CHRIS HEMSWORTH’S RIS­ING TIDE

HOW THE CON­SUM­MATE SURFER AND STAR OF THOR: RAG­NAROK RIDES THE WAVES OF FAME AND FA­THER­HOOD

Sharp - - CONTENTS - BY Peter Salts­man PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY Pa­trik Giardino CPI SYN­DI­CA­TION

The star of Thor: Rag­narok on surf­ing, fa­ther­hood, and how he stays above wa­ter.

he scope of Chris Hemsworth’s phys­i­cal size is a mat­ter of some de­bate. For those who have only seen him on the big screen, he is truly gi­gan­tic — larger than life. This is prob­a­bly due to the char­ac­ters he plays: Thor, son of Odin, king of the Norse gods, ham­mer-wield­ing Marvel su­per­hero; James Hunt, dare­devil Bri­tish F1 cham­pion; Ge­orge Kirk, dec­o­rated Starfleet of­fi­cer and fa­ther of Cap­tain James Kirk. That is, Chris Hemsworth has a knack for play­ing big men in a world of big men, bulging and flex­ing his way through large-scale per­for­mances with grace.

But Chris Hemsworth isn’t as big as all that. If you were ex­pect­ing him to prowl his way through life at Thor size, seven feet tall and with arms like tree trunks, you will be dis­ap­pointed. In truth, Hemsworth is a per­fectly rea­son­able size — maybe even a per­fect size. He com­mands a room but doesn’t tower over it. He fills out a suit. He swag­gers.

And he has much to swag­ger about. Hemsworth’s size may also seem in­flated be­cause he is, by any mea­sure, on some­thing of a high right now. The Aus­tralian ac­tor is set to open Thor: Rag­narok, the third in his very own su­per­hero fran­chise — and that’s not even in­clud­ing all the count­less Avengers movies, his scene-steal­ing role as the hunky re­cep­tion­ist in last year’s Ghost­busters, or his other fran­chise, The Hunts­man, cur­rently two films deep and count­ing. Then there’s the new fra­grance en­dorse­ment — he takes over from Ger­ard But­ler as the face of BOSS Bot­tled — and the beau­ti­ful young fam­ily and the idyl­lic beach­front life he’s built for him­self, and sud­denly it’s clear that Chris Hemsworth might just be the big­gest man in the world.

Not that any of this is un­earned. Hemsworth paid his dues, and started early. He first rose to promi­nence in Aus­tralia as a reg­u­lar in the teen soap Home and Away. He toiled on TV for three years, all of them un­der the long shadow of his older brother, Luke, an Aus­tralian star known for his long-run­ning soap Neigh­bours.

But Aus­tralia is a small is­land, and just a short 13-hour flight to Los An­ge­les. It was call­ing— for all of the Hemsworths. Luke landed a role on West­world. Chris’s younger brother, Liam, made the trip too, and is now known mainly for his work in the Hunger Games se­ries, and for dat­ing Mi­ley Cyrus. Chris, the mid­dle child in a preter­nat­u­rally gifted fam­ily, could have dis­ap­peared, as mid­dle chil­dren are wont to do. In­stead, his star grew big­ger and brighter than he could have ever imag­ined. Only, mirac­u­lously, he didn’t.

“I like to think I’ve stayed the same over the years,” he says. “What I’m most proud of is that the peo­ple with whom I’ve in­ter­acted have a good im­pres­sion of me and that I have a lot of good re­la­tion­ships.”

If this is the mea­sure of a man, Chris Hemsworth is a god­damn gi­ant.

In 2014, Hemsworth and his wife, the Span­ish ac­tress Elsa Pataky, moved their young fam­ily from Los An­ge­les to By­ron Bay, a tiny beach town in New South Wales, Aus­tralia. Hemsworth had grown up nearby, but the move was not strictly nos­tal­gic. With three young chil­dren and a sky­rock­et­ing ca­reer, the pres­sures of Hol­ly­wood were be­com­ing over­whelm­ing. There is a dark side to suc­cess in show busi­ness, and Hemsworth was be­gin­ning to feel trapped.

