CQ Interview: Chris Hemsworth is Post-Hunk

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Chris Hemsworth Is Post-Hunk

How, in times like these, is a golden-haired, chiseled-bodied action star supposed to be… relevant? Lauren Larson discovers how Chris Hemsworth threw out the old macho playbook and became a new kind of leading man.

The private lives of action stars tend to disappoint, action-wise. the superhero costume is replaced by swim trunks and flip-flops. The mighty hammer is abandoned for the beer. But when the stakes get truly high, Chris Hemsworth can unleash the Thor within.

Such was the scenario on field day recently at his daughter’s school, as Hemsworth and a slew of other fathers prepared for the “dads race.” They assembled like young maidens ready to catch the bouquet at a wedding – all feigning disinterest, all ready to kill for victory.

The other dads had dressed to move, but Hemsworth was wearing jeans and boots. There was a big crowd. Hours before, having watched his daughter’s events – the egg-and-spoon race, the 100-meter and the 200 meter dash – he offered his 6-year-old some fatherly wisdom: “I was like, ‘It’s great, honey. It’s not about winning.'”

But that advice was trash, he realized. Life is about winning, and he must. For his daughter’s sake. At the line, Hemsworth’s heart was pounding. He got a bad start, pulled it together – his Thor muscles snapping to attention. The finish drew neared until, suddenly, he was the champion.

“There was just this wave of nirvana,” Hemsworth recalls. “I turn around, and I go, ‘Where’s my daughter? Where is she?’ And she’s like, ‘Dad, did you win?’ And I’m like ‘Did I win? You didn’t see it!?’ They gave me a sticker. A first-place sticker.”

Hemsworth called his wife, the actress Elsa Pataky. Like her daughter, Pataky missed the race. She had been shooting that day, but she heard all about the Running of the Dads – repeatedly. “I’ve never seen him so excited, not even about getting a big job,” Pataky says with a laugh. “It was probably one of the best things that has happened to him in his life, which is funny, right? All the things he has achieved.”

The next day, Hemsworth had to hop a plane and fly to London to shoot his next film. He’d been home in Byron Bay, Australia, for a few months, and his daughter was distraught that he was leaving. “She’s normally like, ‘Yeah, see you, Daddy. Cool.’ She was like, ‘Papa! Papa! Papa!’ She doesn’t always call me Papa, either.” Hemsworth found the shirt he had been wearing the day before, with the first-place sticker still stuck on it, and offered it to her. “I wasn’t, like, sobbing, but…” But it shattered him.

An actor treasuring his family isn’t especially unusual. But a globally famous star who is as earnest about those feelings in public as he is in private, well, that’s not the sort of action star that Hollywood has traditionally produced. Hemsworth’s openness and warmth when he talks about his family is not lost on fans – particularly female fans, who don’t often hear famous men speaking candidly about the difficulties of juggling a demanding career with child-rearing. “Obviously women are asked all the time, ‘How do you balance it?’ Men are never asked that,” Tessa Thompson, his co-star in the most recent Thor movie, Thor: Ragnarok, and in the forthcoming Men in Black film, tells me. Hemsworth’s frankness about his fatherly priorities is endearing, she says, because it’s effortless. “It’s so lovable, because it’s really honest.”

Back when Hemsworth was first starting out in Hollywood, it was better to be a rebel than a dad. He had appeared for a few years in the Australian soap opera Home and Away – the launchpad that also produced Naomi Watts and Heath Ledger – and arrived in America in 2007, during what might be described as a golden age of the Hollywood bad boy. It was an era when a sex tape or a drug problem was easily excused with a wink, or even rewarded. Back then, the path to stardom seemed clear enough.

“I remember trying to be Colin Farrell. Thinking, ‘People love the bad boy.’ Going out and being sort of reckless. But no one cared,” Hemsworth recalls. “There wasn’t the presence of paparazzi, nor the presence of social media, not the immediacy of all these platforms.” He’s quick to clarify that he was doing anything bad bad in his salad days – “just, like, being drunk.”

Mild as they were, those days were fleeting. Hemsworth and Pataky met in Los Angeles in 2010. “He was a very mature person for his age,” recalls Pataky. “I could totally feel that he loved kids. And it’s something that just melts you, as a woman.” They married fairly quickly. It was a potentially radical move at the time: There was a sense then that a rising star should be single, a line of thinking that may have doomed Leonardo Di Caprio to a lifetime trapped in a Pussy Posse vortex. Once, a publicist – not his – advised Hemsworth not to let people know too much about his personal life. “‘The more they know about you, the harder it is for people to believe your character,’ ” he remembers the publicist telling him. “They want to believe the fantasy that that could be them on the screen in that situation, doing whatever.”

