Chris Hemsworth comes from the wrong side of the world to play a god rooted in Norse mythology.
Physically though the Australian actor, who plays the eponymous Thor in the latest movie in the Marvel universe, ticked the right boxes.
The six-foot-three inch star of Home and Away embodies the vision that the director Kenneth Branagh had of the character which was essentially the first picture he saw of Thor “with arms wrapped round a tree-trunk and them being almost thicker than the truck.”
Twenty seven-year-old Chris, who hails from Melbourne, was familiar with the legend but knew little about the comic book character.
“When I got the part, six months before we started filming I received a stack of comic books, so it was all about educating myself.”
He also received some more heavyweight reference material on Viking and Norse mythology, as well as a number of novels including Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha.
“It was like a college course – I got books about people finding themselves and then coming to terms with the reality of their existence. Ken knew that these were relevant to the story we were going to tell.”
That story involved Thor being banished from the mystical realm of Asgard by his father, Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins) for arrogantly and impetuously re-igniting an ancient war.
Stripped of his super human powers, including the hammer that allows him to fly, he is literally the mighty fallen, landing on earth at the feet of work-obsessed astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who thinks he is a somewhat deluded vagrant.
“It is all about Thor learning humility,” says Chris. “He comes across as a brash young guy with a ton of power at his fingertips. When he goes against his father, he’s punished by being sent to Earth to learn a lesson, as a mortal, on equal terms with other earthlings.”
With two actor brothers, Chris was able to find a very human connection with the role of the god of thunder. That was in his relationship with his sibling, and later nemesis, Loki.
A powerful magician, though less imposing that his brother, he is played by British actor Tom Hiddleston
“We both know what it’s like to have siblings and that rivalry. We had so much fun playing around with it,” says Chris.
The two actors had very different approaches when it came to rehearsing for the physical aspects of the story, which sees them fighting ice giants as well as each other.
“I had him lifting logs, Tom taught me yoga. We were doing Yoga and I was saying “Nah, Natalie Portman is going to be here in a second. I can’t be seen doing this. Let’s go break something!’.”
His director also recognised that taping into the Australian stereotype was the key to getting Chris to reveal his inner berserker.
“He said to me ‘This is the take where you go berserk. You are with your mates in a pub, just let loose.”
Chris cuts an imposing figure in the flesh but he admitted that he was intimidated by the thought of working with Sir Anthony Hopkins at his most God-like.
“In my mind he has that quality of in every film but actually he’s extremely collaborative and kind and has a great sense of humour. A number of times he’d turn to me and say ‘Aren’t we having fun’.”
He was reminded, however, of why his first instinct was to be a little in awe when they had their most emotional confrontation which results in Odin casting Thor out of Asgard.
“The film had been shooting for about a month and I was starting to feel like I had the character down. The day comes for the confrontation. It’s very angry with lots of yelling back and forth.
“Then Ken comes over and says to Anthony. ‘Let it affect you. Be upset, I dare you. Anthony goes ‘Okay, good idea’. So I’m wondering ‘What is he going to do now?’.
“We started the scene again. I’m doing my thing and he’s just silent. His eyes start to well up. He’s the father who is hurt and disappointed that his son has disrespected him and dishonoured the family, the kingdom and everything they’ve stood for. You realise its tearing his heart out.
“When they called cut people were crying. Then the crew started applauding and I remember thinking ‘that’s amazing...and I’m useless. I may as well drop this hammer and leave’. But those are the moments you live for in this business.”