Man at His Best

Why Chris Hemsworth Turned His Back On Hollywood Lifestyle Back Home In Australia

Albeit the very posh part down-under.

BY Daniel Higgins | Oct 2, 2017 | Film & TV

Photographs by Frederic Auerbach, Styling by Daniel Higgins. T-shirt by John Smedley; trousers by Hugo Boss; watch and bracelets, Hemsworth's own.

The schedule for our photoshoot and interview is hectic. Hemsworth has been announced as the new face of the Hugo Boss fragrance, BOSS BOTTLED, and he has a rigid three-day programme filled with brand presentations and back-to-back interviews. He flew in from Australia to the Hugo Boss headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, 24 hours prior to our photoshoot, and is fearful of the jetlag he knows could rear its ugly head at any minute. “I feel okay,” he says, almost trying to convince himself. “But tonight I’m going to feel it; it’s always the third day that kills me.”

Dressed casually in a baggy T-shirt and jeans, he exudes the Australian way of life from across the room, embodying the surfer dude lifestyle we all imagine we’d all adopt if we were in that part of the world. “We’re all a product of our environment, to an extent, and there is the obvious laid-back quality that Australia is known for,” he says. “I’m sure that helped a bit to separate me from the crowd,” he answers when asked how this perception helped shaped his career.

As we settle down to talk after the shoot, he talks about how, in the beginning, he used this Aussie stereotype to his advantage. “I remember when I first got to LA, I genuinely could have told stories about riding kangaroos and wrestling crocodiles and they’d have eaten it up! So you’d tend to embellish a little bit at times,” he says with a twinge of both guilt and nostalgia, admitting that the whole “Australian” thing has become less of a novelty. “Nowadays, if you turn up to a casting call and you’ve got an Aussie accent, it’s sort of like ‘Nice. But what else have you got?’ That ship has unfortunately sailed.”

If Hemsworth is being a little tongue-in-cheek about the benefits of his heritage, he will admit that coming from the other side of the world had a more profound impact on his move to LA “As an Australian, you’ve kind of psyched yourself up because you’ve packed your bags and come all that way and you know it’s your one shot.”

That move to Hollywood, which he made in 2008, aged 24, followed on from his early acting life on the humble beaches of long-running Aussie soap Home and Away, in which he played renegade heartthrob Kim Hyde from 2004 to 2007. He has gone on to become one of the most successful actors in Hollywood today. Starring in blockbuster hits like Star Trek (2009), his first Hollywood break, the thriller A Perfect Getaway (2009), the horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods (2012), the dark-fantasy action film Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), war film Red Dawn (2012), action thriller Blackhat (2015), and Sony’s recent reboot of Ghostbusters (2016) alongside Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, which saw the actor debut his comedy side, to critical acclaim. He has certainly been a busy boy.

Despite the success of these roles, it is the Marvel comic superhero Thor that really catapulted Hemsworth into the A-list ranks. The powerful but arrogant thunder god is cast out of Asgard by his father Odin, king of the Norse gods, to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders. As the face/body of loveable rogue Thor since his debut in 2011 and the three subsequent outings, alongside cast member Tom Hiddleston who plays Loki, he has taken an underdog superhero and turned him into a new cult persona, with Batman and Superman level of fandom. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) film, which gathered the superheroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye to fight Thor’s brother Loki, is actually Marvel’s biggest grossing film to date, with a total US lifetime gross of over USD623 million.

Working on the latest outing, Thor: Ragnarok, due for release in October has been a career highlight for Hemsworth. “Filming this one has definitely been one of the best experiences I’ve had on a film set,” he enthuses. The third film in the series, Hemsworth and the whole team—which this time includes Cate Blanchett and Idris Elba—were under no illusions they needed to step things up to maintain the success they had created. “I had kind of got to the point where I was a little bored with how I was playing the character; it was a little too safe. And I thought: if I’m bored with it, then everyone else must be pretty bored too. So I knew we had to do something a little different this time round.”

Jumper and trousers by Hugo Boss; watch and bracelets, Hemsworth's own.

