Ron Howard’s Rush).
Howard will again feature alongside his Aussie charge this March – the pair having collaborated on In The Heart Of The Sea.
“I felt everything shift for me after Rush. It wasn't as financially successful as other things I’d done, but it gave me more movement, more options, more doors opening, more meetings,” he says in a polished Aussie twang, which reverberates for days. “All of a sudden, it’s, ‘Oh, wow! You’re an actor!’”
He knows full well that he does some of his better work with Howard. “Because of the environment he creates – the trust we have in one another.”
The waterlogged feature tells the story of the events that inspired Melville’s Moby Dick – a biographical shipwreck thriller pieced together from first-hand accounts from the doomed whaleship. The script had been kicking around the industry for the better part of 15 years, in what’s better known as “development hell”. That is, try as they might, studios can’t or won’t commit due to cost and projected reach – likely both.
Howard read the script years ago – he was intrigued. Hemsworth urged him to read it again.
“A lot of people were scared by this script - it needed a lot of money, yet at its core, it was a drama, not an action blockbuster. And that was the mix we were interested in.”
You’ll also catch a Hemsworth comedy this year – a reboot of the National Lampoon films (Vacation, out late 2015) and there’s already sweaty fanboy excitement for the next Avengers instalment.
But first up is Michael Mann’s action-thriller Blackhat, in which Hemsworth plays a genius MIT hacker tasked with sabotaging a society-threatening criminal superhacker. It’s a scrawny and compu-literate turn for him, sure.
But he’s solid when it comes to preparing for a role. He wrapped an extra 10 kilos to his frame for Thor (think non-stop eating and lifting), and then lost it all, and more, to squeeze into an F1 car as Rush’s British playboy rebel, James Hunt. Playing a genius MIT hacker, naturally, required some training. Especially with a detail-obsessive like Mann at the helm.
"Those computer classes felt like punishment for not paying attention in school. Honestly, I felt like I was back at school – the same sort of twitchy nervousness and boredom was kicking in.”
Hemsworth’s protagonist is actually an imprisoned MIT hacker.
Cue Mann’s obsessiveness. Cue prison visits.
“Look at films like Heat, like Collateral, he’s so incredibly detailed – and he infiltrates more groups and systems than any director on the planet. We went into the H Block of some prison – housing the worst of the worst, the most dangerous criminals. The warden goes, ‘These guys sit here all day thinking about how they'd like to kill people. And us guards. You're going in at your own risk.’"
Blonde, clean-cut and ponytailed, Hemsworth copped every clichéd, first-draft-of-a-shitty-jail flick comment imaginable.
“It was all, ‘Yo, yo, THOR's here! Where you at man? What are you doing here? You're too young to be here!’ It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.”
“Jerry Weintraub is the coolest guy in Hollywood,” says Hemsworth when you ask him.
Weintraub worked with Elvis. He represented Frank Sinatra. And he famously produced the Ocean’s films, convincing Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Matt Damon to sign-on by individually calling them - insisting that each was already on board.
“He’s Hollywood mafia,” Hemsworth grins. “He’s got so much swagger - that old-school Hollywood; that period of time that we all fantasise about…he’s that, still. You know, the big cigars.”
Hemsworth is a kid who dreamt of The Chateau and the Strip from early on. To view his year 12 yearbook is to know this. ‘When I finish high school I’m…going to Hollywood” it reads. Such sentiment was matched on Home & Away – co-workers admitting to often hearing the then 20-year-old, playing prototypical Summer Bay bad boy Kim Hyde, making the same claim.
Now that hazy, sun-drenched world of golden-era opulence is his to hold – if he wants it.
A growing circus is mounting behind Hemsworth’s ample frame. He’s caused it – though it’s not his fault. As the indie rock soundtrack swells, so too does the pack of weekday boozers who’ve recognised the presence of, y’know, Thor. Each begins to gawk, fingers start to point, while, for some reason, a large exotic bird rests on the arm of one drinker.
A well-meaning guy in a high-vis vest is the first to approach. “Chris, brother, I thought it was you! Can I please get a photo?”
There's an old truth about how to distinguish a genuine smile from an insincere facsimile – crinkled eyes, apparently, are the involuntary tell.
Hemsworth smiles giddily into the produced phone – a whole-faced squint that camouflages his eyes.
Beer number two arrives and the maybe-Spanish-possibly-Portuguese waitress clears away menus. “Let me give you more elbow room,” she smiles. No need to eat. We’re here to drink.
