When Chris Hemsworth becomes a huge movie star following Friday’s release of Thor, as most of the early reviews suggest he will, the actor will have his mother to thank. And not in the usual “I-appreciate-your-giving-birth-to-me kind of way,” but more in a “you-saved-my-audition type of way.”
The 27-year-old Aussie was originally rejected when he tried out for the role of the titular character in the superhero epic. Strangely enough, Chris’ younger brother, Liam, also an actor, ended up as one of the handful of finalists that Marvel Studios was considering. When he and the other candidates — who reportedly included wrestler Triple H and Kevin McKidd of Grey’s Anatomy — failed to make the cut, studio execs and director Kenneth Branagh decided to give Chris another look.
“I think I didn’t do too well in my first audition, and my brother was able to get in there and represent [for the family] in a better fashion,” Chris Hemsworth tells The Post. “When it didn’t go Liam’s way, my manager said, ‘He has an older brother.’ I sent another tape in, and I had a bit of motivation this time, in that they invited my younger brother in but not me. That was fuel for me doing better.”
Hemsworth’s new two-minute audition reel was shot quickly in a Vancouver hotel room, and it co-starred someone even more unknown stateside than Chris: his mother, Leonie. The two acted out a mock scene from “Thor,” in which the hero argues with his father, Odin. The Norse Allfather and king of the mystical realm of Asgard is played by Anthony Hopkins in the actual movie, but in this case, Mrs. Hemsworth graciously stepped in.
“It was a rather heated back-and-forth scene, and it was very funny to have my mom there playing the Anthony Hopkins character, the king of the nine realms,” Hemsworth says.
The subsequent audition process also required Hemsworth to perform stunt routines for the camera, including a fight scene involving Thor’s magical stone hammer, Mjolnir.
“There was the twirling of the hammer and spins and all that,” Hemsworth says. “It was not in my repertoire of skills.”
Branagh and the executives at Marvel ran Hemsworth through months of tests and interviews because they knew that the success of “Thor” depended “100 percent” on casting the right person in the lead role.
“The producer, Kevin Feige, said on day one or two that they wanted my energies directed first, last and only to the casting of Thor,” Branagh says. “We waited and watched and searched for a long time until we felt in our bones that we had exactly the right person.”
The filmmakers were no doubt cognizant of superhero films that have misfired, in part, because of who was chosen as the lead. Anyone remember Brandon Routh from Superman Returns? Exactly.
The casting of Thor was made all the more delicate because of the oddball nature of the hero. This was not some masked type-A meathead who dressed up in leather jammies and fought crime. This was a story about a god — or perhaps an alien? — from another realm who is banished to earth to learn humility after offending his father, King Odin. Landing in the New Mexico desert, the depowered Thor is picked up by an astrophysicist (Natalie Portman) and her research partner (Stellan Skarsgard), and must learn to cope with the strange world while avoiding government agents.
“The audience needed to invest in a character who had as his starting point arrogance,” Branagh says. “He also needed to have youth and physical magnificence, humor, a capacity for warmth and eventually a vulnerability. As the script developed, we realized we’d provided quite an acting role, not just an action character.”
Hemsworth’s task was indeed mighty. He had to deliver the fish-out-of-water humor, such as a bit when he arrives on Earth, walks into a small pet store and demands a horse. There were also tender bits, in scenes opposite love interest Portman. Hemsworth also had to confidently pull off the film’s many action scenes, such as bashing through an endless army of Frost Giants on a snowy planet, his hammer flinging to and fro.
It probably doesn’t hurt for believability’s sake that the 6-foot-3 Hemsworth gained 20 pounds of muscle for the role, and actually looks like he could destroy everyone else in the movie, if not the world.
“Chris Hemsworth looks like a superhero,” says Stan Lee, who created Thor in 1962 when he was trying to concoct a character who would be mightier than the strongest human. But what worked back then wouldn’t necessarily work onscreen. Filmmakers struggled to find the correct tone for the character. After all, here was a guy who, in the early comics, dressed in a winged helmet, a flowing red cape and boots that could be generously described as stripperesque. He spoke in stilted, faux-Shakespearian dialogue such as, “Thou didst not reckon with the might of Thor, knave!”
“It was one of the toughest characters to pull off,” Hemsworth admits. “With the actors and Kenneth directing, it lessens that risk [of being hammy]. Just making it truthful was the focus during the film. I was told, ‘Don’t get caught up in playing gods.’ These are scenes about fathers and sons and brothers, and that’s where you put your energy.”
Thor’s dialogue was also streamlined. “When I was asked to come on board and they said, ‘He’d know about the language,’ I was the first to say, ‘Let’s make it leaner,’ ” Branagh says. The director rejected the flowery tone and instead went for contemporary English spoken with a neutral British accent.
“All those ‘I say thee, nay, thou, thee’ and all that stuff that works to great effect in the comic,” Branagh says. “But we were concerned it would distance us and potentially give us a one-note comic gag that would quickly wear thin.”
The production still had to overcome other potential pitfalls that could ruin the film’s tone, including the look of Asgard, Thor’s mystical realm, and the character’s costume.
“In almost every instance, we took wrong turns early on,” Branagh says. “With almost every issue, we went through 15 versions and chucked them out. Helmets and spears — too ornate, too many runes, too much carving, too many colors, too many bits of feather.”
Thor’s armored costume also required extensive tests, lest the hero end up looking like something out of a made-for-TV Viking film.
“The cape. There were long conversations about whether we’d even have a cape, because we were so terrified it would be too Superman-like or it would look silly,” Branagh says.
The cape was originally going to be rendered as a postproduction effect, but the costume designers found a cut of wool (dyed an eye-popping red after repeated experimentation) that looked right.
The rest of Thor’s costume is constructed of leather, fabric and metal, and it took an hour to put on Hemsworth. It was so hot that the costume designers had to install pipes inside, through which water could run and cool the actor.
Despite all the hard work, Hemsworth says he’s “having so much fun” with Thor and would be happy to reprise the character. Good thing, too. The god of thunder whilst return in next summer’s “The Avengers” and a planned sequel to “Thor.” (Source)