To draw a Venn diagram of Chris Hemsworth’s fan base, you’d have to begin with a very large circle to represent the hundreds of millions of moviegoers who’ve enjoyed his four (and counting!) appearances as Thor. He’d worked prior to the first Thor‘s 2011 release, of course-most notably on a soap called Home and Away in his native Australia, although he also had a small role as Kirk’s dad in the 2009 Star Trek. But as the 32-year-old actor admits in his almost comically sexy baritone, “Everything after came from Thor. I don’t know if I’d have been in The Huntsman if it hadn’t been for Thor.”
Next, since he mentioned it, let’s sketch a smaller circle to symbolize the Snow White and the Huntsman diehards, although it’s not totally clear if even Hemsworth himself is a member of this group. The follow-up to the 2012 fantasy is forthcoming this spring, and though he enthusiastically describes the Snow White-free prequel, he also stresses that The Huntsman will be “more fun” than the original. “I wanted there to be more humor in it,” he says, “and a sense of adventure; we didn’t want it to be too bogged down in being serious or self-important. It’s a love story, essentially, between the Huntsman and his wife, who’s played by Jessica Chastain, but it’s also a road-trip movie. They team up and take off, them and a couple of dwarfs, on a quest.”
His promise of adventure is, one assumes, meant to summon the Avengers crowd. But such talk of romance is likely calculated to call forth another rather enormous contingent: those who are familiar with the term “Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Three” but are also enthralled by what, at this point, could almost be considered Hemsworth’s other oeuvre, the ever-expanding collection of paparazzi photos-and, courtesy of his gorgeous wife Elsa Pataky’s Instagram account, personal ones-featuring the actor swimming, surfing, biking, and, most beguilingly, carrying his daughter, India, age three, and/or his twin sons, Tristan and Sasha, nearly two.
It’s this last set who celebrated when the strapping, 6’3″ blond was cast as the receptionist in next summer’s female-led Ghostbusters reboot, and they’re the ones costar Kristen Wiig speaks for when she says, “We all just loved being around him. He talked about his family so fondly. He did show up every day shirtless and tried to lift people’s trailers to show off, but none of us minded.”
Jokes aside, Wiig says that Hemsworth’s often-improvised comic contributions were “very funny…so natural and specific,” which is especially impressive considering how far he was out of his lane. The majority of his non-Marvel roles have involved enormous amounts of preparation, from racing lessons (for Ron Howard’s ’70s-set Formula One biopic, Rush) to computer classes (for Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller, Blackhat) to sailing instruction (for this month’s In the Heart of the Sea, the true story of the 1820 shipwreck-by-whale that inspired Moby-Dick).
Hemsworth first read the In the Heart of the Sea script six years ago, shortly after he and his little brother, Liam-also an actor, also rather handsome-decided to try their luck in Los Angeles. Chris considers it “insane” that two Melbourne-born sons of a schoolteacher and a social-services counselor have both “come across” (which is apparently code for “become world-famous”), although he does enjoy having “someone to chat [about it] with.” For Hemsworth, the new film has been something of a passion project; he brought it to Howard, who agreed to direct, and who says that “Chris was born to play [the film’s] classic American hero, whose sense of place and purpose is challenged on the most elemental level.”
Cynics may see the film-which details not only the destruction of the boat but the subsequent starvation of the ship’s crew-as his bid to finally swell the “dramatic actor” circle. But, as he wears it, it sure doesn’t read like overt angling for an Oscar. He volunteers that the famished cast spent their on-deck downtime “talking about food all day, Googling pictures of hamburgers.” As he says, with a laugh, “A real tough bunch of players, weren’t we?” Not quite Method, to be sure, but to judge by the results-a genuinely gripping performance, even if the sight of his slowly wasting body seems, well, a bit of a waste-he’s doing okay.
This article originally appears in the December 2015 issue of ELLE.