Chris Hemsworth is standing on a ledge outside a sprawling, white-walled house in Byron Bay when he begins aiming kung-fu kicks out over the lush green hinterland that tumbles away at his feet. He accompanies each kick with a playful “hi-ya” as the sky reverberates to mighty thunderclaps, courtesy of a storm that’s rolling in off the sea. As blobby drops of tropical rain begin to fall, you have to shake your head and wonder: can the man who’s made his name playing Thor summon thunder on demand?
It would certainly be a nice touch - thunder at a Hemsworth shoot is like a white Christmas in New York. But after spending the morning with the actor here in his hometown, you begin to think there probably isn’t a whole lot this guy can’t do.
That includes transforming right before your eyes. Here today to share with MH exclusive details of his new holistic health and fitness app Centr (more on that later), when Hemsworth arrives at the shoot, dressed in a white T-shirt and board shorts, he’s looking tired, having flown in from India, where he’s shooting a film for Netflix, only a few days before. “Hi, I’m Chris,” he says, shaking hands as he inspects the view from the house’s cavernous living room.
Lacking the polished sheen of the Tag Heuer ads and, save for his towering stature, little of the physical presence of the Norse god that launched him, there’s not a lot to distinguish him from the surfers inspecting the swell with their takeaway coffees down at nearby Lennox Head.
It’s an impression that lasts until the first click of the camera and the subsequent image materialises on the photographer’s laptop. Suddenly, with his hair falling just right, eyes startlingly blue, colossal arms hanging loosely at his sides, it’s almost as if he’s become Chris Hemsworth: A-list actor, global superstar, protector of worlds. Later, as he switches into workout gear and begins to pump 25kg dumbbells with the suddenly hot sun beating down, those arms seem to grow even larger, to the point where you begin to wonder if Thor himself might actually be in this magnificent, well-appointed house.
This guy right here is the one who always seemed destined to succeed. The one who left Summer Bay for superstardom and never looked back. The type of guy who seems capable of anything, including you would think, hubris.
Except that’s not who Hemsworth is at all. Never has been. Instead, as he reveals in an illuminating chat sat in the window bay of a kids’ playroom, he’s a bloke who’s second guessed himself every step of the way on his journey to the top of the Hollywood heap. And one who admits it’s taken him over a decade in Tinseltown to finally feel comfortable in his own skin. “I’ve stopped asking, ‘Who do I have to be?’” he says, the rich timbre of his voice at odds with the vulnerability of his sentiments. “What personality do I have to shape in order to succeed in this business? And just going, ‘Truly be yourself’. That’s when things started to change. That’s when I felt happier.”
It’s a thoroughly mortal admission from the mouth of a man famous for playing a deity. But Hemsworth’s decade-or-so-long Hollywood journey has reinforced to him something many men hungry for success and eager to impress often forget: authenticity is the ace up your sleeve. You just need to develop the confidence to use it.
As canvasses go Hemsworth’s forearms are more expansive than most. As he digs his hands into the pockets of a pair of indigo jeans, one of the crew remarks on a couple of his tattoos: misshapen stars and a circular web-like formation. Hemsworth smiles. “It was actually designed by my daughter,” he says proudly. He goes on to explain how he was sitting around one night with a design mate who specialises in geometry work. The two were getting nowhere fast when his daughter emerged from the bedroom complaining about the racket the pair were making. “I said, ‘Go back to sleep,’” Hemsworth recalls.
“She said, ‘No’. So, she just sat in my lap for a minute and just starts drawing these pictures. My mate goes, ‘These are pretty awesome’.” The humble designer eventually took a photo of the sketches, printed them on Hemsworth’s arm and tattooed over the top. “See how they’re a little bit crooked and kind of off?” he says, pointing at the tatts’ outline. “I said, ‘Definitely don’t neaten it out’. It’s exactly how she drew it.”
The beauty, of course, lies in the imperfection. They’re very much the tattoos of a man comfortable in his skin, inked or otherwise. But you wonder if they’re the kind Hemsworth would have chosen 10 years ago. Back when he wasn’t quite as at ease with himself.
