“Thor" star Chris Hemsworth knew that he’d gotten to the point where he looked the part of Marvel Comics' Norse thunder god, but one snarky comment from co-star Anthony Hopkins had him questioning if he was truly ready for hammer time.
"I remember being on set with Tom Hiddleston on our first day with Tony going through the rehearsal,” recalls Hemsworth, “and Tony giving us that reaction: ‘Is that how you’re gonna do it?’ And I’m going ‘He’s kidding – right?’”
Hopkins, of course, was just having a laugh at his co-star’s expense, because Hemsworth took the responsibility of bringing the Asgardian Avenger to life seriously – yea, verily.
“I started with the comic books, but I didn’t read all however many of them – there are thousands of them, 40 or 50 years’ worth,” says Australian actor. “But I certainly read enough to get a sense of who he was and the world he was from. And then I read some things on Norse mythology and this sort of fatalistic view they have that everything’s preordained, and that leads the Vikings into this fearless sort of attitude in battle and with their lives. And they certainly back their opinions – they’re not swayed easily. That spoke volumes to me about the character. You fill your head with whatever information and research you have. But on set, it was just about making it truthful and finding a way, a simpler way that I could relate to it. Instead of thinking ‘How do I play a powerful god?’ it became about scenes between fathers and sons, and brothers. You personalize that, and that helps ground the story, I think, for an audience. And then we can relate to it and hopefully an audience can, too.”
Hemsworth’s director Kenneth Branagh had his eye on the actor early on in the audition process, when every buff, blonde-ish actor in Hollywood was reading for the part. As Thor grew less blustery and more complex in the script development process, Branagh saw that the character was evolving into someone he felt Hemsworth was ideal for.
“He had a natural ease in front of the camera,” says Branagh. “He was funny, had a good sense of humor and could play comedy. He was just unafraid as an actor to be as arrogant as the character needed to be, and also to have the sweetness and clarity and simplicity that he needs in the second part of it. So he goes on a real character change, not one-note. Not just the action guy. Not just the arrogant guy.”
Hemsworth admits that despite his already superheroic stature, getting to Thor’s godlike proportions was challenging. “The most uncomfortable thing was the eating,” he chuckles. “I didn’t mind so much the working out. I’d never really lifted weights to that capacity beforehand, and it was certainly a whole new sort of education for a good six months. But I just don’t naturally sit at that weight, so I had to force-feed myself with 20 chicken breasts and rice and steak. And the most exhausting part, I think, out of the whole film, actually was the eating. It wasn’t the fun stuff, either. It wasn’t hamburgers and pizza and what have you.”
“Thor absolutely needed a heroic, godlike physique – and boy, did he get one together!” praises Branagh. “When I asked him if he minded taking his shirt off he said 'What? I've been working out for a year. Let me take my shirt off!' It was well worth seeing.”
While the added muscle mass certainly helped, Hemsworth says his director gave a very simple suggestion on set to help achieve total –Thor-ness. “One of Kenneth’s biggest notes for me was ‘Just let the costume do it,’ because you know, I had this huge helmet on my head and couldn’t hardly see anything. And Kenneth would just say ‘Don’t worry – Just live in it, just stay as still as you can,’ and just let the costume and the opulence of where I was do the work.’”
The actor has given a lot of thought to what heroism really means, both on screen and off.
“In movies, I think the idea of a heightened reality and the fantasy that we’re able to be swept up in, these larger-than-life heroes and the possibility of someone much more powerful than we are that can come and save the day is inspiring,” he says. “And it’s the people who put themselves on the line and sacrifice their own safety for the greater good and for others – anyone in any sort of profession were their concern is the welfare of other people instead of individual, I think, is inspiring and important. My dad works in child protection. And he’s spent many, many years in that line of work. And as kids, our experiences shape our opinions on ourselves, and the world around us, and that’s who we become as adults, because of that experience. So he’s certainly been my hero.”