Chris Hemsworth’s Latest Battle Is With His Toughest Adversary Yet: Himself

Actor Chris Hemsworth
Michael Muller

Chris Hemsworth is dying. He’s just blasted through Sunset Pines Retirement Village on a gurney, ambulance lights flashing. The defibrillator paddles fail; all that’s left is a long, flatlining beep. Then darkness. A death doula hovers over his head.

But more on that later, because he’s back from the Great Beyond to answer a gravely important question: What the hell is that new tattoo? It looks like he’s planning to cheat on an AP Geometry quiz at Pink Floyd University.

“Ha,” he booms, squinting down at the overlapping prisms, circles and parallelograms inked inside his right forearm. “I listen to a lot of Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon. ‘Time’ is great, ‘The Great Gig in the Sky,’ that whole album is pretty fascinating.” He pauses. “You a fan?” he asks, and it feels like we’re having beers at a pub, even though we’re on different continents, with the sun rising in America and the sky darkening outside of his hotel room in the center of Sydney, Australia.

Actor Chris Hemsworth posing in green button-down on stool
Michael Muller

It’s disarming, this level of laid-back geniality from a deity (Thor, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock named Korg) with the No. 1 movie in the world at press time (Thor: Love and Thunder; see aforementioned rock), which, with his previous three films in the franchise, has grossed over $2.5 billion globally—and that’s not even counting clams from the other five Avengers films he’s graced in the nearly $30 billion-grossing MCU machine. Multiply that by the crowd-pulling power of his other ass-kicking hero, Tyler Rake in Extraction, Netflix’s most-watched original film ever, and it’s clear the world is mainlining Hem’s freshly cut content faster than a Dhaka drug lord.

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What’s more, the guy who seemingly has all the time in the world to chat has spent his entire day sweating it out on the set of Furiosa, the hotly anticipated 2024 prequel to Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road. Furiosa will be the biggest film ever made in Australia, with a $185 million budget, 528 times that of the 1979 original in the saga.

Meanwhile, my humble new mate is still contemplating his tattoo. “Y’know, my buddy came up with this thing, we were having a few beers.” He stops, breaking into laughter. “I told him to start drawing some stuff and the next day I was like, ‘Ah yeah, what is that?’ I wish it had a greater meaning, but maybe that’s it. There was an acceptance and surrendering to whatever the hell this is.”

Fast and Furiosa

Hemsworth is in wind-down mode before hitting the sack, which, at 39, happens earlier these days. “I used to run on four, five, six hours, and then you start getting eight hours’ sleep and you realize, ‘Oh my God, this is what it feels like to run at a hundred percent.’”

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Still, he admits to being a 2:30 a.m. worrier. “I’ve always had that, ever since I was a young kid, I would sort of do something through the day that I wasn’t proud of, I’d fight with my little brother, and then in the middle of the night I’d feel guilty and wake him up and apologize,” he says. “It was always the nighttime for me where there was a real honesty, and it was quite abrupt. It still happens now.”

The last thing that kept him up was Thor. “You’re waking up worrying, ‘Is the film gonna work? Have I let people down? Did I do a good enough job? Did I promote it properly? Are fans responding?’ Just all the stuff I like to think I’m beyond, but it’s a very tricky thing to care about something so much, put your heart and soul in it and then let go and not care about the result.” He calls it “almost PTSD” from years of coming up in the business, facing criticism and judgment. He’s learned to deal with it better over time, thanks to pivotal advice from his mum, Leonie, “but there are some old scars that pop up.”

But there’s no time for licking battle wounds tonight, because tomorrow he’s due back on set. “We’re in the thick of it with Furiosa and it’s fantastic, so much fun,” he says. “I came into this film pretty exhausted, just off the back of a few press tours and a few other films, but reinvigorated. [Director] George Miller is just incredible. So I’m all good, long day, but I’m happy,” he says, and you get the sense he’s almost amused that his eyes are still open.

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On tap for tomorrow: more “character and world building” after his daily postapocalyptic prosthetic makeover to transform him into the warlord Dementus. Hemsworth’s stubble is shorter than usual, because the glue for his yak hair—yep, Dementus’ wild red ZZ Top beard is made from sheared yak tresses—is a pain to remove when his own beard grows beyond three days. Does he scare himself in the mirror? “Nah,” he says, though he warns there’s “some pretty shocking things and quite a few variations” with his look in the film.

