Australian actor Chris Hemsworth made his US film debut in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, playing the pivotal role of George Kirk. And speaking of pivotal roles … director Kenneth Branagh chose him for the title character in Thor, opening this week.
Based on the Marvel comics, the story is set in the mystical realm of Asgard, where Thor is a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. As a result he is banished to earth by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), where he is force to live among humans, as his jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) takes control in Asgard.
Thor ‘lands’ in New Mexico, crashing into Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) car, a research scientist who is conducting fieldwork on some unexplainable phenomena in the night sky. But when the darkest forces begin to invade earth, Thor must learn what it takes to be a true hero.
We spoke with Chris at the press junket for the movie, where he talked about the Mighty Thor, and playing his character again in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
Did you have a favorite hero growing up?
I think Superman was probably the first one I was aware of. I would run around the house pretending to be him, at some stage when I was a kid. I also had a Robin costume, Batman’s sidekick, which was a nice pair of green underwear and a yellow shirt and red cape. I was about six or seven.
Can you talk about the most miserable things you did to actually get that Thor physique?
The most uncomfortable thing was the eating. I didn’t mind so much the working out; I’d never really lifted weights to that capacity beforehand, and it was certainly a whole new sort of education, for a good six months.
I just don’t naturally sit at that weight, so I had to force feed myself with 20 chicken breasts and rice and steak. That was the most exhausting part out of the whole film. It wasn’t the fun stuff. It wasn’t hamburgers and pizza.
The first couple of weeks of filming, I was pouring sweat. I’d spent the six months prior trying to put on all this weight and then, suddenly, it was just falling off me. But Alexandra (Byrne, the Costume Designer) and her team came up with this cooling vest, which I think race drivers wear – a little vest with pipes that cold water runs through to cool you down. It was a relief.
The physical demands of the role aside; how did you as an actor approach the mighty role of Thor? Did you look at all the comic books?
Yeah, I started with the comic books but I didn’t read all of them, there are thousands of them, 50 years’ worth. But I certainly read enough to get a sense of who he was and the world he was from.
Then I read some things on Norse mythology and of the fatalistic view they have that everything’s preordained, and that leads the Vikings into this fearless sort of attitude in battle with their lives. And they certainly back their opinions. They’re not easily swayed, and that speaks volumes to me about the character of Thor.
On the set, it was just about making it truthful and finding a simpler way that I could relate to it, instead of thinking, ‘How do I play a powerful god?’ It became about scenes between fathers and sons and brothers. And you personalize that, and that helps ground the story for an audience. And then we can relate to it and hopefully the audience can too.
Can you talk about Thor’s arc in this?
It’s all about Thor learning humility. He comes in as a brash young guy with a ton of power at his fingertips. When he goes against his father, he’s punished by being sent to Earth to learn a lesson, on equal terms with other earthlings – as a mortal.
Kenneth (Branagh, the movie’s director) said very early on that fathers and sons are what this is about. The backdrop is a film about gods, but at the core, it’s about human beings.
What was it like to work with Natalie Portman?
Thor is full of big moments, some huge action and pyrotechnics, but some of my favorites are the sequences between Thor and Jane – normal, everyday conversation. We shot those scenes in New Mexico, with a beautiful backdrop of mountains.
Now, we had to wait until the snow melted, but it created a beautiful environment. These were the scenes where the character research, the books on looking at existence and coming into your own, paid off. And getting to play these with Natalie was a dream time for me.
Were you and Tom vying for Sir Anthony’s attention off screen as well?
I nearly caught Tom talking about having breakfast with Tony at one point. I said, ‘What? He’s having breakfast and I’m not?’ (he laughs)
Tom and I got along and came into this at the same point in our careers, with the same enthusiasm and love for these types of films. You either have chemistry with someone, or you don’t. And thankfully, I think it was there, and so to play brothers was easy and fun.
You and Tom are about to start shooting The Avengers. You’re going into a movie with four or five other larger than life characters. What’s the biggest challenge in that for you?
Joss Whedon is the writher and director, his job is to navigate that. Tom and I come in and do our bit. That’s all I can concern myself with. But I definitely think it’ll be an interesting combination. Why it will work is that conflict in those larger- than-life characters and egos clashing. There’ll be some great tension there!