It is here we get a glimpse of Hemsworth the actor; someone who takes what he does extremely seriously. This is not a random good-looking guy who was at the right casting at the right time; this is someone who dedicates himself to always making sure his portrayal is the best it can be. “It just felt like we hadn’t explored this world as much as we could have done,” he continues. “I got this feeling coming out of the previous two Thor films that we could do so much more with the character but he’s limited by this almost Shakespearean element.” He hints here at the hero character’s tragic flaw—falling in love with a human—and how we may see this take a backseat in the film to unveil different sides to his character.

But Hemsworth is only one man, and he knew he needed the team to help him realise his vision of a new approach to Thor. Luckily, he found a kindred spirit in director Taika Waititi. The New Zealand director, also known as Taika Cohen, is also a writer, actor, painter and comedian. “When Taika came in—whom I just love, his films are incredible—he brought this offbeat, left-field sense of humour and style. He had the same attitude and the same feelings as me and was like, ‘We have to mix it up’. And so, the whole film was about pushing the envelope of what we could get away with. Anytime it felt familiar, we would always do something different. We had a lot of improvisation, a lot more fun, and a lot more comedy.”

As well as the rebooted approach to the acting and the character portrayal, Hemsworth is confident the aesthetic improvement of Thor: Ragnarok will wow fans. “Even the visual palette got turned on its head,” he says of Waititi’s unscripted approach to filming. Waititi is also as complimentary about the actor. “Chris makes the character very human and relatable in this film,” he tells Esquire. “He’s a great comedic actor and his delivery is fantastic. When he does have funny moments, he really shines and he takes over. We really wanted to utilise his skills in that department.” The director continues: “Chris bares it all. He puts his whole personality out there on the screen. He puts his heart out there. He’s professional and a perfectionist.”

The stereotypical suburban Australian upbringing isn’t the most obvious melting pot for creating Hollywood movie stars. Nevertheless, there must have been something in the water at the Hemsworth household. Melbourne born and bred, Hemsworth’s older brother Luke and Liam (the younger one) are also Hollywood actors. All three starting the acting journey on Home and Away, trail-blazed by Luke. Liam has actually been a cover star for Esquire Middle East previously, in January 2015. His elder brother smiles with pride when reminded of a quote from that story about the brothers’ relationship. “We’d all read lines together and help each other out. Chris and Luke always made such a point of saying, ‘What’s going to separate you from other people? What’s going to be the difference between you getting a job and someone else getting the job?”

His reaction to Liam’s remarks hints at Hemsworth’s love for all things family. The family-man tag is not a marketing ploy, as shown by his decision to move back to his beloved Australia in 2015, to the laidback surf town of Byron Bay, with Spanish wife, the model, actress and film producer Elsa Pataky, whom he married in 2010, and their three children. His disinterest in the glamorous life and desire to have a “normal” upbringing for his children seems obvious the more time you spend with him. “I work hard to make sure I get time away from all of this,” he says, motioning to the cameras and the studio support staff that surround us. In LA, everywhere you go is a constant reminder of business. You’re always talking about what you’re a part of or what you missed out on. And everyone you talk to is in the same business. It’s a little suffocating in that sense.”

He recounts how he and his wife made the decision about where they wanted their family unit to be based, to offer them the best upbringing. “We had a conversation about how our own childhoods shaped us and we credited those experiences to who we are as people,” he says. In Hemsworth’s case that included stints living in the Northern Territory and Phillip Island—about as far away from city life as you could get. No wonder Hollywood couldn’t hold him forever.

Byron Bay, he says, couldn’t be further from that bubble. “The friends we hang out with over there couldn’t be further from the business,” he enthuses. “And it’s great for my kids to be a part of that environment. I think it’s much healthier. We spend a lot of time outdoors, outside, on the beach. When we moved back, instantly they were like, ‘Cool, we’re outdoors, we’re actually doing stuff!’ And we’ve been able to relax and live a more normal sort of life. What better way is there to go grow up? So I think we were all happier once we made that move.”

