Chris Hemsworth Trades Hammer for Keyboard in ‘Blackhat’

Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Chris Hemsworth, who plays the heroic thunder god Thor in the “Avengers” movie franchise, says he considers cyber security experts to be the superheroes of the real world.

“They’re highly intelligent and have this advanced-type knowledge,” the Aussie actor explains.

Hemsworth, 31, became acquainted with some of these so-called whitehat computer-programming experts when he was preparing for his role in the new cyber crime drama “Blackhat.” In it, he plays an imprisoned computer hacker, who is called upon by the government to track down a cyberterrorist who already has hacked into a Chinese nuclear plant’s computer system and is threatening to wreck more havoc.

Hemsworth’s Nick Hathaway is joined by a team of programmers and law enforcement types (played by Viola Davis, Tang Wei and Wang Leehom) that have to use their advanced cyber-sleuthing skills to track down the mysterious hacker, even if it means bending the rules. The result is a cat-and-mouse chase through four countries and find him before time runs out.

Directed by Michael Mann from a script by Morgan Davis Foehl, the action thriller couldn’t be more timely in light of the recent Sony Pictures hack attack and other hacking incidents making international headlines.

“Chris’ enthusiasm for the kind of immersive immersion into the character that took him to Statesville Prison (in Illinois), and the blast furnaces at U.S. Steel one morning, and his willingness to kind of lose himself in the moment,” observes the noted director of classic crime thrillers like “Heat” and “The Insider.”

Hemsworth, who reprises his Thor character later this year in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” spoke about why he was attracted to the antihero role in “Blackhat” and what he learned about the growing threat cyber crime.[private]

Q: Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Hemsworth: Michael Mann. He is one of my favorite filmmakers. I grew up watching his films so even before I read the script, I was diving into the project. Then I read the script. It certainly wasn’t a subject that I’d done onscreen, and in my life it also was new. I had limited knowledge about the cyber world. It fascinated me. A couple of years ago, these things did exist—all the things that are in the news now. It was as public. The idea that we are vulnerable as the film talks about is something I wanted to learn more about, and jump into that opportunity.

Q: What’s your favorite Michael Mann movie?

Hemsworth: “Blackhat.” (He laughs.) Uh, “The Last of the Mohicans.”

Q: What did you learn from the cyber experts? Is there something you can use in your personal life that you learned from these guys?

Hemsworth: Learning how to write code and understanding the brain of the computer was new to me. I asked one of the guys, “knowing what you know,” because it became evident pretty quick that the majority of us knew nothing compared to what these guys knew, “you exist behind the curtain, and you see behind the curtain, do you look at the world differently? Do you feel you have the upper hand?” And he just started laughing. He said, “Man, people have no idea how exposed they are, how vulnerable they are and what’s possible. And that’s it. That’s the power now, not just in the criminal world but anywhere. These cyber crime fighters are regarded as the superheroes. They impressed me every day, and I’d pick up a lot of things.

Q: Since you’re committed to several more pictures where you play Thor and have to keep your body in great physical shape, did that inform your character in this? Hathaway’s philosophy is to train both his body as well as his mind while in prison.

Hemsworth: Once I’m done with Thor, I get rid of that bulk and that size because it sort of screams that character. In my training for this, instead of just running on the treadmill and trying to get rid of the weight, mainly I built in some martial arts and I boxed a lot in the past and did a lot of Muay Thai (martial arts). Michael and I talked about the amount of time (Hathaway) spent in prison. You go in one person and come out another. Through that experience, he was going to be able to physically handle himself, whether that was from the background he grew up in or not, but certainly what he experiences in prison.

Q: How did you find your American accent for this?

Hemsworth: We’d spent a couple of days in Chicago. There were endless conversations between Michael and I and working with dialect coaches and it became more an offshoot than anything else. There was the structural sound to it and the phonetics and what have you. The way this guy spoke and the rhythm to his speech, we picked up things from friends of Michael’s in Chicago. Also, we went to certain prisons and spoke with people and picked up on how guys in prison speak, and there’s a certain rhythm and bounce, and that indicated it. I had dialect coaches but Michael was my kind of guide. He’s from the place and he knew what he was after.

Q: You spent 66 days in 74 locations in four countries (U.S., Malaysia, Hong Kong/China, Indonesia) making this film. What did you like about shooting on location?

Hemsworth: You could shoot in a back lot in L.A. somewhere and mark it up or put it against a green screen, which I’ve done plenty of times over the years. But you get a visceral, physical response to being in those (real) places. The sights, and the sounds and the smells really bring something else out in you. You don’t have to fake it or imagine it. It’s there. And it becomes as much an actor you bounce off as the other people you’re working with. It was such a treat to work in those places. They were loud and noisy and I remember sometimes the sound guys were worried about the noise, but Michael said, “No, let’s just keep going. It’s great.” So (the film) sounds unlike anything else. It looks unlike anything else. I wish we could always shoot like that.[/private]