By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Chris Hemsworth seems to have an affinity for four letter movie titles. Before his star-making turn as the Norse thunder god in “Thor,” he starred opposite Sean Bean in 2010’s independent crime thriller “Ca$h.” He now plays legendary British Formula 1 racer and notorious ladies’ man James Hunt in the high-octane biopic “Rush.”
Some four-letter words that could be used to describe Hemsworth in “Rush”: sexy, bold, fast, real—you get the idea.
The handsome actor stars opposite Spanish-born German actor Daniel Bruhl, who plays his main adversary Niki Lauda on the Formula 1 circuit circa 1976. The two compete (with other drivers, of course) in a series of edge-of-your-seat races around the globe for the right to be called the No. 1 Formula 1 racer in the world. The courses are deadly and the guys know it. Hemsworth’s Hunt lives his life on the edge both on and off the circuit—partying and bedding beautiful women when he’s not risking his life at top speed.
The 30-year-old reveals he was more fearful of filming the nude scenes than the action sequences. He also can relate to the up and downside of fame. After all, he’s been in the public spotlight in his native Australia since he was a teenager. This Fall turns out to be a big deal for Hemsworth, who reprises his superhero role in “Thor: The Dark World,” due out Nov. 8.
Q: Did you just learn about Formula 1 racing for the movie or were you a fan before?
Hemsworth: Daniel (Bruhl) was a big fan and knew a lot about it. It didn’t really exist in my realm of activities or whatever growing up. My dad used to race motorbikes and so that was kind of part of my world. But Formula 1 was new to me. All my research ended up being right in the ‘70s, around this particular period. Before and after, I don’t have much knowledge of. But I certainly fell in love with that period and that season and these characters and this sport at that time. It was right at the height of the glamour and the glory, and the risks people would get swept up in. It was a pretty special period.
Q: Did you learn to drive?
Hemsworth: I did. I did about four weeks of driving. Through the nature of the shoot, we ended up doing a lot more than we’d anticipated, driving. It was a fast-paced shoot and a limited amount of days so everything was grab what we could, when we could. There were days when I’d jump in the car and do a couple of laps and Anthony Dod Mantle, the DP (director of photography), would mount cameras all over the car and in the helmet and we’d whip around. It was great.
Q: Did you go really fast?
Hemsworth: No. The (stuntmen) would but not us. We went fast enough to certainly appreciate these things and to know that this could go terribly wrong in a second, but no, not to the extent of these guys. It wasn’t worth risking our lives.
Q: What was the scariest part of making “Rush?”
Hemsworth: Probably the nude scenes. They were more intimidating than the racing stuff. I love this script and this story and it was intimidating to walk into because you were playing a real life icon and there are a lot of opinions on how it should be done and who he was and what he was about. But I kind of took the attitude of what James did, which was to disregard the various opinions and just go for it and do it my way. I immersed myself in all the research I could but, at the end of the day, I just had to do my version of it.
Q: After “Thor,” you were pretty buff. How did you lose muscle for this role?
Hemsworth: A lot of running and a limited amount of food. We had such a short period to do it in. It’s one thing to burn fat. You change your diet (and) eat healthy, but for this I had to lose muscle, which is almost where you have to go to a state where your body starts to eat itself. That’s pretty graphic but you over-train and under-eat. Your body burns through the fat first and then starts burning through the muscle for fuel. That gets pretty uncomfortable. It’s lead to a pretty moody existence unfortunately.
Q: James used to behave in a way that was idolized and not condemned. Would you agree?
Hemsworth: Yeah, I think in that period, I wasn’t obviously around in the ‘70s, but from the sounds of things and the research we did, it was a little more acceptable, that kind of behavior. Now, you wouldn’t get away with it. Even then, people thought it was unacceptable. But I think why he got away with it is because he did it with such honesty. Even with relationships that fell apart and didn’t work, you’d expect to have that comment about him but that was just James. He wasn’t hiding anything. Take it or leave it.
Q: What was some of the advice that people gave you about playing the role?
Hemsworth: I remember going to an event two days before we started shooting and it was a kickoff sort of thing with a bunch of guys who drove against James or people who worked in the industry and knew Niki. I said, “Oh this is going to be fun.” It was the worst thing I could of done because I had so many people say, “You’ve got to get the accent down. You don’t sound like him,” and I’m like, “I’m not on set yet. I’m not doing the accent.” “He walked like this and he said this. I heard you were going do this in the script. That’s not true. It was more like this.” All of a sudden you go, “where’s my focus? It’s too many avenues to try and hit here.” But they all contradict each other anyway. One person would say one thing absolute and the other person would say the complete opposite about him. Even for my own sanity, but more so for the truth of the character, we just had to have his approach to life which was to disregard outside opinions and go for it. What do you believe? It was great. It was a good life lesson and a good way to approach any character, I think. But just about life and not getting caught up in the various opinions.
Q: So you did it the way James would have done it?
Hemsworth: I think so. I wanted to imply that certainly. Through the film, that was a constant reminder. The more I read about him or heard about him, it would reinforce that I had to do it my way.
Q: Was it hard to reduce yourself from the muscular figure you play in “The Avengers” to a racecar driver?
Hemsworth: Yeah, it was. I couldn’t reduce my height, obviously, so I had to narrow myself. Truthfully, James had a hard time getting into the car. He was 6-foot-2 and was always complaining about the cockpit being too small and too tight and adjusting the seat. We’d just sweat it off. We had such a limited amount of time to do it so it was exhausting.
Q: Were you cocky like James when you were younger?
Hemsworth: I was more so before I got into acting and once I started working more. Then you become far more self-conscious about things. Doing this film was a nice reminder to stay true to yourself. We throw that around a lot but there’s something, especially having a kid myself and observing that kind of freedom that they have and ownership of their environment, I’d like to think it was all part of the learning lesson that came at a good time in my life.
Q: Is the sexiness involved something that you want to take back into your work?
Hemsworth: I don’t think anyone, certainly not me, had quite the adventures he had. When I lived in Sydney, I was doing a TV show and I was 19, and it was all the fun and craziness of that age and that time of my life. It was so fast. I remember all of a sudden, I was on TV five nights a week and I was everywhere and all the fame and craziness that comes with it. I kind of remember back to that period and remember this great amount of excitement, but (also) being scared out of my mind half the time. I can relate to what these guys are going to on the track and as celebrities. They were kind of rock stars of their time. Even if you weren’t a Formula 1 fan, people were swept up in the glamour of it.
Q: You have been quoted as saying that Matt Damon gave you the advice to be boring.
Hemsworth: (He laughs.) Yeah, we were talking about fame and whatever and avoiding tabloids and paparazzi and that sort of thing. I said, “You do a good job at it, how do you?” and he said, “Some people are just a target and others aren’t. If you’re not falling out of a club at 4 a.m. with various women on your arms and you lead a pretty boring lifestyle, from a magazine point of view, you can skip some of it. It’s not something you can fake, anyway. I think you either are that type of person or you’re not. Both of us tend to be very family-oriented, and it keeps us out of trouble.