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Interview: Chris Hemsworth

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Trading his mythological hammer in for a rickety harpoon, Australian beefcake Chris Hemsworth takes to the high-seas this Boxing Day in Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea

To celebrate the release of the film and all things Hemsworth, we caught up with the man himself to chat dieting, comedy and just life in general. Yes, he was as deeply charming in real life as he looks on TV. 

On dieting for the role:

I can’t say that I want to lose that weight again. I feel like I’ve ticked that box now, and that’s good. I’m done. I read things and any reference to huge amounts of weight loss I’m like “no”. 

Was losing that much weight scary at all?

It just felt exhausting. All you think about is food, and the guilt that comes if you eat the wrong thing. If you snack on a bit of chocolate or something and you end up eating the whole block then you’re like “what have I done?”. It was wacky. 

Being used to playing these huge beefy characters like Thor, was it difficult getting into the mindset of someone who’s a lot more mortal?

They both have their challenges. You’ve got to work so hard to ground Thor the whole time, you’re always trying to pull him back to Earth and mould it in some form of truth. Whereas with this everything’s there to support you to do that. The dialogue is much more… I guess intimate, and truthful, and personal, you’re not referencing other planets and realms and so on. [laughs] We had so much material to pull from: the book, the journal entries from these guys. It was like in Rush playing a real life character, where you have all of this material to continually use and pull from. 

Do you see a divide in your career between more ‘movie star’ roles and something more mindful like this?

Yeah, I think it’s equally just my own passion for doing different things, and wanting to explore new characters and not feel like I’m repeating something. But you also have to be mindful of wanting to show different things; make sure you mix it up and don’t get typecast as one thing. I’d probably say that I enjoy this stuff more, because I’ve done Thor so many times as well that it’s a real challenge for it to not just become so familiar that you’re no longer trying different things. It’s predictable. 

Is it true that you were the one who brought this story to Ron Howard?

Yeah. We had just finished Rush and I just wanted to continue that relationship (in) any way I could. I had this script and we didn’t have a director, and I just immediately thought to give it to Ron. 

How did you get involved in the first place?

Paula Weinstein had had it for ten years or so, and Will Ward my manager was a producer on it. The first time I read it I was so blown away by it, and I loved the combination between the stunning visuals and edge-of-your-seat sequences, but it was a drama at the centre of it. It was about these relationships and survival, and man vs. nature. 

Your character is someone who thinks he should be the captain of the ship but isn’t - was that a challenging role to play?

It was almost two different films for me. The first half, when he thinks like that and he’s vicious, full of ego and self-motivated; he has such an obsession with being acknowledged for who he is and his place in the business. And then the second half is an awakening, a sort of spiritual journey, and it asks much more philosophical questions - or is forced to ask them. It was nice to play two different things like that, and we shot it in sequence too so it made it much easier to track that journey and keep the continuity. 

Because of that character flip, did you find yourself changing your acting or research methods at any point throughout?

I mean, I’ve got to say about the weight loss. Through the whole film each week we were dropping the calories down and down, and by the time we were needing to act exhausted, emotional and tired that’s how we felt, so it fed right into that in the best way. It would’ve felt phoney. In fact, the scenes after lunch were often the hardest because you felt like you were lying then. Pre-lunch you’re like “Yeah, I can act exhausted and desperate, that’s how I feel”, whereas after lunch you had a little bit too much energy almost. 

Was it hard going home to your family after working on a film like this?

We were talking about this the other night with all the actors and how they were all in a hotel, not with their families feeling miserable. I was with my family and had to go home each night and be all excited to see everyone, and it was really hard. I think it would’ve been easier if I was in the hotel with everyone, because it’s much easier on set to just be miserable about not eating and just get on with it together. But then you get home and it’s like “Shut up Chris, stop being so moody, eat something”. [laughs] I’d try and save the one meal of the day until right before I got home so I could be in a good mood. I remember Matt Damon telling me that when he was doing Courage Under Fire, every time he would call back home to his family he’d make sure it was just after he ate. [laughs]

What was the first thing you ate when you were able to eat [normally] again?

