From an Australian boy whose First memories were of buffalo and crocodiles to one of the most dependable box office draws in the business the man who channels the spirit of thor has seemingly been touched by real divine providence
by Matt Scanlon
A majority of principal world religions have as part of their concluding scriptural chapters battles that will determine the fate of the world. In Christianity, it’s the contest between Christ in his second coming and the Antichrist. In Islam, Mahdi, mounted on a white stallion, battles Masih ad Dajjal (the false messiah), while in Hinduism, Kalki appears atop another white horse and brings an end to the Kali Yuga, or “age of vice.”
In Norse mythology, Ragnarök refers to a battle that features the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Loki, and Heimdallr, a range of natural disasters, and the world ultimately being submerged in water.
In his fifth starring role as the Norse god associated with lightning, storms, and super strength, Chris Hemsworth, in the November 3 released Thor: Ragnarok, is tasked with nothing less than short circuiting this end of the world…of the universe in fact. Imprisoned galaxies away from his Asgardian civilization on the planet of Sakaar, his survival depends upon prevailing in a number of staged battles arranged by Grandmaster ( Jeff Goldblum) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and ultimately having to duke it out with Hela, Goddess of Death, played by Cate Blanchett. As directed by Taika Waititi (who also provides the voice of Thor’s friend, Korg), one of the film’s most pivotal aspects was clear to cast and crew even in preproduction: the need to be distinct in a now well explored Norse character genre.
“After doing the last Thor, I felt a little bored with myself and what I’ve done, and that we could do more and reach further,” Hemsworth said at the Los Angeles premiere of Thor: Ragnarok on October 10. “But Taika came on board; we knew each other prior to this partnership, and we both said, ‘Yeah, there’s a lot more to explore that we haven’t yet.’ Every day was about doing something different and taking risks and breaking the old version and reinventing it. Part of that was emphasizing a sense of humor in the whole world and universe that we embarked on. Personally, it [the production] just seemed looser to me overall…more fun.”
Thankfully, Waititi is a man unafraid of mixing genres. Director of the critically acclaimed 2014 comedy/horror film What We Do in the Shadows, he has a deft hand at mixing drama and humor, and detailed a bit of his process at the same premiere event.
“I wanted to obviously respect what the first films have done, but use them as a launching pad to try to create something fresh and authentic,” he said. “It’s a very colorful film, loud, obnoxious…but not in an arrogant way, I hope. What I really wanted was to remind people that movies can be fun.”
What Waititi and veteran Marvel Cinematic Universe producer Kevin Feige also applied was arguably the most prolific all star cast of the year, one that includes Blanchett, Goldblum, and Thompson, then adds Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Karl Urban as Skurge, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk.
Such cast company is light years from the Northern Territory, Australia upbringing of Hemsworth, of which, as he told Cineplex, “my earliest memories are of buffalo and crocodiles. As a kid, you don’t own a pair of shoes because it’s too hot there!”
Born in Melbourne in 1983 to Leonie (van Os), an English teacher, and Craig Hemsworth, a social services counselor, Hemsworth developed close relationships with his older brother, Luke, and younger brother, Liam (both, likewise, went on to become actors). Surfing was a passion for the young man, but he also attended Heathmont College in Heathmont, Victoria, honing stage chops along the way. In his early 20s, he snagged a number of minor roles on Australian TV shows, most notably a recurring stint on the soap opera Home and Away (interestingly, the show has become something of a jumping off point for Australia to U.S. stars, and counts Heath Ledger, Isla Fisher, Naomi Watts, and Simon Baker among its former cast members).
His first movie role turned out to be a blockbuster J.J. Abrams’s 2009 remake of Star Trek, in which Hemsworth played Captain Kirk’s father, George. The role was small, but the performance wasn’t, and he soon auditioned for the lead in the superhero film Thor, directed by Kenneth Brannagh (winding up competing with his brother, Liam, for the part). Playing opposite Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins was an instant elevation to A list status, which has been the 34 year old’s lot since, and he reprised the role in The Avengers (2012), in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, and one more time in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
As fans of the Marvel cinematic genre can attest, one interesting component to the god Hemsworth plays is a recurring sense of humor, and the actor’s evident comic ability led to costarring in the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters, in which he damn near stole the show from leads Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy in an otherwise critically panned film. He tried his hand at comedy again in 2015’s Vacation, alongside Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, in a turn that included him sporting an intimidatingly oversized…package in an infamous underwear scene half way through the movie. He’s also starred in the dramas Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Rush (2013), and the Ron Howard directed In the Heart of the Sea (2015).
He’s been married to actress/producer Elsa Pataky since 2010, and the couple have three children.
At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Hemsworth elaborated on the wildly changed circumstances Thor has to face in the new film.
“Well, he does not have his hammer, he doesn’t have Asgard. It’s like a midlife crisis [laughs],” he said. “We cut his hair, break his hammer, change his clothes…change the world. He really gets his ass kicked in this one.”
At the LA premiere, Feige was asked how Blanchett found her way to the part.
“Hela is one of the most famous villains in the Thor pantheon. In bringing her to the screen, we thought of one name, but said to ourselves, [Blanchett]…that’s the dream, but is there somebody like that who…then Kate said yes! I still can’t believe that she did this movie, and she crushed it. She’s terrifying, charismatic, nearly kicks everybody’s ass, and also brings a pathos to this otherwise villainous character.”
“Cate is my hero, on and off the screen,” Hemsworth added, “and I needed to be intimidated she’s sort of a god in my opinion. She gave such a warmth and accessibility to that experience that I’m forever grateful for, yet created one of the most villainous characters I think you’ll ever see.”
Hemsworth fans and Norse god aficionados alike won’t have long to wait for more action, as he picks up the hammer yet again in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. 2018 will also see him in the drama Horse Soldiers, which depicts actions taken by the first U.S. special forces team deployed to Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, as well as in Bad Times at the El Royale, in which he’ll co star with Jeff Bridges in a noir thriller, written and directed by Drew Goddard, that’s set in a 1960s era dilapidated hotel in California’s Lake Tahoe region.