Chris Hemsworth in a scene from Men In Black: International.
Chris Hemsworth in a scene from Men In Black: International.

Where Hemsworth gets his natural knack for movie stunts

IN A vast hangar, just north of London, Chris Hemsworth is acting a little crazy.

Immaculately dressed in a crisp white shirt, black suit and tie, the Aussie A-lister is screaming at an imaginary foe on an elaborate set, dressed to look like a trashed London street, at the famous Leavesden Studios.

He and his partner in crime, Tessa Thompson, are extracting ever bigger weapons hidden inside a distinctly non-standard-issue black Jaguar and pointing them at a green screen, which will at some point in the future be filled with Earth-attacking aliens.

As the scene reaches its feverish finale, a voice calls out 'cut' and the two actors revert to their more laid-back selves and stroll over to director F. Gary Gray to confer before setting up for another take.

M (Tessa Thompson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from Men In Black: International.
M (Tessa Thompson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) in a scene from Men In Black: International.

Welcome to the world of Men In Black: International - and just another day at the office for one of Australia's hottest stars.

One-time Home And Away star Hemsworth has come a very long way in the past ten years since his 2009 breakout Hollywood role in JJ Abrams' Star Trek, thanks in no small part to his hugely successful ongoing role as Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But whether he's hurling a hammer as a Norse God, swinging an axe as a heroic warrior (Snow White and the Huntsman) or chasing an ocean-dwelling leviathan as a 19th century whaler (In the Heart of the Sea), the make-believe games he played with his fellow actor brothers Luke and Liam in their suburban Melbourne home are never too far away.

"It always reminded me of being a kid in the back yard and pretending to fight aliens," Hemsworth says of the vivid imagination that helps him fill in the blanks on his more effects heavy movies.

"So it's not that far in the depth of my memories."

Those freewheeling formative years with his siblings in Melbourne and in Outback Northern Territory have had other practical benefits too.

His ease with a firearm - alien or otherwise - may well date back to a game he and the older Luke used to play with the baby of the family, Hunger Games star Liam, in which they'd make him dress in layers of clothes and motorcycle helmet, before hunting him around the house with a BB gun they kept hidden from their parents.

Similarly, a background of surfing and motorcycling have held him in good stead for fight training and stunt work.

Hemsworth's father Craig is a motorcycle racer and enthusiast and his passion has rubbed off on his second son, now a father of three himself, who is building is dream house in Byron Bay for wife Elsa Pataky and three children, daughter India and twin sons Sasha and Tristan.

MIB: International stunt co-ordinator Wade Eastwood is used to actors professing to have all manner of skills to land a part, but he puts Hemsworth alongside Tom Cruise and Hugh Jackman as having a natural knack for extreme action.

Once he saw Hemsworth ride for the first time, had no doubt that the Aussie heart-throb would be up to the challenge of a complex chase scene through the streets of Marrakech on what would later be digitally upgraded to a futuristic hover bike.

Hemsworth’s motorbike skills came in handy for a chase in Marrakech.
Hemsworth’s motorbike skills came in handy for a chase in Marrakech.

"He can do it all, it's from his childhood," says Eastwood. "We just have to make sure he can do it all safely with camera crews around him and can hit marks safely all the time and have the weight of someone else on the back, looking at the lens and finding the light while riding - all those things that make it a bit more challenging than just going for a ride. But ten minutes on the bike and he was good as gold, we didn't have to do any more."

His efforts in a four-wheel vehicle, however, needed a little more work. Another MIB stunt required him to do some "drift" driving, something he had never done before, despite playing F1 great James Hunt in Rush.

"His first go was hopeless," says Eastwood. "And he just giggled - we actually had to stop the car because he was laughing so much. But within an hour he was hitting his mark on a cone in full drift - left and right drifts and shifting weight. He's a very fast learner."

It's been 22 years since the release of the first Men In Black film, which starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as mismatched partners, J and K in an agency charged with protecting the world from alien invasion and managing the many extraterrestrials already living on Earth. The winning combination of its two leads - and the smart, family-friendly blend of sci-fi and comedy - made it an instant hit, spawning two sequels, the most recent of which was in 2012.

Producers - and Smith - felt like the third film neatly wrapped up the story of agents J and K but there was a larger world to explore, both continuing and rebooting the action with a shift to London and a fresh cast. Hemsworth, a fan of the originals, loved the new idea as well as the chance to again work with Creed and Westworld star Thompson, who had played the feisty Asgardian Valkyrie in their rave-reviewed Thor: Ragnarok.

Kumail Nanjiani, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and director F. Gary Gray at the Men in Black: International launch in London last week. Picture: Getty
Kumail Nanjiani, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and director F. Gary Gray at the Men in Black: International launch in London last week. Picture: Getty

"I thought it was an opportunity to take something that was familiar and recreate it and do our own version of it," he says. "It was an opportunity to team up with Tessa again. It was an absolute 'yes' - an easy decision. I love this world. I love sci-fi. It was also nerve-racking to take on something that had been done so well before but I like the challenge and I have a great team."

As per MIB custom, Hemsworth's character is known only by a letter, H, and the actor describes him as being "a little unhinged, a little nutty", who clashes with Thompson's more straight-laced Agent M.