Actor Chris Hemsworth posing in blue henley
Michael Muller

Anyone who remembers Hemsworth’s hypnotic rattlesnake of a cult leader in the 2018 neo-noir Bad Times at the El Royale and his psycho prison warden in last summer’s sci-fi thriller Spiderhead knows Dementus won’t be his first villain rodeo. He finds playing against type liberating. “You’re allowed to be completely unhinged,” he says. “You don’t have to apologize or play it safe as far as offending anyone, you can kind of just go for it. Especially coming off the back of playing superheroes and heroic characters. It’s kind of why I got into acting. Same as when I was a kid in the backyard, playing dress-up or make-believe, having all sorts of crazy characters and your imagination’s allowed to run wild.” He cites The Hobbit, The NeverEnding Story and The Princess Bride as early favorites, and played a lot of war games, where he mimicked his fair share of Rambo-isms and Van Damme fly kicks.

Call it fertile training ground for leading a Biker Horde as Dementus, which he says was another attraction for jumping into Furiosa. “I had an old Yamaha DT-175 when we were kids, and then a Pee Wee 50, which we’d fang around on through the forest where we lived, dodging the rangers.” The “we,” of course, being his Melbourne-born, outback-raised brothers, Luke, 41, and Liam, 32. “As we got older, I’ve gotten a Ducati Scrambler and a couple of Aprilias,” he says. “Our dad raced motorbikes and still does, historic bikes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and is up on the podium every couple of months, so a lot of that bike riding influence came from him.”

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Actor Chris Hemsworth posing in navy shirt
Michael Muller

Braking Point

Following Hemsworth’s career is like watching his character James Hunt beating it around the track in his 2013 Formula 1 drama, Rush. It’s dizzying, even record-shattering, but you start to wonder how much the pace has worn on the superstar. Two and a half years ago, which he says feels more like 10, he nearly hit a wall.

“It was right before Covid, I was really exhausted,” he remembers. He’d done film after film while raising three kids (daughter India Rose, 10, and twin sons Sasha and Tristan, 8) with his wife, actress Elsa Pataky. “It was crazy and has been the most incredible experience, but really taxing at times trying to juggle everything. Just a constant influx of adrenaline and stimulation through different pressures and so on, and the physical toll my body was taking from going up in weight and then taking it off for another role. I wanted some downtime.”

But an opportunity surfaced that he couldn’t pass up: a National Geographic series focused on health and wellness, a world Hemsworth knew intimately. “Originally, it was a three-week shoot,” he says, “a pretty simple kind of docuseries. Darren Aronofsky was heading the whole thing, so I thought, ‘Great, it should be fun.’” But then Covid happened, and three weeks turned nearly three years. One thing was for sure: This was going to be a lot more intense than a male version of GOOP.

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Called Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, it drops this November on Disney+. Among the feats Hemsworth performs in pursuit of longevity: walking across a crane 88 stories in the air overlooking Sydney Harbor, doing a Navy Seal–style drowning simulation, putting out a raging fire, pulling a vehicle with his own bodyweight, fasting four days, rope-climbing 1,000 feet over a ravine, being aged into an octogenarian… and, well, dying.

“I’ve always thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’m not gonna die,’” he says. “I remember in high school, thinking I could survive a car crash, a plane crash, whatever. I’d figure it out, right? I remember telling my grandpa about it, and he had the same thing. It wasn’t arrogance; it was just a very positive attitude about life. Like, I’ll figure it out, I’ll work it out, I’ll overcome that, I’ll succeed. So it never scared me. And then as I approach 40, I’m all of a sudden going, ‘Oh my God, I’m potentially halfway there.’ It was all very confronting.”

Couldn’t he have just bought a midlife crisis Ferrari and called it a day?

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Apparently not. Turns out, the only way to turn back the clock is to subject the body to extreme conditions and ask it to adapt (damn). But luckily for the rest of us, the six-episode series is the perfect level of pulse-pounding. You feel like you’re finally meeting the real Hemsworth, without a gun or a hammer or CGI. The Hemsworth who has nothing in his tool kit but breathing techniques and a prayer. The mortal, like you and me. Well, except for superior genetics. And that’s when you realize what a badass he really is.

