Chris Hemsworth grew up scrapping with two brothers (the actors Liam, younger, and Luke, elder) and guided by a father who once raced motorbikes and wrangled buffalo. He surfs and boxess and knows Muay Thai.
And so I wondered, is Hemsworth the rare Hollywood leading man who is actually more robust, more manly in reality than the characters he plays?
Normally he’d be out surfing—and I’d ask to tag along for this piece—but since the Malibu coastline is glass-flat this week, he has another suggestion: What if we go mountain biking instead?
This is an excellent idea that frightens the hell out of me. I realize that mountain biking with Thor is a good story, one that very possibly ends with “…and that’s how Chris Hemsworth set my shattered fibula.” Nevertheless, I meet Hemsworth at 8:30 A.M. on a Saturday at his friend Matt’s place so we can borrow some bikes.
It’s nice—a large wood-and-stone house in Pacific Palisades. Hemsworth greets me enthusiastically at the door like I’m a friend: casual, quick to laugh, welcoming. I follow Hemsworth inside, through the living room, into the kitchen, and it’s only then that I realize I’m standing in Matt Damon’s house. The giveaway is Matt Damon, perched on a countertop in his kitchen, sipping coffee as his family buzzes around. Despite the thirteen-year age difference, Hemsworth and Damon are tight—like, annual-family-trip-to-Costa-Rica tight. “We became friends around the time I started to work, and I’ve really benefited from watching how he handles himself,” says Hemsworth. “Matt’s just a normal guy who has the movie-star thing figured out.”
Damon leads us out to the garage and starts gearing us up—checking brakes, squeezing tires, inspecting helmets for structural integrity. When I mention I forgot my shades, Damon bounds upstairs and comes back with two pairs, just so I have options. “I’m not sending you guys on anything too crazy,” Damon says. “Obviously, be a little careful up there. I broke my clavicle on the same trail a few months ago.” Thanks for the reassurance, Matt Damon.
So, what’s the coolest scar you’ve got and how did you get it?
He ticks off a few from a life spent surfing, dirt biking, and roughhousing with his brothers. “All pretty boring.” Then he remembers one that’s not so boring, flipping over his left palm. “See this tiny little scar?” he asks, grinning. “I got this when I was 6 or 7, living in the Northern Territory.”
Hemsworth spent most of his childhood in Melbourne, where his mom taught school and his dad worked in child-protection services. But on a couple of separate occasions, his father moved the whole family up to the Northern Territory—the Outback—so he could work the cattle ranches, culling buffalo from grazing land. “It was a way for the family to save money,” says Hemsworth, who went to a largely Aboriginal school. “Remote as you can get, the nearest town a five- or six-hour drive over dirt roads.”
On one such sojourn, young Hemsworth decided to buy a knife. A big knife. An unnecessarily, absurdly large knife. “I remember the sales guy asking, ’Well, what’re you gonna use that for?’ I said, ’Fishing?’ And that was the security test. Later, I went snorkeling in this swimming hole. Thought I stabbed a fish, but I stabbed myself in the hand instead. I still have a vivid memory of what that felt like. It wasn’t alarmingly bad, but it was like, ’Oh, wow. I’ve just done something here.’”
What was the last thing you did that scared the hell out of you?
Having a family, Hemsworth says. Though he doesn’t mean settling down. That part, getting hitched four years ago to Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, held no anxiety. He’d already exorcised the playboy shenanigans from his system, he says. “The fame, the parties, the women—I did that stuff back home, when I was on the show,” Hemsworth explains, referring to his three years on the Aussie soap Home and Away. It’s huge there: been on for twenty-seven years, launched the careers of Heath Ledger and Naomi Watts. “I got away with a lot more over there. Then I came here”—to film 2010’s Ca$h—”and sort of started over.”
A shared dialect coach introduced Hemsworth to Pataky; nine months later, he popped the question, sort of. “We did it all backwards—agreed to get married before I actually proposed.” So even that part wasn’t scary. Having kids, though—he has a 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 9-monthold twins—that scared him. “Just not screwing it up,” he says, revealing the first sign of being a good father: worrying about whether you’re a good father.
How quickly can you change a diaper?
