Chris Hemsworth Is a Model of Decency, Modesty, and Good Humor. Is It

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Can Hollywood Handle Decent, Modest, Good-Humored Chris Hemsworth?.

I feel like I’m in a movie. The actor, who we’re used to seeing super-swole as Thor, shared his body transformation for his new movie In the Heart of the Sea — which tells the story of the maritime disaster that inspired Moby Dick — on Instagram. “Just tried a new diet/training program called “Lost At Sea”. Not just any movie, a highly specific kind of movie, one of those trashy-but-sublime Hollywood jobs, a jet-set-y, South-of-France-y bit of chic piffle that’s about international spies or jewel thieves or cat burglars, only is really about glamorous, sexy stars doing glamorous, sexy things in glamorous, sexy locales.

The film, in which a whaling ship is wrecked and the crew are forced to resort to cannibalism, was shot in late 2013 but will be released this December. The movie, due out Dec. 11, is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction book detailing the loss of the Essex, a ship rammed and destroyed by a whale in the Pacific Ocean in 1820. Alongside co-stars Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw, Hemsworth was placed on a 500 calorie a day diet to convincingly portray the experience of a starving nineteenth-century seafarer. Philbrick’s book is based partly on Chase’s memoirs. “I spent a lot of my time growing up in the ocean and have a lot of respect for its inhabitants,” Hemsworth said Sunday during a promotional tweeting session with fans. Wouldn’t recommend it.’ Hemsworth had already lost his ‘Thor weight’ for his role in the Michael Mann film, Black Hat, but said the extra 15 pounds for the sea epic was gruelling as he ate just 500 calories a day. ‘When you’re already starting off lean, its brutal to chew through that kind of weight,’ Hemsworth told Entertainment Weekly. ‘Every pound feels like a kilogram.’

And a bit player—a waiter or, possibly, a fellow paying customer—leans into me and says, sotto voce, “Quite a view,” and I, keeping my gaze fixed on the sapphire-eyed person across the table from me, reply, “It certainly is,” my lips twitching in the faintest of ironic smiles. They needed to keep burning the calories and we also needed that sinewy strength that was more of that era, as opposed to a kind of cut, buff look.” Dramatic weight loss and gain is common in Hollywood, with stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Christian Bale shedding the pounds for recent roles, before bulking back up for their subsequent films. The restaurant: Geoffrey’s, pronounced the way the snooty English butler from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air pronounced it, not the way the flesh-eating serial killer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, pronounced it, and perched on a bluff above the Malibu stretch of the Pacific, which, for my money, knocks the Côte d’Azur right on its derrière. Hemsworth answered a variety of questions about his favorite food, favorite musical artist, how he takes his coffee and which super hero he’d be other than Thor in addition to questions about the film. It was a strong show all around, but the best bit was a send-up of those American Express commercials that feature famous people presenting themselves in modest, no-frills, this-is-the-real-me ways that are actually self-congratulatory and carefully contrived and showbiz slick.

In the signature faux-humble voice-over (the better to brag to you with, my dear), he says, “When I got to Hollywood, they said I’d never make it as an actor—they said I was too tall, too blond, my muscles were too big.” The line got a roar from the studio audience. Channing Tatum’s a hot young hunk raring to go, and in terms of sheer sexiness, just raw, straight-up, wham-bam appeal, he’s the winner, hands down. He also, however, has a beefcake quality. (He knows it, too, and uses it; it’s part of what makes him such a sly—and amusing—presence on-screen.) Bradley Cooper is the guy who was out of your league in college.

And, granted, Ryan Gosling and Jake Gyllenhaal are, like Hemsworth, bona fide heartthrobs, except they’re an entirely different sub-species thereof—are less physically imposing, more sexually diffident, with an instinct for playing loners and oddballs. He dismounted, then removed his helmet, confirming what I already knew—that he was He, the Norse God of Thunder from Down Under (it’s common knowledge that Hemsworth’s Australian, right?), Thor. He was tall, well over six feet, and slim, made of muscle and sinew, rather than muscle and muscle, which is how he appears when he’s in his hammer-wielding deity incarnation. The hostess stand at Geoffrey’s faces the valet, and the girls manning it—L.A. girls, jaded girls, girls who can do blasé with both hands tied behind their backs, girls who make it their business, their style, to be unimpressed—stopped breathing as he approached. Let’s talk about this smile for a second, since it’s both startling and contradictory: it’s killer, sure, highly trained assassin, white and broad and lustrous, but it’s also nice-guy.

