Few actors in Hollywood have as much of a sense of humor about themselves as Chris Hemsworth. If you need any proof, just look at the Ghostbusters remake and the criminally under-appreciated comedy Vacation. But most of the world has gotten to know him as the titular character in Thor. Though it may be hard to believe for a leading man as jacked as Hemsworth, the sort of actor who is as much of a fixture on muscle magazines as professional athletes, the role almost didn’t go to him, but to his younger brother Liam. The way Hemsworth tells it, his audition had gone so badly, he didn’t hear back from producers for months while his brother was called in several times for the part. Eventually, a little sibling rivalry kicked in, and, when he was finally called back, he scored the role. The rest, as they say, is history. In an interview for W‘s Royals portfolio, Hemsworth recalls his start in acting, and pokes fun at his brother’s sometimes gratuitous Instagram posts.
What was the first thing you auditioned for in your whole career?
The first thing I auditioned for would have been a commercial. I did a lot of commercial auditions and I remembered walking in and having to tell them about myself and who I am, where I’m from. None of it was very interesting, obviously, because I never got those jobs. And, the first job I booked was a famous Australian TV show called Neighbors. Basically, one of the lead characters had been robbed in the café and I had to come in and say, ‘What’s going on? Quick. Call the police.’ And that was my big moment.
And then didn’t you have a regular gig on Neighbors?
I had a regular gig on another soap opera, the sort of rival soap opera to that one, Home and Away. I did that for three and a half years, which was great. Spent a lot of time on the beach and went through every melodramatic tragedy that one can go through—plane crashes and fires and robberies and landslides. All sorts of ridiculous things would happen to my character. I had three different kids. All three kids with three different women across that show. I was 19 on the show for three years, five days a week. I just never aged.
Did your mother and father watch you?
My mother and father watched the show for a little bit I think. I mean, it’s the show that’s on in everyone’s lounge room at dinner time. So you become kind of part of the family or there’s an ownership they have to you, you know? So being in public after being on that show, there’s a big lack of boundaries with people because they’d run up and grab you in a headlock and say, ‘Hey, we watch the show and saw you last night. Give us a photo and do this and do that.’
Did you have an itch to move to America or were you happy? Were you always thinking about things, as many Australian actors do, in Los Angeles?
I was. It was during high school, I kind of had a different idea every week of what I wanted to do and most of it was motivated by getting out of the neighborhood I was in and not being stuck in some job I didn’t enjoy. We grew up with very little money and that kind of frustrated me as a kid listening to my parents talk about bills every week and sort of seeing the sort of weight that put on them. I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m gonna make money and pay off their house.’ So I thought, ‘I’ll be an actor,’ and very naively kind of ran into that world and started auditioning. Then I love film, but I didn’t have any sort of experience or great knowledge with acting and kind of learned on the fly and learned on the job and got a few lucky breaks. It was great and eventually did pay off my parents house and then kind of went, ‘What do I do now?’ But I think I unconsciously loved acting.
So tell me my favorite story, which is when you auditioned for Thor because I would have thought that you walked into the room and they said, ‘Okay. That’s it. We’re done. He’s the guy. There can’t be anybody better than this.’ But that’s not what happened.
I remembered reading the breakdown for Thor and it said, ‘Must be over 6’3″ and 200 pounds,’ and so on. I thought, ‘Oh cool. This is the one thing that sort of fits me.’ Most of the time, I’d have to lie about my height and say I was a little shorter and so on. I’d only get cast or auditioned for the football player or something. So I thought, ‘Great. This is up my alley.’ I came into the audition with Kenneth Branagh and thought I nailed it and then never heard anything back. Months went by and then my brother, my little brother, Liam, was in Australia and sent a tape across and he got a call back, then another call back and then was down to the last kind of four or five people for it. I remember sitting in Vancouver, shooting Cabin in the Woods with Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. Both of them were looking at the trades at this sort of top five guys for Thor and saying, ‘Why aren’t you in the mix here? What happened?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I blew my audition I guess.’ None of those guys got it. My manager then called up and said, ‘You know, he’s got an older brother. Can we bring him back in?’ So I did an audition in Vancouver in this hotel room with my mum reading Anthony Hopkins’ part. She must have nailed it because it got me back in the room and that second audition was a lot different than my first one. I came in kind of with a little, I guess, motivation and maybe frustration that my little brother had gotten further than me. It’s a little family, sibling rivalry sort of kicked up in me. Then it moved pretty quick from there. It was cool.
Do you have his hammer? When I interviewed Chris Evans, he’s got Captain America’s shield and stuff in the house. You’ve got boys. Have they experienced the hammer?
I do have the hammer at home. Because each film each director sort of alters it a little bit, so I’ve got a couple of them. They’re a little heavy for me kids to pick it up, but one of my boys in particular is obsessed with Thor and the whole world. The other two are like, ‘Yeah. Dad’s Thor. Whatever,’ but my son, Tristan, jumps off the kitchen bench on a daily basis. He yells all sorts of motivating warrior cries and so on. I come home from work and he’s like, ‘Papa, did you fight the monsters? Did you beat up the monsters?’
Then I heard another great story that you have to tell, that Natalie Portman couldn’t make a re-shoot, so your wife, Elsa Pataky was Natalie.
That’s right. We were in Hong Kong doing re-shoots for Thor and I was actually shooting something else at the time and then I had to do this re-shoot. So we got called in and I get to the studio. The director comes up to me and he says, ‘So, basically, it’s just final kiss of the movie. You have to kiss Natalie, but she’s not here, so we brought in these girls.’ He said, ‘I know this sounds awful or whatever, but he said, ‘Do you want to pick one? Who do you want to kiss?’ And they had these young ladies who were all wonderful and I said, ‘My wife’s around the corner. Let’s get her in and she’s the same height and I won’t have to explain to her what I’ve been doing at work from having to kiss someone else.’ So she came in and that’s the final kiss in that movie is between my wife and I.
Do you have any secret skills that we don’t know about? Like somebody the other day said they were good at baking. Like somebody, a man, went on and on about how good a sewer they are…
Well, it’s funny you should say sewing because as kid, I had a real sort of interest in sewing. I think it’s because I couldn’t afford any cool clothes, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna make them myself.’ I remember doing cross stitch and for whatever reason, anything for me as a kid, I had a lot of trouble kind of focusing on one task and sitting still. I was pretty active. But anything really detailed where I had to sort of physically and mentally be involved and anything could hold my attention was a big plus for my parents, in particular. For some reason, cross stitch was one that I enjoyed. Then I remembered buying or getting sort of patterns for clothing and trying to make pants and things. I don’t think that went very far. I think I might have sewed a leg together or something. But there was a period when I was like, ‘I’m gonna be a designer!’ As I said before, I had a different idea every week of what I wanted to do professionally. Then the next day, it was like, ‘I’m gonna be a professional boxer,’ and then the next day it was like, ‘I’m gonna be a lawyer or a doctor.’ I’d see movies and be inspired by things. I guess that’s why acting fits because I get to pretend to be all those things with no great amount of risk or effort. I don’t have to do a seven year law degree to be a lawyer in a movie, you know?
Your brother was in this movie where he had clothes made for him, The Dressmaker. There’s a totally gratuitous scene where he’s just standing there basically naked.
For the whole scene. I know. Shameful. That was probably his idea.
Well, he just posted a picture of himself that’s very revealing the other day.
I saw that. What did he say? He used ice baths and short shorts. I was looking for the hidden sort of message in there, Liam. That sounds like a Friday night after you’ve had a few beers kind of Instagram post, doesn’t it? And you wake up Saturday and go, ‘No, I didn’t, did I?’