“I’m good, man. Depends on how messy it is. Sometimes you gotta give ’em a hose-down.”
We’re two minutes into the bike ride, with Damon in his Tesla sedan leading us to the trailhead, driving silently alongside as we pedal. He leans his head out the window. “You guys bring water? I totally forgot to get you some water.”
“I would have been okay if you hadn’t said water,” replies Hemsworth. “Now I’m dying of thirst.” We arrive at Will Rogers State Historic Park, and Hemsworth thanks Damon for the navigation. “If we’re not back at your place in two hours, call the paramedics.”
We start up the trail. We’re facing a big climb. I know I’m in trouble when I look to my right and see Hemsworth is already sweating. Nothing “too crazy,” my ass.
Who would win in a fight: you or a kangaroo?
Hemsworth is keenly aware that his bio—the bush life, the surfing, the buffalo-hunting dad—make his upbringing sound “like I tick every box on the Crocodile Dundee form.” He thinks it makes him seem more macho than he really is. “Kangaroo. Absolutely. It would kick you in the face. A lot. They lean back on their tails and double-kick. That’s how they fight each other in the wild.”
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get into character?
He’s not a Method guy. His philosophy, cribbed from Anthony Hopkins on the set of Thor, is “Don’t bring it home. Don’t even bring it to the makeup trailer.” That’s not to say he hasn’t endured some intense physical prep, most recently limiting himself to 500 calories a day on the set of Ron Howard’s upcoming whaling saga, In the Heart of the Sea, to achieve that emaciated castaway look. But the craziest thing Hemsworth’s done to get into character was sit in Michael Mann’s office and learn to type. For ten weeks.
It was for this month’s Blackhat, a cyber-crime thriller. Hemsworth plays the most ripped, ass-kicking-est hacker since, well, ever, released from jail in order to help the FBI track down a cyber-sociopath. Mann enlisted a UCLA-based hacking expert to show Hemsworth how to code. First, though, the expert had to teach him to type, since Hemsworth was strictly a hunt-and-peck guy. “It reminded me of being back in school. He hated school. “But it was Mann’s suggestion, so I wasn’t going to not do it.”
When’s the last time you used a hammer from this earthly realm?
“Two or three weeks ago. I repaired a little tree house.” This was for his daughter, on the grounds of their new home: a reported $7 million eight-bedroom seaside estate overlooking the Brita-clear waters of Byron Bay, on Australia’s east coast. That’s where Hemsworth tightened gaps in a tree-house rope bridge so his daughter wouldn’t fall through. DIY runs in his blood—his father built several of Hemsworth’s childhood houses—but it’s diluted. “I’ll go, ’We don’t need to call anyone; I’ll do it.’ And I’ll do a s* job—like, the Homer Simpson version—and then I’ll call someone else to redo it. My desire is more powerful than my talent.”
Rank these films from most preferred to least:
“Shawshank, Mad Max, Reservoir Dogs, Big Lebowski, The Notebook, then Liam. Nothing against Liam. I love Liam—I just haven’t seen his late films.” He didn’t hate The Notebook, either. “It was solid. I need to do a romance, something where I’m not swinging a weapon and beating someone up.”
We’re still chugging up that hill, probably about ten minutes into the ride. It’s getting hotter. I look over at Hemsworth, sweating hard, too. Then I catch a lucky break: Hemsworth’s pedal snaps off.
We decide we should at least try to fix the thing. We find a wrench in one of those dangly under-seat stash packs, and Hemsworth gets to work, kneeling in the dirt on the side of the trail, trying his damnedest to re-attach the pedal.
Hikers pass. Mountain bikers. A group of teens being led on a nature walk. No one recognizes Hemsworth or stops to ask if we need help. Seems that in the realm of the Pacific Palisades, mortals let the gods handle their own misfortunes. After about ten minutes, Hemsworth declares the pedal’s time of death. “You wanna get some breakfast?” he asks. “Maybe find a diner?”
What’s the last thing that you punched, and why?
Hemsworth does a lot of boxing and some Muay Thai, mostly for the cardio. (He hates running.) “But I’ve been in situations where I’m f**ing angry, and drunk, and I think, ’This is the perfect time to punch the wall.’ But then there’s this practical side of me that’s like, ’Well, hang on now, pick a soft spot. Don’t know if there’s a beam under here.’ So I think the last thing I punched was probably the pads.”
