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Chris Hemsworth On The Trappings Of Fame And Going Boldly Into The Unknown

It would seem that Hemsworth operates in a sphere far removed from the rest of us. But in talking with him, We find that the man who played a god is very much grounded.

BY wayne cheong | Sep 5, 2018 | Fashion

Photography by Zhong Lin; Cashmere pullover by BOSS

PAREIDOLIA

Chris Hemsworth sightings:

31 May 2018: Queensland, Australia
Hemsworth is joined by Matt Damon, his wife and a group of their friends.

3 March 2017: Byron Bay, Australia
Hemsworth crashes a wedding. There’s only one photo of his appearance.

11 August 2015: Weymouth, Boston, New York
On a break from shooting, Hemsworth is seen wearing a Boston Red Sox cap. It is also his birthday.

22 June 2015: Valletta, Malta
Hemsworth is spotted with his wife, Elsa Pataky. An eyewitness hints that Hemsworth shape-shifts into Michael Fassbender.

31 October 2014: New Haven, Connecticut
A police report states that “a kidnapping of a neighbourhood child was thwarted when a man dressed as Thor from the Marvel movies attacked the suspect”. Eyewitnesses at the scene claim the man is Hemsworth.

4 September 2014: Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Michidma Evra sees Hemsworth in a saucer of yak butter.

15 April 2011: Izmir, Turkey
Ayberk Doğulu wakes up to see Hemsworth’s defined abs replacing his once-globular belly. This incident attracts the local press as well as throngs of fans who want to catch a glimpse or touch Doğulu’s stomach. Doğulu milks his fame for the next three hours before Hemsworth’s abs disappear as quickly as they had appeared.

26 December 2010: Sumba, Indonesia
Hemsworth marries Pataky after six months of dating.

Cashmere pullover by BOSS

Chris Hemsworth is larger than he looks in photos. He’s tall like an oak and his physicality is further shaped by his rounded shoulders and biceps that shift under his white sleeves like tensile cables holding up a bridge. I almost flinch as he reaches out for a handshake; almost surprised that my right arm remains firmly in its socket after two quick pumps.

He reveals his patented smile. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen it in the movies. His smile softens the edges of his brawny frame. I suspect, he knows, on some level, about how effective his beam is.

Hemsworth has made light of his looks in a Saturday Night Live sketch. It’s a parody of an American Express ad, where he laments that his build, looks and musculature almost hindered his Hollywood career.

But his looks put him squarely in the list of Hollywood’s leading man archetypes—James Dean was the bad boy; Johnny Depp, the weirdo; Seth Rogen, the goofy stoner. And now, Chris Hemsworth is the poster boy for the action star.

Encouraged by his older brother—Luke’s foray into the Australian soap opera, Neighbours—Hemsworth started hitting as many auditions as he could. A commercial here, a guest appearance there, and in 2004, Hemsworth joined the cast of Home and Away, another soap, before leaving three years later.

___

“I’d lose control in a sense that that’s when the magic can happen.
It catches the audience by surprise,
rather than indicate that this is what to expect.”

___

Like many doe-eyed thespians, with a heart filled with hope and optimism, Hemsworth moved to LA in 2007 to break into the industry. It was a hard reset for him; he was a known face in Australia but in Tinseltown, he was one of the many headshots that cross the hands of talent agents. But he lucked out with his first Hollywood break as the father of James T Kirk in the 2009 film, Star Trek, and three films later, Hemsworth clinched the role of Thor in 2011. With Thor, it exposed Hemsworth to worldwide stardom and opportunities; at only 28, Hemsworth found purchase among the A-list. He bulked up to match the idealised look of the Norse deity; he had to fight like the element he’s the avatar for—swift and powerful; Hemsworth lends a humanity to the god of thunder.

You cannot think of anyone else who could fill the role.

“I’d like to be remembered more for the person I am… was,” Hemsworth says. “Someone who’s compassionate. Someone who had a good sense of humour. Someone who enjoyed life and made the most of things and didn’t take it too seriously, but worked hard and shirted up for family and friends when needed.”

Cashmere pullover by BOSS

Fame, marriage, the arrival of the firstborn—all these occurred before the age of 30. It’s this sort of deluge that you have to keep your head above for. Actors, especially child stars, often fall victim to celebrity. Hollywood is a merciless machine, a tiger that you cannot turn your back to.

