The way Chris Hemsworth tells it, he not only wasn’t the first choice to play The Mighty Thor; he wasn’t even the first Hemsworth to get a callback.
“[Liam and I] both auditioned for it, funny enough,” Hemsworth said during an interview last month at Comic-Con International: San Diego. “I had an audition, didn't hear anything. The next minute I heard they were flying Liam over to meet Kenneth [Branagh, the director of “Thor”] and he was down to the last four guys, and I was like, 'What?'”
Hemsworth laughs as he recounts what happens next. Liam met with Branagh, but for whatever reason, it didn’t work out for the younger Hemsworth sibling. But Chris said his little brother provided important advance legwork.
“And then I got another phone call [from Branagh] and was like, 'S__, Liam. What worked, what didn't? Tell me what he said! I got some advice, and ...here we are."
Here he is.
Hemsworth seems very aware of the moment he finds himself in right now, headlining a huge Summer 2011 blockbuster hopeful and co-starring in 2012’s All-Star game of a movie, “The Avengers.”
Everywhere he went in San Diego, from autograph sessions on the Con floor to Hall H to the media gatherings, the smile never left his face. He laughs. A lot. His answers to questions still seemed fresh, unspoiled by repetitiveness, whether talking to a national TV crew or a blogger with a Flip Cam.
He gets it. When you star in a superhero movie and you’re a 6’2 blonde-haired 27-year-old who is ripped out of his mind, you're going to draw “Access Hollywood’s” attention. So he tries to have some fun with the incessant questions about the Godly physique he’s sporting in the film.
"There are no fake arms,” he says with a laugh.” The costume is ...is a big heavy chain mail, leather costume. But when it's me, it's me. I put on 20 pounds and then lost a lot of it since then purely from not eating as much."
For the record, it was chicken, protein shakes and lots of sleep that helped him add all that muscle.
Fresh off his 27th birthday, the Melbourne, Australia native is enjoying his time in the star-making machine. Why not? He’s collared a potentially career-defining role, playing an iconic Marvel superhero – the God of Thunder, no less. It’s one of those Vinnie Chase situations most young actors and their commission-craving agents only dream of.
Superhero movie projects bring a certain type of baggage unlike anything else in Hollywood not named “Twilight” or “Harry Potter.” The proliferation of comic book adaptations in recent years has done nothing to minimize that fever pitch, as Hemsworth is well aware.
"There's a lot of pressure with something that's existed for so many years before you were involved and already has a fan base, but you don't let it affect the way you approach the film,” Hemsworth pointed out.
The Comic-Con presentation may have swung public opinion back toward the positive about the movie, but Hemsworth remembers the initial reaction to the news he was cast as Thor, when he made the mistake of lurking on a few online message boards. He stopped doing that before he started filming and just focused on the job at hand.
“For me, I approached it as you do it the best you can, whether it's a small film or something big like this. It's exciting and daunting."
The footage we've seen thus far from "Thor" suggests a movie that will travel back and forth across the Rainbow Bridge between Earth and Asgard. Don't expect Hemsworth to give you more details than that.
He may be new to all this, but he's already well versed in the Marvel method of media management. Dole out carefully selected pieces of information, and nothing else. One storyline he will elaborate on is the importance Jane Foster plays in Thor's search for redemption on Midgard.
In the translation from comics to cinema, the character has been adjusted from nurse to scientist. Natalie Portman is charged with portraying the woman who serves as Thor’s first real connection to ‘mere’ mortals.
"Part of her role in the movie is... she sort of grounds him [THOR] in the movie,” said Portman during a separate interview. “He's exiled to Earth to learn humility. Her ... earthiness is part of, hopefully, what transforms him. There are definitely changes in the character from the comic books, but that characteristic is certainly one of the things that remained."
The trailer for the film showed Jane and Thor locked in a passionate kiss, but Hemsworth agreed with Portman that Jane Foster is more than just the romantic interest.
"There's a bit of that, yeah. But also, it's a big sort of, breaking point in Thor's journey, learning some humility,” Hemsworth added. ‘He starts out as a brash, cocky young warrior, and she certainly influences him in different directions. She gives him a different angle to look at life from."
Hemsworth prepped for the role by reading lots of Thor comics (he was partial to the Avengers storyline, and specifically the Mark Millar-Bryan Hitch “Ultimates” version of Thor) and various other unrelated books Branagh suggested as research. Both the actor and director greed you couldn’t have the God of Thunder eat too much humble pie, lest he lose his warrior’s edge.
"I think they do go hand-in-hand [ego and heroism]. It's an ongoing battle, taming this berserk warrior that's in him. Certainly that's a big part of this film. He still has to be that warrior, that's what makes him Thor. But also, you don't want to watch a guy onscreen for too long that's a jerk all the time,” he said laughing again. “You can have moments of it, 'hey, that's kind of cool, and bad', but then it just gets old."
Hemsworth didn't just have to buff up to play Thor; he had to learn how to fight like a Thunder God. It helped that Hemsworth had studied the mixed martial arts technique Muay Thai for years. He also took up boxing, because it taught him to keep low to the ground and use his legs a lot during the fight scenes.
Then there was Mjolnir.
While it may look awesome when Walt Simonson is drawing it on the comic page, Mjolnir is, in Hemsworth's words, not the most practical weapon. Figuring out how to use it presented major challenges for the actor.
"It has this big huge head on it, and a tiny little handle. “[The fighting] becomes very gritty, kind of street-fighting sort of stuff at times. Thor just happens to have a big ole Hammer in his hands, as well,” he said.
What about rumors that he tried to ‘liberate’ one of the prop Mjolnirs from the set?
“I did ...nah, well, not officially (laughs). I mean, I certainly talked to a lot of people about it…but I forgot to take it!”
Hemsworth agrees with co-star Tom Hiddleston, who plays Thor’s half-brother Loki, that while "Thor" is a tale of Gods and war, it’s essentially a father-son story. Which makes for some nice career symmetry.
Hemsworth made a big splash with his cameo as James Tiberius Kirk's dad in J.J. Abrams' hit "Star Trek." Now he's playing the arrogant, hot-tempered son of Odin.
If it all comes together, and "Thor" hits big next summer, Hemsworth stands to get the biggest career boost. If it fails to deliver, then it's on him, too.
That's the problem with starring in a comic book movie. Sometimes you're the hero; other times, you're the villain.What's your impression of Thor so far?