"He certainly has a style and a way of doing things that is pretty unorthodox and not really by the book," Hemsworth says. "He sort of gets away with it because he gets results and has this close relationship with his boss and mentor figure. That bumps against M's approach - she has been taught one thing and has a specific way of doing things. It's sort of a heart versus head kind of vibe - there is definitely some yin and yang that exists between the two of them. It's fun."

Despite being best known for his action roles - and his impossibly chiselled features and good looks - Hemsworth is building an impressive comedy resume. He was the best thing about the otherwise dire Vacation and more than held his own against the more seasoned improvisers Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon in the unfairly maligned Ghostbusters reboot, despite having reservations about taking the role.

But it was his radical reinvention of Thor, who was in danger of getting stale and stiff, with Kiwi director Taika Waititi that really showed off his comedy chops. Hemsworth says that joyfully spontaneous experience on the Gold Coast-shot Ragnarok was a one of a kind, but that he and Thompson took some of that swinging-for-the-fences attitude into MIB.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor in a scene from Avengers: Endgame.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor in a scene from Avengers: Endgame.

"It's different to Taika, who is a pretty unique human being in that he will sit right behind the camera on set with you and giggle and say suggestions," Hemsworth says. "But I think we have probably both taken a lot from that experience from the world of improvisation and just kind of going for it and taking risks and throwing a bunch of options out there and seeing what works.

"We have great stuff on the page and we get three or four solid ones as per the script and then Gary says 'OK, a couple of free ones' and he lets us play in that space. I really appreciate that - a lot of people just shoot what's on the page or it's all improvised whereas I think we get the best of both worlds here."

It was the combination of Hollywood heart-throb looks, a genuine desire to push boundaries and a willingness to take the piss out of himself that put Hemsworth front of mind with the Men In Black producers when they were looking to revive the franchise.

"I have been a fan of Chris for a long time - everyone has - but I was actually lucky enough to meet him early on when he first came to LA," says producer MIB Walter Parkes. "He's an extremely interesting actor. For a man who looks like Chris he's a very nuanced actor, it's extraordinary. So the idea of Chris for Men In Black was floating around there."

It's a sentiment echoed by Joe Russo, who directed Hemsworth in the recent Avengers: Endgame, which is closing in on Avatar as the highest grossing film ever. Hemsworth surprised audiences in MCU hit by playing Thor as an overweight, alcoholic, burnout - and fought hard to keep the character that way for the duration of the film, overturning the original plan to have him revert to his original, buff self.

So impressed was Russo and his brother Anthony that the pair reteamed with him for the Netflix action thriller Dhaka, which is due for release later this year.

"He's somebody that we are very close to and we love working with," says Joe Russo. "He encapsulates the hardest thing there is to capture as an actor, which is being able to play drama and being able to play emotion, but also mix it seamlessly with humour.

"I think that makes you exceedingly relatable and the characters you play exceedingly relatable and that's what he has done with Thor. You just watch the growth of the character - he has really poured a lot of himself into guiding that character over the last few films and he's made some really brave choices with the character and very few people can pull that off, that balance between drama and comedy."

Other future Hemsworth projects include a possible Hulk Hogan biopic and the buddy cop comedy Down Under Cover with Tiffany Haddish. He also recently told Variety magazine he's up for more Thor adventures - he was last seen hopping a space craft with the Guardians Of the Galaxy in the Endgame finale - and would even be open to playing James Bond when Daniel Craig finally hangs up his Walther PPK after the next 007 film.

In the meantime however, there are aliens to battle and it's back to work. Hopes are high for MIB: International to reignite the franchise with a whole universe to play with and if it's his second blockbuster hit of the year, it would cap off an astonishing decade for the Melbourne surfer-dude made very good.

Chris Hemsworth gives master class on how to tie the iconic MIB tie. Picture: Getty
Chris Hemsworth gives master class on how to tie the iconic MIB tie. Picture: Getty

"The most challenging thing about this is trying to find a point of difference from what's been done before and develop something unique to keep it fresh, keep it funny, keep it relevant and not feel like we are mimicking something that has come before," he says before heading back to the intergalactic carnage.

READ MORE:

HEMSWORTH: I WAS ABOUT TO QUIT

HEMSWORTH SPILLS ON THE ROLES HE MISSED

AVENGERS: ENDGAME DIRECTORS' MCU SECRETS

"What excited me about coming on board was to say 'where else can we take this franchise?'. It's not a reboot or a remake, it's a continuation of what's been done. We have such a great foundation there; we just have to not screw it up."

Men In Black: International opens tomorrow.


Local businesses star in 'Top 10 Experiences in Australia'

premium_icon Local businesses star in 'Top 10 Experiences in Australia'

Jet skiing and ocean tours in Australia's top 10 list

WE WILL ROCK YOU: Killer Queen on bill at Best Life Event

premium_icon WE WILL ROCK YOU: Killer Queen on bill at Best Life Event

Band to headline Whitsunday Suicide Prevention Network fundraiser.

Proserpine's big ticket items in the budget

premium_icon Proserpine's big ticket items in the budget

Millions allocated to Proserpine in council budget.