Since we last spoke a few weeks ago, Hemsworth was crowned the Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine – an alleged plaudit he now shares with Clooney, Pitt, Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and John Kennedy Jr.
“I got more phone calls and emails about that than I have from any film – it’s weird.”
Both Howard and Mann sent gushy, tongue-in-cheek emails, so too brother Liam – "Oh look, you're so sexy that your neck's getting really sore and you've got to give it a rub!” chimed the younger Hemsworth of his brother’s cover pose. One time sexiest man, and close friend, Damon, also gleefully weighed in.
“Matt goes, ‘You should just put on a bunch of weight, wear big frilly Hawaiian shirts and let yourself go. Y’know, as your sign-off.’”
The ‘title’ was revealed on Jimmy Kimmel, a welcome injection of irreverence to the spectacle.
“The moment you look overly sincere, and you're all, 'What an honour,' it just seems like a bit of a wank,” Hemsworth says.
It is a soft exclamation mark to a culmination of a half-decade of hard-graft – a rise that first rumbled on the back of a phone call about a comic book franchise.
“Thor changed everything. It opened up every door that's available to me now with my work and my lifestyle. I remember the call. I talked to my team about whether or not it was a good idea. Y’know, Am I going to be pigeonholed?”
Many would view such a decision as a no-brainer: get rich, get jacked, get idolised, get Sexiest Man Alive’d, get more elbow room. The superhero mask worked well for Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and more recently Chris Evans. But cautionary tales still wander in the form of Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogan and George “Bat Nipples” Clooney.
Hemsworth leans back, pushes his arms into a cat-like stretch and glugs some more beer – this second round evaporating faster than the first.
“To be honest, there was no way I was going to say no. We were just going through the motions with that conversation. Because, how do you turn that down?”
With Thor came also came some solid perspective – the Aussie with dreams of golden-era Hollywood witnessing the industry’s unfiltered, smarm-drenched underbelly.
“It’s bullshit. I remember how differently people treated me when things went well. Some directors and producers who never gave a shit – they’d have given me a sideways glance, at best – the next time I saw them, they’re my best friend. And that’s gross.”
The other thing about ascending the Hollywood Hills – America’s 24-hour news cycle and celebrity-baiting paparazzi. Hemsworth and his wife, Spanish model/actress Elsa Pataky, have a two-year-old daughter, India Rose, and twin boys Sasha and Tristan, who arrived last March.
“When I’m with my kids, and someone is scaring my kids – which is what they’ll do, that gets me fired up. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I get hot. I get flustered. And in the States, they’re there, 24/7, at the gate, six feet away from you when you take out the rubbish.”
He doesn’t want to sound like he’s complaining. He truly doesn’t “But at the same time, GET FUCKED,” he shouts, slapping the table. “Nah mate, you don’t have the right to do that. I don’t give a fuck what anyone says - you’re not a bonus to my career.”
Between the dSLR-toting wankers and arse-kissing industry types, Hemsworth knew it was time to leave. “You start to think of it as the norm, that this is how people are – and that’s the danger. If this is life, I’m not raising my kids like this.”
Each swig of beer reveals a Runic scrawl tattooed into his right forearm. It translates, literally, to C-E-I-T-S: his heart – his family – on his sleeve. Late last year, they bought a sprawling property near Byron Bay. And for now, he’s home and he’s happy – primed to be directing the year ahead removed from the TMZ types. He wants to make the move permanent.
Hi-vis guy swaggers over again – this time with his girlfriend and hopes for another pic. Again his desires are fulfilled, again perfect small-talk is engaged.
Even taking into account the song-and-dance of celebrity interviews, it’s easy to pick the tokenistic egoists from the half-decent blokes. And it’s obvious, right now, that Hemsworth is a man of the people – patient, funny, relentlessly polite.
So – what’s he like as a dad? A Thor-like disciplinarian?
“I try... for like six seconds. And my daughter just looks at me and I'm like, ‘All right, you can have it, whatever you want.’”
The thought of two-year-old India Rose looking the God of Thunder in the eye and telling him to get stuffed? Nice.
"She's like, ‘Whatever pal, I know all your secrets,’” he says. “It's funny all the things you think you're going to be as a father. We all have such strong opinions about other people's parenting. But the moment you're out in public and there's a tantrum, you become the worst parent ever."
India Rose is already bi-lingual, thanks to her mother.
“It's fascinating watching her. She can switch languages- she knows who's Spanish and who's not.”
