Chris Hemsworth is not the sort of man one imagines being beset by insecurity. The buff, blond 32-year-old star of Thor, The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman is the highest paid Australian actor in Hollywood. According to Forbes magazine, he earned $27 million last year, making him the 15th best paid star in the world. And yet this surprisingly sensitive soul is riddled with self-doubt.
“I have trouble with the idea of it continuing,” he frowns, on an unseasonably hot afternoon in Los Angeles. He looks tanned, relaxed, and 100% alpha, in T-shirt, jeans and an array of leather man-jewellery. “When you haven’t done anything yet, the sky’s the limit. But then, things start happening and films work, or films don’t work, and you realise the instability.”
Hemsworth is sitting in a trailer on the Universal Studios lot – an extremely well-appointed trailer with a microwave, fireplace and sound system – “If I didn’t have kids who come with me on location, I could live in one of these,” observes the father-of-three with a cheeky smile. “Every time I’m on a film, and have a really nice trailer, I think I should just pocket the housing allowance and sleep in that.”
There’s an obvious segue from today’s trailer to his first acting role a decade ago, in Australian soap Home and Away, set around a caravan park. He has come a long way from Summer Bay.
Born in Melbourne, one of three fine fraternal specimens of masculinity (elder brother Luke, 35, and younger brother Liam, 26, are also actors), Hemsworth spent large parts of his childhood in the parched outback of Australia’s Northern Territory where his mother, Leonie, was a teacher and his father, Craig, worked for child protection services.
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The relative isolation fuelled their sons’ imaginations. “We had a TV, but there was no reception,” Hemsworth recalls. “About once a month, when deliveries were brought to the community, one of the drivers might bring us a VHS tape. I watched Terminator when I was far too young to be watching it. But we also read a lot of books, and travelled a lot, and I always got a sense of adventure from that.”
As a teenager, Hemsworth’s ambitions fluctuated frequently. “Every week, I wanted to be something different — a pro-boxer, or a 100-metre sprinter. I had all these wild, obsessive dreams and fantasies, which my parents would encourage... and laugh at.”
As he was finishing high school, the dream became acting. “I did this four-week acting course that my brother Luke recommended. I said: ‘That’s it, I’m going to Hollywood.’” He laughs at his own youthful confidence.
He won a part on Home and Away, spending three years as the hunky high school dropout Kim Hyde. While it wasn’t quite Hollywood, there were role models who had paved the way. “Heath Ledger was a few years older than me, and he’d done a stint on Home and Away. I thought, well, Heath did it, I can do it.”
He made his own move to LA in 2007 and landed a role in JJ Abrams’s Star Trek. But then followed eight months of unemployment. "I had dealt with a lot of anxiety and doubts in the first couple of years on Home and Away, and that started to creep back in," he admits, rubbing his palms across his fashionable smattering of stubble. And LA is not an easy place to overcome anxiety. "You're reminded every second of what you're not doing. I found it toxic."
Hemsworth married the Spanish model and actress Elsa Pataky in 2010, with whom he now has a daughter, India Rose, almost 4, and two-year-old twin boys Tristan and Sasha. But the couple found family life in LA a challenge. “You’d go for a surf and be getting changed in the car park, and someone would be trying to shoot a photo up your towel,” he laments. “The paps became a bigger thing once we had kids – they scared me.”
18 months ago, the family upped sticks to Byron Bay in New South Wales. “It’s the best place in the world,” he beams. “We can walk out of the front door onto the beach – it’s the dream.”
However dreamy, though, it’s a significant distance from the focus of the film industry. Does he worry that the move might hamper his career opportunities?
“No, the technology now has made it all so much easier. And when I do come into town, there’s a different energy that I feel. I’m excited to be here as opposed to feeling suffocated by it.”
Dropping into LA also allows him to see his brothers, who are both based in the city. As a threesome they, “fall pretty much into the roles you would expect – you know, the younger brother doing all the things that younger brothers do...” grins Hemsworth, referring to Liam, the least tabloid shy of the brothers who has recently rekindled his engagement to Disney star turned scantily clad pop star Miley Cyrus.
Do they give one another advice? “On specific things, yes. But we don’t try to tell each other how to act — that would not be welcomed."
Hemsworth is back in Hollywood to promote The Huntsman: Winter’s War (in cinemas from Monday 4 April), a prequel of sorts to the 2012 hit Snow White and the Huntsman. This time around, there’s a new director, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who was Oscar-nominated for visual effects on the first film), a new female co-star in the form of Jessica Chastain, and a new tone to the movie.
“I felt very strongly that it needed to have more of a sense of adventure and fun,” he explains of the slightly new direction. “It’s in the vein of films I grew up on, like The Princess Bride, Willow and The NeverEnding Story.”
Though these days, he is a bona fide film star – with the Thor franchise still going strong – Hemsworth is keen to find more of the smaller character roles that have proven his acting mettle. “Rush was one of my favourite things I’ve ever done,” he enthuses. Directed by Ron Howard, Hemsworth played British Formula 1 driver James Hunt, and pulled off not only the well-bred accent but also managed to make the womanising Hunt entirely likeable.
He was less happy with last year’s collaboration with Ron Howard, In the Heart of the Sea, the story of the sinking of a 19th-century whaling ship. Hemsworth played the ship’s First Mate, Owen Chase, a role for which he had to slim down significantly, enduring a strict 500-calorie-a-day diet in the final weeks before shooting.
"I spent so much energy trying to lose weight that I do feel something was missing just out of pure exhaustion,” he says of his performance. “I would have done things a little differently if I’d had more brain power. If I’d been fed.”
While Hemsworth’s looks have not exactly held him back, his obvious attributes must surely count him out of the running for particular roles. “There are certainly things I’ve wanted to go up for which I’ve been totally wrong for, physically,” he agrees. “And I normally lie about my height [6ft 3in] and say I’m shorter,” he confesses. “But it can go two ways. The brief for the audition for Thor said: must be over 6ft 1in, which I’d never seen before!”
I quiz him about his tattoos: running down the outside of his right forearm is a series of letters, the initials of his wife and children, and there’s a curious little character from the Dr Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go on the inside of his beefy left bicep.
“I loved his books as a kid, and I read them to my kids now,” Hemsworth says, of the incongruous inking. “And... I don’t know, I thought I’d put the most ridiculous child-like tattoo on the most masculine part of my body.”