Then, as now, Hemsworth looked like the archetypal leading man – he had the blue eyes, the eternal tan, the smirk, and muscles nobody had seen before. And he got the archetypal leading-man roles. His breakthrough big-screen job was his 2011 turn as a hammer-wielding Norse god: the self-serious unflappably macho Thor. From which followed a string of similarly one-dimensional roles. His trajectory seemed ordained.

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But to those who knew him well, this all seemed a little odd. “It was quite jarring for my family and friends when I was on-screen doing a straight, heroic, sort of overly masculine kind of thing,” Hemsworth says.

More recently, filmgoers have finally gotten to see what he is. Having done this time in hunk purgatory, Hemsworth has lately re-emerged as an actor eager to skewer the old stereotypes. He tested those waters as a bimbo secretary in 2016’s female-led Ghostbusters. And last year, in the third installment of the Thor franchise, he played a re-invented version of his old macho character – a hero suddenly less sure of himself, gleefully emasculated at the hands of co-star Tessa Thompson. Hemsworth and director Taika Waititi wanted to create a Thor who could show more vulnerability – they had more Kurt Russell in mind than Clint Eastwood. “Not to say that Kurt Russell has ever been ‘less masculine’ than contemporary heroes,” Waititi explains. “[His characters were] just more flawed than contemporary heroes.”

This fall Hemsworth stars in the artsy crime thriller Bad Times at the El Royale – a film that excited him for the same reasons the last Thor movie did: It didn’t feel safe or entirely conventional. As thrillers go, Bad Times is quite fun, like a demented Cue board. “it’s got a kind of Tarantino edge to it,” Hemsworth says. “It’s a thriller, but there’s some humourous moments – in an insane way. I just want to be surprised. I have a real fear of being bored.”

It’s convenient for Hemsworth that audiences have grown bored of flawless, archetypal masculinity at the same time as he has. And lucky for him, he’s had more to offer, anyway. Filmgoers now want characters who feel human and fallible on-screen. They want to connect with what’s real and relatable offscreen, too. The golden age of the bad boy, you might say, has given way to something else – a new epoch of the hot dad, a species of cultural figure that Hemsworth embodies genuinely and effortlessly.

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No matter how enlightened your attitude toward leading man-dom, Hollywood is Hollywood: It helps to look the part of the stereotypical star. And contrary to my assumptions about Hemsworth and about those hailing from Australia – where, it seems, everyone looks like they just crawled out of an Abercrombie catalog – it takes a lot of hard work to look like Chris Hemsworth.

Today that hard work must take place in a hotel gym in London’s Southwark neighborhood. Though ths one can barely call itself a gym. It’s a single room, small and poorly appointed. The only other people here are a pair of women doing gentle cardio by the windows. And then Hemsworth and his trainer arrive, disturbing any peace that a claustrophobic little hotel gym can contain.

Hemsworth has brought to London a mini entourage of friends turned employees – vital links, it seems, to home. There’s his trainer, Luke Zocchi, who projects overwhelming good will even when he’s screaming about squats. And there’s Aaron Grist, Hemsworth’s assistant. Zocchi used to be an electrician, and Grist once worked as a glazier, but now they roll with Hemsworth full-time. Zocchi and Grist seem to tether him to his proto-self. They do this by merrily mocking him. When Hemsworth wonders aloud who is staying in the hotel’s penthouse, Zocchi quickly jumps in: “Guess you aren’t as famous as you thought, heh?”

They’ve all known one another since they were “this big,” and when they walk together – a sun-kissed, chiseled trio – they look like a boy band without the angst. Even if Hemsworth weren’t extremely famous, they would stand out among Londoners, who see the sun three times a year and default to an expression of tight-lipped despair.

When he talks to non-Australians, Hemsworth reins in his accent, but when he and Zocchi get going, it’s in a loud patois of “innits” and “mates.” Zocchi starts him off on the treadmill, where Hemsworth begins an eye-widening incline, a punishing slant that goes up an up over the next ten minutes. For his current role in Men in Black, he doesn’t need to be Thor-fit, just normal Hemsworth-fit, a specification that’s still very daunting. Nearby, the weights look on nervously. The room fills with manly grunting. The women, on the ellipticals now, glance over every so often, more annoyed than anything else.

Hemsworth barely slept the night before. He tells me this while incongruously punching the air a few times, then whipping around to walk backward. Soon he’s on to bear crawls – pawing across the floor and looking, in this tiny space, even more massive than usual. He can traverse the entire room in two bear crawls and one frog jump, and he’s surprisingly light-footed. “You have to move like a kid moves!” he says instructively.