Do you protect your little brother?
Hemsworth and his two brothers are tight, their age differences serving as a natural—if not gentle—Hollywood mentoring program. Luke is 34, Chris is 31, and Liam is 24. Liam has been in L.A. nearly as long as Chris—originally flown in by Marvel to screen-test for the role of Thor. He didn’t get the gig, obviously, but has managed to console himself with a starring role in the Hunger Games saga, a (now broken) engagement to Miley Cyrus, and legit teen-heartthrob status.
“I’ve watched Liam do things I did at his age, like being in relationships he shouldn’t be in, or being reckless just to prove a point. And I had no empathy. My mom had to remind me I was the same way.” In his defense Hemsworth says he got plenty of sh* from Luke when he was starting out—and that it may have saved his career.
“Back when I was still on the soap, I became incredibly insecure and full of anxiety because I didn’t know if I was any good. Yet I wanted it so bad. I spent years being angsty, constantly telling people I wasn’t just part of a soap opera, that I was a real artist. And I remember Luke sort of snapping, telling me to shut up, that he was sick of hearing it.” He credits Luke for pulling him out of his head and making him a less self-conscious actor. That, and Dancing with the Stars. Hemsworth competed on the Aussie version in 2006, finishing fifth. “After that show, I could never pull the serious, self-important card again.”
What’s your drink of choice?
Vodka-soda. “I was out in Australia recently and someone was like, ’Please tell me when you want a real drink.’ I was just like, ’Oh, shut up. Really?’ “
Can you tie a complicated sailing knot?
This one should be a cinch. The whole cast of In the Heart of the Sea underwent a month of nautical training. Everyone except Hemsworth, who was shooting Blackhat. Ironically, Hemsworth plays first mate Owen Chase, the most gifted, able-bodied sailor on the Essex (a.k.a. the real-life whaling vessel that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick). “There are plenty of scenes with me just wrapping rope around my hand to look like I’m busy. It’s smoke and mirrors.”
After one too many bush-league maritime gaffes on set, Hemsworth felt he had something to prove. When time came to shoot one of the movie’s most waterlogged scenes—in which Hemsworth’s whaleboat is flipped and submerged—he declined his stunt captain’s advice to use nose plugs. “This was in front of a few people. I was like, ’No, dude, I’ve surfed my whole life. I can do this.’ I get out there, and it wasn’t fine. It was so much water up my nose that I was choking. But I couldn’t say, ’Oh, you were right,’ because I’d already made a thing of it. So I suffered through a number of takes, upside down, basically being waterboarded.”
Should a guy know how to take a selfie? And if so, what’s the best way?
“Depends what you mean by a ’selfie.’ Can a selfie contain multiple selves?” He avoids the solo shot: “a little indulgent.” But being asked to pose for pictures by an onslaught of fans is a job hazard that’s forced him to develop a technique.
“People don’t know how to use their cameras, so I end up going, ’Here, mate, let me do it.’ So, yeah, I know how to take a selfie for that reason. Efficiency. Otherwise, I’d lose a few years of my life while people figure it out.” That patent-pending Hemsworth method: “On the iPhone, use the volume button on the side, as opposed to awkwardly reaching around to tap the front of the screen.”
Who is more manly, you as Thor or Matt Damon as Bourne?
“I wear a wig,” he says, conceding defeat.
We never get to that diner. Damon won’t hear of it, insisting we have breakfast at his place instead. He brews some coffee (well, puts pods into a machine, the Hollywood version of brewing coffee) while Hemsworth makes pancakes. He plates two for me and two for himself. Damon passes—he’s drinking a shake to drop weight for a Ridley Scott movie that has him trapped on Mars.
“Pretty good, right?” Hemsworth says, digging into the pancakes. “Not burnt, not mushy in the center.”
“Today started with me introducing you to my friend, then a bike ride, then cooking you pancakes,” Hemsworth says. “I think this is the most romantic interview I’ve ever done.” Man enough to admit it, gentleman enough to pull it off.