“We’d bought a house there, this beau­ti­ful house,” he says of his life in Los An­ge­les. “We loved it. It was per­fect. We fi­nally had a home. And then it was just nuts — pa­parazzi and all that. We couldn’t go any­where. We ended up just stay­ing home.”

Rather than grit his teeth and en­dure — not some­thing you get the im­pres­sion Hemsworth does much of — he and his fam­ily moved down un­der, to the most idyl­lic spot they could find. “We’re so far re­moved from work and L.A.,” he says. “Our kids were hap­pier. There was an in­stant change in their at­ti­tude. And we surf ev­ery­day.”

This last part is im­por­tant. Hemsworth is a surfer. It’s in his blood. We talk about Barbarian Days, Wil­liam Fin­negan’s genre-defin­ing surf­ing mem­oir, which we’ve both just read, and his face lights up brighter than you’ll ever see on­screen. We talk about surf­ing as sport, as prac­tice, as med­i­ta­tion. We talk about surf­ing as a life force — which, clearly, it is for him.

“I surf ev­ery day if I can,” he says. “If my wife’s out of town I’ll surf the whole day. What makes me come home and stops me stay­ing in the wa­ter all day is the fact that I’ve got a wife and kids. Oth­er­wise I’d be out there all day. If I didn’t have a wife and kids, I think I’d prob­a­bly live on a boat and just bounce from surf spot to surf spot. I’d be quite happy do­ing that.”

It’s prob­a­bly true. He could con­tinue act­ing. He could be in more movies, make more money. But those are things he doesn’t need to do. Surf­ing, on the other hand? That’s a compulsion. He’s just not the same man with­out it. “It is a med­i­ta­tion for me, def­i­nitely,” he says. “I can feel it — and so can my wife — when I haven’t been in the wa­ter enough. Or if I have a bad surf. Even my mother-in-law can tell.”

“GREAT­NESS IS REL­A­TIVE, OF COURSE.” (FIN­NEGAN, WIL­LIAM, BARBARIAN DAYS, P. 224) “WAVES WERE THE PLAY­ING FIELD. THEY WERE THE GOAL. THEY WERE THE OB­JECT OF YOUR DEEP EST DE­SIRE AND ADO­RA­TION. AT THE SAME TIME, THEY WERE YOUR AD­VER­SARY, YOUR NEME­SIS, EVEN YOUR MOR­TAL EN­EMY. THE SURF WAS YOUR REFUGE, YOUR HID­ING PLACE, BUT IT­WAS ALSO A HOS­TILE WILDER­NESS — A DY­NAMIC, IN­DIF­FER­ENT WORLD.” (P. 18)

This is what suc­cess has af­forded him: a trip home, to his hap­pi­est place. The wa­ter calms him, so he went to the wa­ter. He brought his kids all the way from Amer­ica to where the wa­ter is bluest, where the waves break best. And it’s clear that ev­ery­thing else — Hol­ly­wood, fame, for­tune — may have been part of the plan, but it was never the goal. The goal was far big­ger than any of that.

The best part about mov­ing away from Los An­ge­les, for Hemsworth, is that it means more time with his chil­dren. Or rather, more qual­ity time. De­spite the ex­tra plane rides it in­volves for work, liv­ing on the beach means that when he’s home, he’s home. And Chris Hemsworth re­ally likes to be home.

Most men will talk to you about their chil­dren if given the chance. But Hemsworth makes the chance. He adores them. He thinks about them so much — so fully to the ex­clu­sion of al­most any­thing else, save pos­si­bly surf­ing — that he spends most of a day of in­ter­views promoting a movie and a fra­grance talk­ing about them. No fic­tional char­ac­ter can com­pete, not even a god; his kids are his iden­tity.

