This is part 3 in Entertainment Weekly’s hero-a-day countdown to the debut of Avengers: Endgame.
“The Norwegian Exchange Student.”
That’s the perfect way Chris Hemsworth summarized Thor on the set of the first Avengers film.
The team also included class clown Iron Man, do-gooder Captain America, fearsome goth Black Widow, lumbering meathead Hulk, and Hawkeye the jock. But in this superpowered Breakfast Club, Hemsworth felt Thor was the Nordic outsider trying valiantly to fit in with the strange habits and customs of Midgard High.
In 2011’s first Thor movie, the thunder god was aloof and imperious, disdainful of everyone he regarded as lesser than him — which was everybody. As a result, he lost his power. He was no longer worthy of the mantle, and could no longer lift his mystical hammer Mjölnir, which could only be wielded by someone of pure heart.
But by the time of The Avengers in 2012, Hemsworth’s hero had learned to be a team player. With Avengers: Endgame hitting theaters this week, the actor says he finally found his groove as the 1,500-year-old deity by letting him go wild.
“There was a much clearer [sense of] who the character was the first time I played it, and then it slowly just became me screwing around and having fun,” Hemsworth told EW recently. “There’s more of me in the character now than ever… it starts to just come through whether we like it or not.”
Often, the Australian actor felt like he was playing catch-up with the God of Thunder. Cameras began rolling on The Avengers in 2011 just days after the first Thor movie hit theaters.
“It’s been a bit of a blur,” Hemsworth told EW on the set ofThe Avengers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “This last year has been kind of go, go, go. I haven’t had much time to stop and think about it.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How quick was the turnaround between finishing Thor and starting The Avengers?
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: We had the premiere about a week before I started shooting. I finished my press on Friday, and I started shooting Sunday. So, it didn’t leave a whole lot of prep time, which was difficult, you know? I had to do all my prep on the road, on the plane, while doing the tour. Which is not ideal, but it’s all worked out.
What do you understand now about Thor having gone through the first movie?
A lot. You kind of have an idea of the character because you’ve read the script, but until you’ve actually shot the scene… it usually turns out very different than how you first imagined it.
How do you mean?
Once you’ve lived in a character’s shoes, you just know him better. There’s a maturity to the character because of the journey he went on, certainly. He was a petulant sort of kid at the beginning of the film, by the end of it, hopefully, you walk away thinking that he is matured and there was a grounded quality to him that wasn’t there before.
How is it different now that Thor is part of a team. He seems like the go-it-alone type.
It’s probably more difficult. The harder stuff to do, I find, is big group scenes where you have to really work harder to be on top of what it is you want. You’re not there driving the scene, it really ends up being a back and forth, sort of ball game, between seven or eight people, instead of a two-hander, which is very intimate.
There’s more pressure in the sense that you don’t want to drop the ball for the rest of the team. I think you feel it more in these big group scenes. That said, you’re also surrounded by incredibly talented people, so that’s easier. There’s big personalities in these characters, and it’s interesting navigating your way through it all.
In most team movies, whether it’s The Dirty Dozen or Ocean’s 11, the characters each have a different skill set. How does that factor in with the actors?
For me, Robert Downey Jr. is kind of the godfather, because he started the whole Marvel thing with Iron Man. He’s a couple of films ahead of most of us with his franchise. I think he knows it better than anyone, but every one of them I’ve admired in many different ways. I feel like it’s like you’re back in high school. The first day of school, you sort of get to know everybody; working out who’s who and who fits into what role. It’s funny.
How would you describe the other personalities?
We’ve all sort of had different paths, and whether nominated for Academy Awards or done huge big successful films, or had great careers and consistent work… I can only speak for myself I guess, and I have an admiration for everybody.
I feel that I’m sort of the newest to the game, in the sense that I’ve been here the least amount of time — in this country, for starters. I’m not from here, and probably I’ve worked less than all of them. So, for me it’s a great experience being able to learn from each of them, and then see different approaches to the material and the work.
That’s how you fit into the real-life team, but how does Thor fit in with the other heroes?
[Laughs] There’s certainly moments where Thor says things and there’s a sideways glance from everybody. “What the hell is this guy talking about?” I think his motivation is much more of a personal one, in the sense that it’s his brother [Tom Hiddleston’s Loki] that is stirring things up. Whereas everyone else, it’s some bad guy who they’ve gotta take down. It’s a different approach for me, or for Thor. He’s constantly having to battle the greater good and what he should do vs. … it’s his little brother there.