For Hemsworth, a 30-minute circuit in his hotel is not ideal. He’d rather be on a surfboard. He favors fitness for function versus for aesthetics. “That’s the way we grew up,” he explains. Recently, Hemsworth’s brother Laim Instagrammed a photo of their parents, Leonie and Craig. His father, Craig, shirtless in the photo, became an instant Internet sensation. He is the patron saint of hot dads. There is no evidence that Craig is not Chris, aged 10 years – 15, max – with some light makeup. But his dad’s physique, Hemsworth tells me, is naturally Aussie-built, not gym groomed. “He’s always been really athletic, but I don’t think he’s ever lifted weights in his life. It’s a functional sort of strength,” Hemsworth says. “We had a few acres of property, and we lived in a national forest, and he was always trimming trees and cutting paths in case there was a bushfire.”

Hemsworth and his brothers, Luke and Liam, grew up between Melbourne and an Aboriginal community in the bush. Craig worked as a social worker, Leonie as an English teacher. Hemsworth started acting after high school, in 2002, and scored a role on Home and Away two years later. In his mind, he had graduated from one idyllic life to another. “I look back at that time, and I go, ‘Man, you were 19 years old, you were living on the northern beaches of Sydney,'” Hemsworth recalls. “I was getting paid 3,000 bucks a week, which was a lot of money where I’d come from. I was surfing in the middle of the day on set if I had a break, I was experiencing fame, I was a young single guy.” He wonders now why he spent that time panicking about his career. “Why didn’t you enjoy that? We can wish years by saying, ‘Ah, when I get here it’ll be okay. When I get here it’ll be okay.’ We just keep moving that bar until we get to that place.”

Luckily for mega-famous dudes like Chris Hemsworth, there’s a subtle side to our favorite fall designer gear. While Thor spends most of his time at Byron Bay in board shorts, he’s gotta put on clothes like the rest of us on occasion, and when he does he opts for covert over cool – slim jeans and boots, hoodies and big ol’ aviators. He’s an expert practitioner of low-key, fuck-off-paparazzi celebrity style. So we swapped out his understated off-duty-kit with sumptuous sweaters, elegant tees, and oversize outerwear. It’s a clean, sharp look that’ll work for you, too – but unless you’ve got the physique of a sledgehammer-wielding Norse god, we recommend wearing a shirt underneath your camel coat.
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Hemsworth saw life as a series of ladder rungs leading to stardom, and he couldn’t stop climbing. Even if the climb felt stressful. Hemsworth still remembers an early television appearance on an episode of The Saddle Club, a Canadian-Australian co-production, in 2003: “I came in as the young vet, and I remember I was so nervous. And you can see, if you look it up on the Internet, my voice is so high, so tight. I’m, like, pink, red, flushed face, having a proper panic attack on-screen.” Hemsworth was certain that the flop had doomed his career, what with the huge reach of the show and all. “I remember being close to tears, talking to my mum about it and being like, ‘The show gets shown in Canada, so they’re gonna see it, and Canada is close to America, so Hollywood is gonna see it, and I’m never gonna work again.’ That was my second job – no one gives a shit.”

That newfound recognition – that mistakes aren’t always fatal and first impressions aren’t always final – was useful as Hemsworth helped push the Thor trilogy forward in Thor: Ragnarok. “The first one was good, the second one is meh,” Hemsworth says. “What masculinity was, the classic archetype – it just all starts to feel very familiar. I was so aware that we were right on the edge.” Where the first two films he played his hero character straight, in the third iteration he injected more humanity and created a character truer to his own spirit.

Confident though he may have become on set, Hemsworth is, right now, very apprehensive in the hotel gym. See, he needs a mat. The women have a mat, but he really doesn’t want to go over and ask them where they found it. For a hard-to-mistake movie star, he’s a master at politely managing civilian attention, but it goes against his better judgement to seek it out. So he stalks the gym, looking for a secret mat stash. He tugs on a mirror that looks like it might be a cabinet. Nothing. He resigns himself and approaches the women, now splayed out on the floor.

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As Hemsworth appears above them, they freeze. One of the women, on her back on the mat, chooses to play dead. She stares up as he asks about the mat situation, and she does not move until her friend reports that there are no more mats. Hemsworth utters a defeated, “ah” and quickly marches away to discourage further discussion.

The women linger for a few minutes more and then abandon their mat and quit the room – but not before one last long look at Hemsworth grunting and straining and putting in way more effort than they had mustered. Working out in the same room as Thor for too long is bad for morale.

For a man of Thor-like proportions – he’s six feet four – Hemsworth can contort himself into some pretty childlike positions. Even in a fancy restaurant. Slumped across the table from me, he’s currently got his right leg folded up almost to his chest, knee level with his chin, his giant desert boot planted firmly on the leather seat. At one point, the server, intent on placing a napkin in Hemsworth’s lap, can discern no obvious lap. Flummoxed, he drapes the linen on the closest thigh and hurries off.