It probably didn’t hurt that, post-Thor, he didn’t need to be knocking on doors to make sure they opened anymore. Next year, alongside another Thor appearance in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, we will see him reprise his George Kirk persona in Star Trek and will also play a CIA agent in Horse Soldiers, set in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States. Work opportunities are good; the Melbourne kid has well and truly landed in Hollywood, and isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

Hemsworth is a pretty obvious face to front the new BOSS BOTTLED campaign. He was always going to be approached by a grooming brand at some stage, and seems at ease with his choice of partnership. “Hugo Boss is such a successful, iconic brand, so it was great be asked to front this campaign,” he says of his decision to work with them, adding how the mission statement of this product in particular spoke to him. “I just really like the idea that success is about living a life of integrity, honesty and compassion. That’s what success is. It’s not the material objects we acquire along the way. And I think that really aligned with my own upbringing and how I like to live my life. It was an easy fit in that sense.”

He reacts with his usual confidence when grilled if he actually likes the scent and if he could work with them even if he didn’t. “Well, I would have to do some serious acting!” he says with a laugh. “Thankfully, I happen to really like it and so does my wife, which is the most important factor. She wouldn’t let me wear it if it didn’t smell good.” He recounts a story of how there was one fragrance in the past that she forbade him from wearing because her ex-boyfriend used to smell the same. “So thankfully, there’s no history attached to this one,” he says with a wry smile.

Hemsworth goes on to explain how he takes care of his skin, explaining how that just-rugged-enough look isn’t as natural as you may have thought. “I do have to take care of myself because I spend a lot of time in the sun, the surf and other elements,” he admits. “When you’re doing that sort of thing your skin can take a beating.” Still, it is a relatively fuss-free regime. He proclaims the Australian favourite of coconut oil as the cure to all woes, along with the promptings of his wife. “She reminds me to use moisturiser after surfing. She works with La Mer and is always trying to put their stuff on me.”

He jokes how he used to tell her that moisturiser doesn’t work, “but as she’s beginning to look younger and I’m beginning to look older, I’m starting to think that she’s got a point!”

There’s more to Chris Hemsworth than good skin and acting ability, of course. The physical challenges of playing a Norse god are every bit as difficult as you would imagine. “It’s intense,” he says. “It involves a lot of training to look like that. Mainly isolated muscle grouping and heavyweights.” His current shape is impressive and you can see this is not a part-time gym programme with the odd extra piece of protein thrown in for good measure; it’s a lifestyle. It’s clear you couldn’t maintain this level of training if you didn’t relish it on some level. “I certainly enjoy the knowledge I’ve gained about my body and health that I didn’t have before,” he agrees. “You don’t get a second body in life, so I’m just glad I’ve been lucky enough to be educated on how to maintain the one I do have.” He’s also no stranger to dramatic body shaping, with his roles in Heart of the Sea and Rush requiring him to shed 7kg, a drastic change to the chiselled, broad physique Hemsworth is known for.

As with all things in life, experience helps and he finds it much easier now than he did with training for the first Thor film. “Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot smarter with my workout. Right now, my trainer and I have been working a lot more on functional movements. So, my current training incorporates a lot more flexibility and agility.”

Of course, post-filming he can relax a little bit. With “little” being the operative word. “I generally try and maintain my fitness post-filming he says. “I mean, I do loosen the reins a bit but I try not to go to such an extreme where I’d have to start from scratch again.” Being a true Aussie, the beach plays a part in that downtime. “I surf a lot and just generally try and stay active. I feel better doing that anyway. If I don’t train for long periods of time, I get kind of flat and moody.” And, he adds, there’s the added pressure of being constantly filmed that helps him stay focused. “I don’t know how well it would go down if I turned up to the Thor premiere obese,” he jokes.

As our interview draws to an end, we finish up talking about how, when he first entered the industry, he had to be pretty selfish, but is happy to say that most of his choices are now motivated by how beneficial they are to his family. So far that policy has given him a successful Hollywood career, while living at home, miles away from the LA pressures, with his family and close friends around, who all bring him a sense of normality. “I’m lucky and thankful to be able to have freedom in my choices. My main focus is the balance between work and family. I wanted to be able to spend as much time home as possible with them.” 

It seems the real Chris Hemsworth is more than just a good-looking guy, a hard-working actor and a devoted family man. He’s the guy every man wants to be best mates with, and one of the very few we don’t mind our wives having a crush on. In fact, if she doesn’t, what’s wrong with her? Did we mention at all that Chris is so nice? Chris is just great. We kind of love Chris.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, September 2017.