When he met Pataky through their mutual rep, Hemsworth hastily snatched-up a Spanish language computer program course, hoping to impress her. So fast-moving was their courtship, he never bothered to look at it.
“Yo no tengo tiempo para tu mierda,” he states when quizzed on his Spanish skills. Translation: “I don’t have time for your shit.”
“Sorry, that was just for my Mexican friends in LA,” he says, laughing.
Peeling away Hemsworth’s layers of celebritydom is pretty simple. He doesn’t have a supercar collection while his chinos are a $79.99 Hurley surf wear effort. His biggest splurges, he admits, are on “shared experiences” – on-the-whim holidays for large groups of friends and family, like fortnight-long Costa Rican sojourns or beers, surf and hangs on Thai beaches.
He sleeps naked (“Who doesn’t?”), hasn’t embraced Facebook, and he’s trying to stop Googling himself (“You look at the comments: who are those people? I’d like to meet them and have a serious chat.”)
Beer number three arrives, as crisp and fresh as its predecessors.
“Now that I’ve got a taste for it, I want to sit here all afternoon,” Hemsworth says, crinkle-eyed. Leaning into the bench, he stares at the fresh pint. The afternoon is all laziness and bonhomie, despite the 12 sets of eyes that continue to clock his every move.
Staring at Hemsworth is easy – though such an exercise does project onto him a technicolour array of stereotypes: the carefree jock, the superhero surfer with three kids and a beautiful Spanish wife, the Sexiest Man Alive.
You know when you’re so anxious about something that it spills across into every part of your life? How it folds over in your mind?
“…yeah. I do.”
What’s the last thing that made you feel like that?
It’s the first and last time he appears uncomfortable or at a loss for words.
“I have a tough time just sitting, just relaxing, not working. I'm so used to living at this high pace. The moment I stop, there's anxiety: ‘this is it - you're not going to work again. What are you going to do? How are you going to pay off the house?’ It just comes flooding back.
“You get to Hollywood, you achieve something and then you realise, ‘Oh shit. It didn’t actually bring me what I thought it was going to. It didn’t fix anything. I mean, look: I don't wake up, look in the mirror and go, 'That's perfect.'”
You’d never pick it about Hemsworth. It sounds ludicrous, yes, but being in his presence, it’s near-impossible to conceive him feeling even a passing tremor of vulnerability or doubt.
“Yeah, a lot of people say that,” he says, and finishes the beer.
Round four – shots.
“Why not? Even if we’ve both got flights right after this. But a shot of what?”
“It’s got to be good tequila.”
Hemsworth asks for their best – in the process divulging that the brain addling tipple is in fact his mortal enemy – Thor’s kryptonite.
“There was a night out, years ago, with my brother Luke, and the bartender was giving us half-glasses of tequila. To this day, there’s a photo of me on that pub wall, cap down over my eyes, just dribbling. I couldn’t touch the stuff for years – this, is a special occasion.”
Are you going to get through it?
“Maybe. Might send it your way,” he laughs.
Shots arrive. They’re literally from the municipality of Tequila, Mexico. We knock them down and patiently wait for that familiar, nasty kick. It never comes. (Sometimes, you think that the familiar, nasty kick never comes for Chris Hemsworth.)
“That’s good, actually.”
We ask for the bill and instead comes a gift – a black-on-black VIP card for the bar, delivered by a mumbling member of staff. He says…something. It was a deep mumble.
“That’s cool,” says Hemsworth, on leaving. “They don’t normally pay the bill.”
Wait, did they?
“…well, I don’t know, isn’t that what he said? Hang on, is where we leave, thinking that they’ve paid, and get arrested?”
The evening sun squints down through the strategically arranged shrubbery. The exotic parrot squawks.
Two cute girls, clearly hawking Red Bull, ask if Hemsworth will hold a can in a photo.
“I hate that stuff. Sorry,” he says, the most polite fuck-off ever. But he’ll happily take a photo with them.
The girls don’t seem too bummed. Giddy, they take the photo and leave a can.
Remind me to never go out in public with you again.
“Come on! We got a free Red Bull, some beers, and…”
Hemsworth slips me the VIP card surreptitiously. He leaves behind a tip astronomically larger than the bill could have been.
In a couple of hours he’ll be back where he ought to be – where he’d rather be: near Byron, maybe by the water. Then there’ll be just four pairs of eyes on him. He’ll happily meet their gaze. And his eyes will crinkle.