The Hemsworth ‘origins’ story is well known, following a well-trodden path from the obligatory stint at Hollywood star factory Home and Away before trying his luck in LA. He’d followed his brother Luke into acting after the older sibling landed a gig on that other great showbiz finishing school, Neighbours. “I remember going, ‘You got $900 for the week? And going, ‘My god, that’s amazing,’” Hemsworth recalls.
But while he liked the idea of getting paid, Hemsworth had already developed an obsession with movies, regularly enjoying the 90s equivalent of a Netflix binge: Blockbuster’s 5 for 5 video rental deal. Soon he was doing the same acting course Luke had done and from there his life course was seemingly set. “There was nothing else I wanted to do,” he says between mouthfuls of chicken perched on a kid’s table in front of him. “I had not a shadow of a doubt that I was going to go to Hollywood and work.” Looking at it now, it was the pie-in-the-sky confidence of a precocious adolescent. “As I started auditioning a whole lot of doubt chirped up and fear and anxiety and ‘What the hell am I attempting to get into?’” Hemsworth laughs.
For a while he got by on talent alone. Not long after arriving in LA he landed a gig on J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, playing Captain Kirk’s father. It all looked so effortless. Hemsworth himself lampooned his initially charmed run a few years back on Saturday Night Live. “It didn’t happen overnight for me. I bounced around Hollywood for days.”
In fact, after Star Trek the phone stopped ringing. And in the void, Hemsworth started panicking. “I was about to quit,” he says frankly. “I got more and more anxious to the point where I couldn’t harness or use that energy. It was all to my detriment.”
Instead of acknowledging his fears and embracing his vulnerability, he made the mistake many men make when they feel out of their depth. He tried to bluff his way through. “I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t nervous before auditions rather than grabbing hold of it and going, ‘Use it, raise up the awareness here, sharpen your focus, point it in the right direction,’” he says.
It doesn’t take a lot for introspection to mutate into tortured self-analysis. You’ve probably been there. You want something so badly you try too hard. In the absence of any feedback or even simple encouragement, it can be a neurotic morass from which it’s difficult to emerge. “You’re constantly living in this world where you come out of an audition and you’re not analysing how you can do it better, you’re analysing what the obstacles were and how unfair it is, which is just bullshit, it’s a real trap,” Hemsworth says.
As he was to find, sometimes you have to get out of your own way in order to move forward. “One of the first things I wanted to do when I got any money was pay my parents’ house off,” he explains. “I’d asked dad once when he thought he’d pay it off and he said,‘Honestly, probably never’.”
On the verge of coming back to Australia and asking Home and Away for his old job back, he had one last audition right before Christmas in 2008. “I was like, ‘Do this for the house, think of reasons other than yourself.’” He’d also started taking what he calls a “bat-and-ball approach” to the whole audition process. “So, there’s an audition, then boom, you’re onto the next one. You can’t be thinking about that last one.”
The result? He was looser. He nailed the audition for The Cabin in the Woods. Suddenly he was a working actor again. Then he got Red Dawn. Then he got Thor. Looking back now, Hemsworth points to the crippling doubt he dealt with in that period as one of the catalysts for Centr. “For me not to implode from the anxiety or the pressure, you’ve got to find that centre,” he says. “The whole thing is about not becoming stagnant. That’s when emotional and physical problems occur.”
You might think after landing Thor Hemsworth was set. That the process of performing would become second nature. You’d be mistaken. Even once success came he continued to forensically pore over every aspect of his work. Because while you don’t want to let fear rule you, he says, it is a hell of a motivator. “Any sort of anxiety is your body’s way of saying, ‘Hey, there’s some questions here that you need to pay attention to. You’re not prepped enough for this scene, that’s why you’re worrying’. Then I was able to use that. It became a real tool for me.”
It remains so. “Over the years, as I’ve got more comfortable with things I’m always thinking, ‘Oh, don’t get too comfortable’. You’ve got to stay hungry. You’ve got to keep motivating yourself.”
It makes you think: if a guy 10 years deep into a gilt-edged career is this alert to the dangers of complacency and cutting corners, what are you doing to keep yourself getting too comfortable?
For the full story, pick up a copy of the March issue, on sale Thursday 31st January