“There was no faking what I was going through,” he says. “I tore ligaments in my ankle, I hurt my back, I was training nonstop for both Thor and different episodes, it was full-on. But there’s an authenticity to it. If we’d shot in that three-week period, it wouldn’t have turned out that way. The running joke between me and my mates was, we were gonna call it Limited, ’cause we were capping out,” he laughs.

When I ask which challenge was the hardest, he says the “Shock” episode, when he surfs the Norwegian Arctic, followed by swimming 250 meters in 37-degree water. “It was insane,” he remembers. “Halfway through, my brain felt like it was being stabbed by a thousand knives.” But there are lighter moments, too, like when Chris pulls Luke and Liam into a polar plunge and soccer match. “We used to go on surfing trips together and this felt similar, but in a place so removed from everything. We were wide-eyed and fascinated.” In Hemsworth’s eyes, he and his brothers will always be 12, 18 and 21 to each other. “That period to me, just finishing high school, Luke’s already finished, Liam’s coming up, when we were our most active and surfing and talking about acting and all the things we wanted to do, is so vivid in my mind. As we get older and we’re supposed to be men, when the three of us hang out, it feels like we’re back there, kids still.”

Which begs the question: If the bros took on his Love and Thunder castmates Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Tom Hiddleston in a three-on-three, who’d win? “Bale, I think, can play soccer. Crowe is rugby, so I think we’d be able to take him. But Hiddleston’s a distance runner, he’d run circles around us,” he laughs.

Actor Chris Hemsworth posing in tan T-shirt
Michael Muller

Cruise Control

Looking back, Limitless put everything into perspective, he says, even an afterlife he can’t comprehend. “It was the most beautiful appreciation for life and then a real hope that there is some sort of continuation. I was like, ‘Man, I hope there’s some version of all this continuing in any shape or form, I don’t know what or when or how.’”

It was also a wake-up call. “Hey, soak it up, enjoy it, ’cause the clock’s ticking. I like the fact that it scared the shit out of me at times, and now also has become a friendly reminder,” he says. “You hear it all the time: It’s been right in front of us the whole time. The now, the moment, the present, it’s right in front of us, and we’re so distracted and caught up in these future goals, or past experiences, that we’re not appreciating what’s right here.”

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He pauses, taking in his own words. “And that was the moment where I thought, once I’m done with the next run of films, which are taking me through to now, I’m having some time off.” When he reemerges, he’d like to dig into a smaller, contained drama or love story, without all the special effects. But don’t mark your calendar. “I’m gonna throw my phone away and remove myself from all of it for a while,” he says. “I’m not saying years and years, but I would love a little distance to soak up some time with my family, my kids.”

So while fans get their next fix when Extraction 2 hits screens next spring, you’ll find Hemsworth at home in the coastal suburb of Broken Head, noshing on his favorite steak, bacon and cheese pie and almond latte from Suffolk Bakery, reading The Untethered Soul, a book he heard about on Russell Brand’s podcast, and barbecuing with friends and family. He may even slip into a local music festival in disguise. And before the rest of the world wakes up, he’ll be catching clean five- to six-footers along Byron Bay’s coastline, as the sun rises from the easternmost point on the planet. “I can just sit at peace, in the stillness of those early hours,” he says. “I’ll send you a photo of it from my roof.”

Wait—wasn’t he chucking his phone? “Ah, right, I’ll take it with old-fashioned film then,” he promises with a laugh. We both know he won’t, but an image instantly develops anyway: all 6-foot-3 of him, floating in the waves, surrendering to whatever the hell this is, just like his tattoo, as the circle of sun shoots a gold triangle over the ocean from a razor-sharp horizon line, its own trippy sacred geometry.


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Hem’s Greatest Hits

Nothing beats this basic bodyweight circuit 5 to 6 days per week:

5 rounds of all, in this order:

  • 10 squats
  • 10 chinups
  • 10 lunges, each leg
  • 10 pushups
  • 10 side lunges, each leg
  • 10 biceps curls into shoulder presses with dumbbells (he uses 22 lbs. each)
  • 10 bear crawls up and back 15 feet

Follow with 30 reps of each:

  • Russian twists
  • Bicycles
  • Leg raises
  • Standard crunches
  • Side crunches

*For more training tips, check out @centrfit

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