“Well, the advantage I had [in keeping afloat],” says Hemsworth, “was [Home and Away], which was on TV five nights a week. I got a hint of the fame and, sort of, the craziness of it, not on the scale that it is now, but just enough to be aware of how it affected me.

“I recognise the trappings so when fame hits me for the second time, I was more prepared for it. I’m aware of the fragility of it, of the falseness to it all. And it doesn’t qualify for, nor is it any indication of, a consistent career.”

It feels surreal to him. Like he’s an alien on an even stranger landscape. On one hand, this is as normal as it can get, but it sometimes catches Hemsworth unaware. Like it or not, he is a part of the Hollywood circle; among those who live their lives on another plane that’s removed from the rest of us.

Cashmere pullover and cotton denim jeans, by BOSS

SPEAKING IN TONGUES

A video posted in April 2015 shows Hemsworth and Chris Evans at a junket for the Avengers: Age of Ultron. The journalist interviewing them addresses the camera.

KIEHL: My name is Cinta Kiehl and I’m representing RCTI, Indonesia.
HEMSWORTH: Indonesia? Apa kabar?
KIEHL: Baik-baik.

Evans turns to Hemsworth in disbelief and mutters something to the effect of WTF. Hemsworth got his attention and runs with it.

HEMSWORTH: Siapa namamu?
KIEHL: Cinta Kiehl.
HEMSWORTH: Hmmm. Nama saya Chris. (Hemsworth sucks in his teeth. A smirk forms.)
KIEHL: Wow. Bahasa Indonesia bagus.
HEMSWORTH: Hmmm. Bagus. (He turns to Evans, shoots him a wink.)
EVANS: Si, si… (Not wanting to be outdone, Evans chimes in with the few words of Spanish that he knows.)
HEMSWORTH: Bagaimana cuaca hari ini?
EVANS: No way.

Evans looks stupefied. If this were a sitcom, we’d freeze on his face while the credits roll with Luciano Michelini’s Frolic playing in the background.

Taken three years ago, the video re-emerged on social media sites and took on a new memetic life of its own. In his formative years, Hemsworth studied Bahasa Indonesia in primary school and at Heathmont Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia.

“I wished I paid greater attention to it,” Hemsworth confesses.

“[I] spent more time in that class kinda screwing around… I don’t know… I just had other things on my mind at the time.”

He’s still able to retain a handful of helpful terminology in his head, ready to dole out a phrase or two to navigate his way around Indonesia during his surf trips. So that video exchange with Cinta Kiehl? It painted Hemsworth as a dialect savant. “For that interview? Yeah, [it’d seem that] I’m fluent but my grasp of the language is pretty limited.”

Tell that to the viewers of that video. The court of public opinion sees Hemsworth as either bilingual or a polymath. Here is a celebrity who is able to connect with the common man by learning his language. If Hemsworth is able to speak Bahasa Indonesia, what else can he do?

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“I think we always identify with that cliched version of masculinity for the longest time,” says Hemsworth. “That this is what a guy had to be. There’s room to be funny and then there’s the unexpected. Why be predictable and play the usual role of the masculine hero? I find that pretty boring.”
___

Well, he’s funny, that’s for sure. He can take the Mickey out of himself, going toe-to-toe with comedy heavyweights like Kate McKinnon in 2016’s Ghostbusters, or with Ed Helms in 2015’s Vacation. It’s almost not fair if you think about it. That someone who looks like Hemsworth would also have comedic timing. The outsiders, the freaks and geeks, they are the ones with the sense of humour, not the homecoming king. Not Hemsworth.

There’s a scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron that shows Hemsworth’s comic acuity. The Avengers are goaded by Thor to try and lift his hammer (“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”). Each of them attempts and fails. Then, it’s Captain America’s turn. Firming up his grip around the handle, Captain America grunts and heaves. And there is the briefest of movement by the hammer, a squeak emits from it. And even briefer, we see Thor’s smile disappears into a worry as he wonders if Captain America—America’s Boy Scout, the pure of heart—is truly worthy enough to lift Mjölnir. In the end, Captain America gives out a sigh of resignation. On cue, Hemsworth breaks into that smile, chuckling in relief. It’s this sort of subtlety of humour that Hemsworth imbues into Thor which makes his character relatable.