“I al­ways wanted kids, from a young age,” he says. “I think be­cause I had such great par­ents and I had such a great time with them. And my mom and dad’s line of work was child pro­tec­tion, and they had such a no­bil­ity about them. Noth­ing broke my dad’s heart more than the wel­fare and pro­tec­tion of kids and dis­ad­van­taged kids who weren’t loved. And I could see that in his face when he’d talk about work.”

You can see where this is go­ing. Now Hemsworth is back not far from where he grew up, with his own wag­on­ful of ram­bunc­tious off­spring, plant­ing new roots ad­ja­cent to his own. He is build­ing a fu­ture in his own im­age. All that’s left is to see how they take to the wa­ter.

“My kids are now start­ing to get a bit of a taste for surf­ing,” he says. “I’m mind­ful that I don’t want to be push­ing them into it be­cause then they’re go­ing to rebel. I gotta gen­tly go, ‘How cool is this?’” And then a pause. A long, thought­ful, hope­ful pause. “But that would be cool. I grew up surf­ing with my broth­ers and my dad and those were some of my hap­pi­est mem­o­ries. As a fa­ther now, I’d love to see my kids have the same joy. That would be pretty damn special.”

The more you talk to Chris Hemsworth, the more you see that his life has come to em­body a kind of ideal. It is whole­some­ness in­car­nate. It is well-rounded. Com­plete. The wife, the kids, the house, the ca­reer. Envy would not be out of place here.

Turns out you’re not the first to rec­og­nize this. Even his cor­po­rate en­dorse­ments un­der­stand that he’s bank­able for more than just his su­per­hu­man good looks. Ear­lier this year, Hemsworth was an­nounced as the new face of BOSS Bot­tled. His bearded vis­age launched a new fra­grance, BOSS Bot­tled Tonic, a cit­rus-heavy day­time scent that seems tai­lor-made for the beach-lov­ing Aus­tralian. He also launched a cam­paign called “Man of Today,” an ad line fo­cused not, weirdly, on his in­dis­putably bank­able sex ap­peal but on all the things Hemsworth seems to take most se­ri­ously: in­tegrity, hon­esty, suc­cess, and good hu­mour.

“Suc­cess is de­fined by our ac­tions,” he says, lean­ing in, star­ing you down with those pierc­ing blue eyes as if dar­ing you, for a mo­ment, to for­get en­tirely about his fame or his box of­fice tal­lies. “It’s about stay­ing true to my val­ues. It’s about how I act around my three small kids.”

And, for that mat­ter, how his three kids act around him. Hemsworth doesn’t have the usual hang-ups about suc­cess. He doesn’t em­brace it the way some celebri­ties do — he moved his fam­ily half­way around the world to avoid it. But nei­ther is suc­cess anath­ema to him. Re­sent­ment isn’t a word in his vo­cab­u­lary. In­stead, Hemsworth’s re­la­tion­ship to his fame is re­mark­ably healthy. Nor­mal. Av­er­age-sized. He knows what it’s all worth. He knows what mat­ters. He knows who his real crit­ics are.

“One of my boys is kind of ob­sessed with Thor,” he says. “I re­ally no­ticed the first time he flew back from Europe with my mother-in-law and he must have watched it on the plane, be­cause I was sort of avoid­ing show­ing my movies to them. He saw it, and he was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re my hero.’ Be­cause he’s very phys­i­cal and ac­tive, and he wanted to know, ‘Papa, papa, did you hit that mon­ster today?’ He thinks that’s what I do at work, fight the bad guys. And my other son is like, ‘Yeah, what­ever, dad’s cool.’”

We’d have to agree with both of them.

“AF­TER THAT, AS THE WAVES BENT ONTO THE REEF, THERE WERE ONLY OUR WAKES: THIN WHITE THREADS UNSPOOLING DOWN THE LINE.” (P. 447) “THE BEST DAYS AT THE BEST BREAKS HAVE A PLA­TONIC AS­PECT — THEY BE­GIN TO EM­BODY A MODEL OF WHAT SURFERS WANT WAVES TO BE. BUT THAT’S THE END OF IT, THAT BE­GIN­NING.” (P. 203)

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