We went to an Italian restaurant and had all sorts of pasta and pizza and carbohydrates that we couldn’t have previously, but it was kind of nowhere near as satisfying as I thought it was going to be. It was like the most we were allowed to do it, it was like “err, okay”. When it was naughty, and you were full of guilt, I don’t know, it just felt better. And also, I think we all felt kind of sick. I remember afterwards I just felt like I had this food hangover because I hadn’t eaten like that in so long and it was a bit of a shock to the system. 

Stories like this always make us question our survival instincts: have you ever been in a situation where your survival instinct was tested? How do you think you would deal with it?   

Something I had to keep thinking about in this was what would drive you to overcome those odds and not give up; keep fighting, and I think it was having a family at home. To see them again, I don’t think there would be a stronger motivation than that for me. So I’d like to think that I’d keep pushing. I’ve never been in anything nearly as traumatic though. 

Ron Howard compared you to Harrison Ford in some ways; what do you think of that?

It’s a huge compliment. He’s said that to me a few times, about where he started with Star Wars and how he worked to be taken more seriously when he did Witness; things that made people look at him a little differently. I need to talk to him more about that, I don’t know if he was talking about acting style or just career path or what, but it’s a compliment. 

How would you like your career to develop?

I’m really happy with what’s happening. There was a time where I did have to really work hard to get sent different things and even Ron had seen Thor but didn’t think I could do Rush, so I put an audition down and sent it to him, and that then opened up a whole load of doors. I did some comedy last year which was fun. I think it’s just I have to keep putting myself out of my comfort zone and trying new things; that’s when you’re forced to work a bit harder, and hopefully get a better outcome. 

Talking of comedy, between Vacation last year and Ghostbusters coming up, why is that side of things so important for you? 

I didn’t say “okay, I’m going to go out and find a comedy”, Vacation just came up and I talked to the directors, and I thought that the script was really funny. And not having to carry the movie was something I was looking forward to; not having to be the face of it, I could just come in and out. So that was great, and then I did Saturday Night Live which was hugely scary, but fun too, and then Paul Feig saw that and asked if I wanted to do the part in Ghostbusters. So they’ve been less sort of, conscious decisions and goals, more opportunities that came my way I think. 

Do you remember what the first thing you bought for yourself with your first big paycheque was? 

It was probably surf boards. I remember when I was a kid, saving up for months to buy a surf board. It would’ve been like $500 or something, so I’d spend all year saving up and then going into a surf shop and just looking at these things. And now I buy far too many. [laughs]

With the last Hunger Games recently coming out starring your brother Liam - do you ever feel a sense of competition with them? 

[laughs] Nah, we get asked about it a lot. I mean we’re competitive in everything except this, honestly. I think we’re just aware of the instability of it all, and you’re not ever really in direct competition. Even Thor when we were both auditioning for it, it was at different times and that was probably the closest thing to ever being in direct competition. But at the time I was auditioning, he wasn’t in the running and he was giving me advice about what he thought they wanted and so on. We might joke about box office weekends though. [laughs]

Have you started Thor 3 yet?

Next June, we start. We’re shooting in Australia about an hour from where I live, which is just awesome. And then we go into Avengers 3 and Avengers 4 straight after. 

Are you looking forward to finishing your time with Marvel?

Not really. I mean, by the end of those three films, because they’re back-to-back I’m sure I’ll be like “get me out of this costume” and I won’t want to see another hammer for a while, but to be in something like that that’s consistently working; to be on that train and be able to go off and try different things that may not work at the box office, it doesn’t matter because you can come back into that thing. It’s a once in a career opportunity. So part of me is a little nervous about it finishing. But, as I said, probably by the end of those three I’ll have had my fix, maybe. 

In the Heart of the Sea (2015), directed by Ron Howard, is released by Warner Bros. in the UK on 26th December. Certificate 12A. Read our review here




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