“I think we always identify with that cliched version of masculinity for the longest time,” says Hemsworth. “That this is what a guy had to be. There’s room to be funny and then there’s the unexpected. Why be predictable and play the usual role of the masculine hero? I find that pretty boring.

“In the script, Thor is the fish out of water character and by the end of the film, he discovered who he was and earned the right to be the hero. There was a lot of me in him. I found myself in the second film flatlining with the character because now he had all the strength and seemingly knows all the answers. You want conflict within a character, you want growth. So in the third film, we ripped apart his world, of what we knew of that character. We were rolling the dice going: ‘Is this too far? Is this far enough?’ We didn’t want to play it safe. You can’t just keep repeating the same thing. When you start to feel bored, it’s a pretty good indication that the audience is gonna feel the same too. That’s why people respond to [Thor: Ragnarok] so much, I think.”
 

GOD’S TEMPLE

Hemsworth has a double and his name is Bobby Holland Hanton. He fills in for Hemsworth for the stunt scenes. When placed next to Hemsworth in stasis, the differences start to fill in—Hanton’s jaw isn’t as broad as Hemsworth’s; his eyes do not have the lustre of pearls. Hanton says that Hemsworth is “much bigger” which meant that Hanton had to train “twice a day”.

The average workout routine for Hemsworth is a combination of dumbbell curls, multifaceted chest workouts, battle ropes, martial arts, cardio, leg raises, pull-ups, resistance crawls… just to name a few. During the filming of Thor: Ragnorak and Avengers: Infinity War, Hemsworth went on a protein-rich vegan diet, eating six times a day, every two to three hours.

Hanton may not look like Hemsworth but during an action sequence, when the camera picks out the vagaries of a build similar to Hemsworth leaping, taking a hit or defenestrating, you’d truly believe that Hanton and Hemsworth are one and the same.

Hemsworth stands out by the way he looks and carries himself; a perfect target for the paparazzi. He gamely poses for selfies. He doesn’t have airs when it comes to meeting with fans.

“Doing things like these…” Hemsworth muses. “… it’s sort of quick and intense and crazy. It’s this whirlwind of things. And then you get home and its back to reality—there are nappies to change, dishes to be washed. My wife and I, we try to keep that normalcy as much as possible. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a sort of financial attraction [because] you grew up without having much money. You look at acting and think, ah geez, that would be a good way to pay the bills, that looks like fun. That was always something I was aware of, but the fantasy of a fictional world that is the movies… that was the attraction.”

Still, Hemsworth felt comfortable enough, career-wise, that the jobs will continue pouring in. “It felt like I was treading water when I lived in LA. Just having the same conversations about the business in Hollywood. You’d kind of forget about a whole other world out there.”

He’s an amiable sort of person but sometimes his agent and publicist will step in as a bulwark against outside forces. “You need that sort of buffer to some degree because if you spend a lot of the time trying to do it yourself you don’t get to be with the kids and family and so on. This isn’t so much about my career but more about my personal life.”

So, after living in LA for a decade, he traded his Hollywood suburbs for a farm by a beach in Byron Bay, Australia. With his family in tow, Hemsworth escaped—at least, as a respite—the suffocation. “My wife and I knew that it was a risky move,” Hemsworth says. “I could’ve spent a lot more time in LA, but I just… sort of ran out of energy for [that] sort of hustle.”

Cotton shirt and cotton T-shirt, both by BOSS

BALM OF GILEAD

INT ROOM, DAY

We open with Chris Hemsworth already up to greet the dawn. We cut to a record being played, music sounds. Hemsworth puts on a shirt, adjusts his shirt cuffs.

HEMSWORTH (VO)
Success without integrity means nothing.

He picks up a bottle of Boss Bottled and applies two spritzes of the cologne as he gets ready for the day.

HEMSWORTH (VO)
Your belongings don’t make you a better man.

Silhouetted against the bright cityscape through the windows, Hemsworth marches with purpose.

HEMSWORTH (VO)
Your behaviour does.

EXT STREET, CONTINUOUS

Cut to Hemsworth out in a Hugo Boss suit that drapes over his body like a second skin; it falls and cinches at the right places.

A series of shots of Hemsworth at the coffee shop, at a boardroom meeting, talking to a friend at a bar intercut with him traipsing through the city.