Hemsworth’s clinical contentment seems to have started when he and his wife mnoved near the easternmost edge of Australia – to Byron Bay, a gorgeous beach town perched on the steep cliffs that plunge straight into the ocean. In 2014, burned out from the increasing hassle of paparazzi in Los Angeles, they went in search of quiet. They visited Australia, and Pataky, who is from Spain, wasn’t initially impressed, Hemsworth says. “Both trips we did, it was like pouring rain. And she was like, ‘ I don’t know what the big fuss is,'” he recalls. “Then I said, ‘Let’s do a trip to Byron Bay,’ and we get off the plane and it’s raining. I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m not selling it.’ And she instantly went, ‘No, there’s something different about this place. It is a very special place.’ She went, ‘This could be it. It could be the best decision we’ve made. ‘”

“I really do feel a sense of ease for the first time in years,” Hemsworth says. “I don’t mean that as an assessment of my achievements. I just mean I’m content with what’s going on.”

The charm of Hemsworth’s life by the sea can be glimpsed on Instagram. That publicist who once told him to be cryptic and withholding about his personal life might be surprised by how the world has changed. “The social-media side of it is just trying to work out: How do you keep up with the times?” Hemsworth explains. “You see that Sylvester Stallone has an Instagram account, and you kind of go, ‘This is the world we’re in.'”

When Hemsworth shares shots of his kids, his 20 million followers go especially crazy. “In the few and rare times that he does, it’s genuine,” Waititi observes. He’s not curating anything; he’s just proud: “It’s ‘Here’s this amazing moment when my daughter was surfing!'” Waititi says with a laugh.

Still, Hemsworth and Pataky are both careful not to show their children’s faces in photos. He bristles at any suggestion that he is somehow “selling” his life by sharing sweet tidings from his family. “The exploitation is something I’m very wary of,” Hemsworth says. “We’ve been offered things, like ‘Advertise such-and-such and have dinner with your family.’ There’s no way.”

Even on a relatively remote bay in Australia, the threats of fame crop up. Recently, Hemsworth was out with his son when he spotted some paparazzi. He tried to ignore them, but then one of his sons took off his bathing suit. “He’s naked, I look over, and they’re still shooting,” Hemsworth says. “I ran over, and they knew. I just very pointedly and definitely said, ‘Don’t you dare.’ I was close to destroying the camera.”

A sommelier stands before us, wondering whether Hemsworth would like a glass of wine with his steak. Moments earlier w had admitted to each other our mutual illiteracy on the topic of wine. That sort of shared ignorance can feel comforting and egalitarian – nobody wants to look a fool in front of the sommelier.

Before the guy arrived, I had joked that the word I use when I’m trying to sound knowledgeable about wine is “nostalgic” – a seemingly vague descriptor for a red wine with long legs and strong notes of bullshit. Hemsworth volunteered that his enological safe word is “jammy.” “We should go on a wine tour!2 he’d suggested, looking out the window as though he might spot a vineyard peekong from behind Parliament.

“Do you have a Cabernet?” Hemsworth asks the sommelier.

“I do have some Cabs,” he says. “Something okay? Something perfumy?”

“Something” – Hemsworth pauses, and I know what’s coming because he shoots me the same challenging look a cat gives you before batting your water glass off the table – “nostalgic.”

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The sommelier nods once and zips away, presumably to consult whatever tome allows a sommelier to describe a wine as “reticent” with confidence. Hemsworth cackles. The sommelier quickly returns with a glass of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape. “It smells of coffee. Chocolate. Roast buns,” he tells Hemsworth, who reaches for his glass and gives it a sip.

“That’s nostalgic for me,” he replies. “You know what I’d describe it as? Jammy.”

He brings the glass to his lips again. “Someone told me that you’ve got to just sip it and say literally what comes to mind,” he says. “I think it’s a smoky, musty… forest?”

“You do like your wines,” the sommelier says with a detectable snark. “If we’re going to hire, I’ll let you know.”

For now, of course, Hemsworth’s all set career-wise. He’s all set on plenty of fronts, to be honest. “I really do feel a sense of ease for the first time in years. I don’t mean that as an assessment of my achievements. I just mean I’m conent with what’s going on and relaxed and open about it,” he says.

Gone are those old uncertainties – the occasional feeling that he was a passive player in his own career. Gone, too, are the old assumptions about what it might take for him to thrive. “I came to Hollywood thinking I had to be Russell Crowe. I loved his performances, and because of my physicality and my size, that was the obvious choice. I think I was aware that it could kind of get me in the door, ” Hemsworth says. “But it wasn’t me.”

This story originally appeared in the September 2018 issue with the title “The Post-Modern Hunk.”

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Original article at GQ

This article has been reproduced for archive purposes.

Author: Cider

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