He feels protective of him, even though Loki is the villain…
Sure, yeah. I think he’s the only one who has that personal investment. It’s a family member. I’ve been frustrated with my brothers at times, or family, but I’m the only one who is allowed to be angry at them. There’s a bit of that.
In Thor, he had a hard time relating to humans. He’s a god, after all. Is he still the outsider among this group of strangers?
He’s not quite the odd-one-out as much as he was in Thor, because these guys, one of them wears an iron suit, one of them turns into a big, green monster. [Laughs.] They all have these crazy personalities and alter egos. They’re all sort of quite lonely, in a sense. [Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon] was talking about this very early on, and it struck a key with me: That’s where they find their bond. In their individuality. They’re misfits, and that’s how they … fit.
In high school, Thor would be the big, strong…
The Norwegian exchange student [Laughs.] The dynamic really is like high school.
I wouldn’t add in the big handsome bit. Thanks for saying it, but I’ll sound like a dickhead if I say it.
Thor is starting to catch on more now, right?
I think Thor does get it. Having seen the [original] film now, he’s not stupid. He understands humor. He understands if someone is being sarcastic or being a smartass. So, you don’t want to play him. He’s not Tarzan, missing the point constantly. He has an odd opinion about it maybe, but he’s intelligent.
And is Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster a part of The Avengers?
No, she’s not involved, but it’s not also forgotten about. It’s taken care of. That beat, or whatever you want it to be, is acknowledged. I wondered how they were going to do that because she wasn’t in the film. We left the last one with Thor wanting to come back just for her.
One of those things where you come to town…
Yeah, and you didn’t call? You didn’t write? You didn’t text? [Laughs.]
What has it been like interacting with the fans, and going to events like Comic-Con, with people who know Thor’s history better than anyone?
I went first for Thor and then we had the Avengers all come out on stage, obviously. That was my first intro, the first kind of taste of what kind of world I had just stepped into — this dedicated, passionate fan group. You know, I felt: “Don’t mess it up.”
How much of a sci-fi or fantasy geek were you before?
That’s all I do, is comic books and fairy tales now. I just had a love of storytelling and fantasy, I think. Whether it would be books I had read or films… I grew up in a great environment for your imagination to run wild. I grew up in the bush, in Victoria, the Northern Territory, in an aboriginal community.
You were just outside all the time, and you would be off on little adventures and things. So that certainly instilled that in me from a pretty young age. I didn’t have a specific; I wasn’t necessarily a dedicated Star Trek or Star Wars fan or whatever. If I watched those films, which I did as a kid, I just enjoyed them. I wasn’t signing up for any sort of club membership.
Did you collect action figures?
No, we were building big swords and sticks and things and literally bow and arrows. We had all sorts of weapons as kids that my parents would have to confiscate at times because of fear that we’d kill each other. That’s a slingshot… There were a few close calls, yeah.
Is it interesting seeing yourself as a kid’s toy now?
You know, I’m always getting sent Thor things from people — memorabilia and stuff. I can’t really hang that around my house, because it starts to look a little wanky, doesn’t it? If I’ve just decorated my stuff in my own work or something, it gets a bit much.
Probably the coolest thing I have is Downey gave me this sculpture of Thor and Loki. When I first got the part on Thor, he sent it to me and said, “Good luck, all the best.” It was not an action figure; it’s set on a mantle. A sculpture, I guess, that’s incredibly detailed and just looks great. So I’ve hung on to that one.
Marco Grob/© Marvel Studios 2019
Did you have favorite films or stories growing up?
I mean, I always did love Vikings as a kid, and it’s funny ending up in this. I think it was that sense of adventure. I mean, the films I watched as a kid were The Neverending Story, and Labyrinth, and The Princess Bride. I loved that stuff. Then Stand By Me, that was an adventure. I must have watched that 100 times as a kid.
The yearning for adventures…?
Then we ran out in the backyard or into the bush and tried to re-live it in some way. That was the appeal to acting, I would see those stories and go, “God, I want to live in that time”, or “I want to do that,” but you realize reality sets in and you can’t do it. The closest thing to do is pretend to do it, and that’s what I love about this job. You get to live out all of these fantasies.
For more on Avengers: Endgame, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now. You can buy all six covers, or purchase your individual favorites: Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk, and Ronin. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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