There’s a slightly abashed quality to it, too, as if he understands the impact his presence has on people and wants to soften the blow a little. (The smile, by the way, doesn’t help. Because now you have to live with the knowledge that he’s not just a lovely human but a lovely human being, that the insides match the outsides.) O.K., so flashing back to the flashback: I was 30 seconds behind Hemsworth entering the restaurant. I drew the test out in chalk and tried to do it, and I was like, ‘This is pretty hard, I’m going to fail.’ And my friends who were watching said, ‘Well, no, you kind of get it.’ But I said, ‘I have to 100 percent get it because there are no second chances.’ So I spent the next two days just going in circles and zigzagging.” I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you why this story is so disarming, but just in case: motorcycles are practically synonymous with outlaw macho up-yours defiance—hell on wheels. Only Hemsworth utterly subverts the bad-boy implications by approaching riding in such an earnest and painstaking way, half Boy Scout, half worrywart. (Imagine Marlon Brando’s Johnny Strabler making chalk outlines in preparation for a bike test. Hemsworth was raised in Melbourne, with the occasional foray into the Outback, his dad working in child-protective services most of the time, but other times mixing it up with cattle, making buffalo wish they’d never been born, popping wheelies on motorbikes—being a cross between a daredevil and a cowboy, basically, a true-life Crocodile Dundee.

We’re all there to help each other, give each other perspective, give each other the right amount of slapping as well.” At 18, with little formal training, Hemsworth landed a role on Home and Away, the long-running Australian soap and Hollywood farm team. (Among the alumni: Heath Ledger, Guy Pearce, Isla Fisher, and Naomi Watts.) For three and a half years, he played the troubled—but sexy!—Kim Hyde, who either had a death wish or death had a wish for him. (Kim survived a fire, two plane crashes—well, one plane crash, one helicopter crash—a cyclone, and an accidental Ecstasy overdose.) It was an earn-as-you-learn-type situation. And at this acting school he took Fame 101. (“It was a great place to get caught up in that sort of thing [i.e., teen-idol-dom] because no one really gave a shit, because it was just a soap opera and cell-phone cameras weren’t as popular.”) In 2007, Hemsworth headed for L.A. and a chance at the big time.

Almost immediately he was cast as George Kirk, the man who taught—or would have taught had he not played a game of starship chicken, and lost—Captain Kirk how to throw a baseball, tie a tie, put on a condom, the whole father-son rigmarole, in J. Whedon, along with Drew Goddard, cast Hemsworth in the movie he had auditioned for pre-boarding, The Cabin in the Woods (directed by Goddard, produced by Whedon, written by both), a piece of work as nasty as it was nifty, a riff on the schlocky gore-fest horror torture-porn genre (oh, that genre). Says Whedon, “In Chris’s first close-up, Drew and I turned to each other and said, ‘Oh my God, he’s a movie star.’ ” “I had an audition with Ken [Branagh, for Thor] that didn’t go very well.

That should be you.’ And when casting opened back up, Joss called Ken and said, ‘Give Chris another shot.’ ” Branagh did, and the rest is Hollywood history or, I guess, Norse mythology. (Three fun facts. And he was like, Oh, I’m interviewing with the Marvel guys.” So the former writer-producer was auditioning to—fingers crossed—direct the very star he helped make. Two: when Whedon first clapped eyes on Hemsworth, he immediately thought, Captain America. “So, yeah,” says Whedon, “I did think superhero, just, ah, slightly physically smaller superhero.” Three: a short time after losing out to his big brother, Liam would win a role in a dinky little low-budget, under-the-radar, straight-to-DVD project you’ve probably never heard of called The Hunger Games.

Says Hemsworth with a laugh, “Yeah, Liam’s doing all right.”) Even if movies centering on guys in billowy capes with do-gooder hippie notions about saving the world don’t make it for you, you’ve got to admit, Hemsworth’s good as Thor. Looks-wise, he obviously nails it (from the S.N.L. commercial: “At my [Thor] audition, they said, Umm, we’re looking for a Thor-type, not actual Thor”), though he did have to bulk up considerably, protein-scarfing and gym-bunnying until he’d packed on 20 pounds of lean muscle. He and Natalie Portman, who plays astrophysicist and love interest Jane Foster, are like an updated version of Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan in the Tarzan movies: he grunts; she gets the message. The Marvel movies are, almost without exception, all-star affairs, featuring the heavenly-body likes of Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L.

But for Hemsworth, the only one of “earth’s mightiest heroes” who is—or, rather, was—a comparative nobody, the experience was far more fraught. “When something costs $150 million and it doesn’t work, it’s your face, it’s your fault,” he explains. “And the character has fans. Are they still a fan or did you just make them never want to read the comic again?” O.K., I’d like to take a detour now from Hemsworth’s Road to Success. To me, Hemsworth’s a throwback, much more in the tradition of a Cary Grant or a Gary Cooper, actors who were products of studios not drama schools, actors who were elegant and immaculate and silky smooth, actors who were performers, there to bring the audience pleasure, than he is in the tradition of a Marlon Brando or a James Dean, the subsequent generation of actors, actors who mumbled and shuffled and picked and scratched, actors whose lack of polish wasn’t just their aim but their point—their declaration—actors who were artists, there to express their inner beings.