HEMSWORTH (VO)
Integrity is how you behave when there’s nothing to be gained. You make a living by what we get. You make a life by what we give.

Bathed in the sunlight, Hemsworth stands contemplatively. The sun rays glint off the reflective surfaces of the buildings. He continues his stride.

HEMSWORTH (VO)
Choose to strive for more. For better. Every hour. Every day. Be the man of today.

The screen fades to white and Boss Bottled appears. Ad ends.

Hemsworth is in Singapore to attend the reopening of the Boss concept store at Marina Bay Sands as an ambassador for Hugo Boss’s latest scent, Boss Bottled.

There were other Boss ambassadors before him, but Hemsworth feels like the perfect fit for what the Boss Bottled scent represents—strength, masculinity and integrity in today’s world.

“My parents definitely shaped who I am and my experiences as a kid,” Hemsworth says. “We lived in the outback for a while, in the aboriginal community. We were one of two white families in this community. It was a different culture my experience in Melbourne; the way of life of the aboriginal people, how they live off the land and not abuse its resources. Some of the old guys there would often try to teach us, young kids, about their ways.

“Basically, you lead by example. Be a good person. Live life with integrity and honesty and hopefully some of that will rub off on [my kids]. But most of the time I’m learning from them.”

Wool suit and cotton shirt, both by BOSS

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“I’m aware of the fragility of it, of the falseness to it all.
And it doesn’t qualify for, nor is it any indication of, a consistent career.”

___

For a man of his status, it stands to reason that Hemsworth might jealously hoard any information about his personal life, but his Instagram account is a generous bay window into Hemsworth- not-the-actor. Here’s a video of Hemsworth rocking out with his kids to Miley Cyrus’s ‘Wrecking Ball’; here’s a picture of his wife, Elsa Pataky, holding a kangaroo by its chin; here’s an image of one of his twin boys examining the family dog’s teeth. These glimpses show a family man deftly juggling work and family life so much so that Robert Downey, Jr once remarked in an interview that Hemsworth’s superpower is “parenting”.

“I think there’s such a curiosity [my kids] have about the world. They have empathy and are just wide-eyed and passionate for life. I find that pretty inspiring.”

The garden of Hemsworth’s life is a bouquet of memories: the heat of the outback, the wet hide of cattle after the rain, the salty tang of the ocean, the coconut whiff of surfboard wax. A smell can yank him back to that moment. He’s a cornball, a nostalgic as he imagines a scent for Australia. It’d have eucalyptus in it. “What else, right? It’s pretty iconic. Some Vegemite. Might be the Australia bushland, coastline, those particular sorts of plants that grow there…”

 

Hemsworth is an actor but he’s also a celebrity. Like his peers, he is made up of the telling and retelling of Entertainment Weekly and red carpet photos. His image is curated through the machinations of his publicist. His tales are told through the campfire glow of text messages, the TMZ-like scoops of “celebs are just like us” photo exposés. Videos shared through social media. Are they real? Are they fake? Does it matter?

“Hemsworth speaks another language.” “Hemsworth crashes a wedding.” “Hemsworth looks dashing in his Hugo Boss outfit.” “Hemsworth looks like he’s hewn from marble.” “Hemsworth is just like us.”

Or, how about this?

“During an interview, Hemsworth eschews the vetted questionnaire and chooses to, instead, ‘have a chat’. He shoots from the hip, considers each question. He goes off-script, answering query after query: ‘I feel like I was offered roles that people thought I should be in. I had to work extra hard to seek out scripts and roles that were different, or try to restructure the ones I already had.’ Hemsworth tucks in his leg. He looks relaxed. Were this to take place in a coffee shop setting, it’d look like two men shooting the breeze instead of a time-strapped interview. Hemsworth continues: ‘And it was just incredibly freeing too because, for the longest time, I’ve worked from the mindset that if I walked onto a set with all the answers then I can eliminate any possibility of it going wrong, but then it becomes boring. And so I’d try to put myself in situations where I didn’t quite know what was going to happen. I’d lose control in a sense that that’s when the magic can happen. It catches the audience by surprise, rather than indicate that this is what to expect.’”

This and other stories form the foundation of this temple of myth. It is how his legacy will endure.

This article was originally published in the August issue of Esquire Singapore.


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