Ron Howard on Hemsworth’s audition tape for Rush (2013): “He’d made it himself in his hotel room when he was shooting one of the Avengers movies. Which doesn’t mean he isn’t, in his own way, tortured (no chance a person who holds himself to such exacting standards is short on demons) or an artiste. His body is always in character: as Thor, he moves like a heavyweight who’s light on his feet; as the Huntsman, in Snow White and the Huntsman, he moves with a swashbuckler’s authoritative grace; and as the hacker in Michael Mann’s Blackhat, he practically doesn’t move at all, is, for large portions of the film, utterly still except for his fingers, agile and precise and flying across the keyboard, and for his eyes, darty with panic.

Nature (really, it’s no contest, Nature kicks the shit out of Man, having had it up to here with Man and Man’s antics)—says Howard, “When we were making it, I told everybody, This isn’t Jaws, think more King Kong”—but mostly it’s an old-fashioned adventure picture, Hemsworth’s role as first mate Owen Chase requiring a frank un-ironic heroism, which so few actors can pull off these days. He’s part of three highly profitable franchises; works with top-of-the-A-List A-List directors; was People’s 2014 Sexiest Man Alive; a host with the most on S.N.L. Rush is a love story disguised as a hate story, the central relationship between a pair of rivals who regard each other with the maniacal intensity of soul mates.

Yet what Hemsworth did is, arguably, even more difficult: he makes an unsympathetic guy sympathetic. (Hunt’s got it all, so why should he get the audience’s sympathy as well?) Hemsworth lets you see the sweetness beneath Hunt’s macho posturing, and the melancholy. The empathy issue was a major one for Hemsworth: “Ron and Peter [Morgan, the screenwriter] and I tried to thread throughout the idea that Hunt’s behavior is fueled by adrenaline and fear and insecurity. And then the one scene that I think really was a tipping point in our favor to making him redeemable—and it wasn’t in the original script—was when he punched the reporter.” The punch—multiple punches, actually—came after said reporter, in wildly dickish fashion, asked a nearly-burned-alive Lauda how his wife could stand looking at him. Here’s what that tells me: that he isn’t yet fully in control of his persona, and that he doesn’t yet trust his rapport with the audience. (You play a villain or an asshole and the audience loves you anyway?

If he were more self-obsessed, more self-adoring, more self-whatever, he’d likely be a shrewder calculator of his own power, and would know how far the viewer was willing to go with him. (Answer: far.) Besides, for a movie star to truly earn the title, he or she has to impose his or her personality on a film, become a phenomenon: Tom Cruise as the fighter pilot with the bulletproof grin in Top Gun; Julia Roberts as the whore you can take home to Mom in Pretty Woman; Brad Pitt as the drifter who drifted off with not only sweet, love-struck Geena Davis’s cash (a villain and an asshole) but the movie in Thelma & Louise. Channing Tatum had his star turn when he gyrated his red-thonged pelvis to Ginuwine’s “Pony” for fun and profit in the semi-autobiographical Magic Mike (2012).

A possibly to-the-point aside: the one moment in our three-hour conversation that Hemsworth’s voice took on a wistful note was when Jennifer Lawrence’s name came up. People who are famous for, above all else, being themselves; people who either don’t grasp or ignore the distinction between public life and private; people who are reality stars no matter if they’re another type of star as well. Here’s a list, partial, of the personality famous: Kim Kardashian; Caitlyn Jenner—actually, pretty much the entire Kardashian-Jenner clan; Miley Cyrus (Liam’s ex-fiancée); Justin Bieber; Gigi Hadid; Teen Moms with sex tapes and Housewives who are Real; Kanye, though I suppose he falls under the rubric of Kardashian now; the cast of Jersey Shore; Taylor Swift.

And, really, she should come with a do-not-try-this-at-home warning label because she’s pulling off something that shouldn’t be pull-offable. (More on this shortly.) Back now to on-the-other-hand. I’ve got this thing that’s going to keep me relevant, and I can still explore other things in between, do a few films no one cares about.” The “other things” include the new Ghostbusters, in which he’s the token dude in an all-dudette cast.

In any case, Hemsworth’s managing to establish himself as a star is plenty remarkable, since it’s harder to become one now more than ever thanks to the iPhone and social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Getting caught by TMZ relieving yourself in a mop bucket as you exit a nightclub might not cost you Twitter followers, but it definitely does a number on your aura, your mystery, your iconographic power. (See what I mean about Lawrence and pulling off the un-pull-offable?) So maybe Hemsworth, who for all his friendliness has a reserve about him, an air of privacy that does not invite intrusion, figured it right. Keep your distance, physical (move as far away from Hollywood as possible, preferably to another continent) and emotional (politeness can, in a pinch, be used as a barrier).

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