Chris Hemsworth and Kenneth Branagh talk ‘Thor’

Chris Hemsworth, Stellan Skarsgård and director Kenneth Branagh chat on the set of "Thor."

Tasked with bringing “Thor” from the comic book pages to the big screen, director Kenneth Branagh couldn’t help couldn’t help but feel a bit daunted. “The scale of the undertaking couldn’t help but occasionally make you feel that. It was very, very challenging, but that was a part of what was attractive,” he says. Luckily, producer and Marvel honcho Kevin Feige was there to keep him on task: “On Day One, I asked Kevin, ‘What should I do first?’” Branagh remembers. “And he said, ‘The one thing you need to do right now — and until it’s finished — is cast Thor. That’s it. Just cast Thor.’”

Not an easy task as it turns out, though as the story for the film developed, Branagh found himself circling back to a young actor who had read early in the casting process: Chris Hemsworth. “You’re looking for really a lot tied up in one bundle,” Branagh says of the character, the Norse god of thunder who is cast out of Asgard by his father, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins). “At one point we said, ‘We should go back and meet that very handsome Australian lad who came in.’ There was this required quality of an innate, charming confidence that did not spill over into arrogance that meant that he would stand up in a scene with Tony Hopkins. And he couldn’t, as the prince of Asgard, shy away from it.”

Of course that’s not all Hemsworth had going for him: “Ultimately, of course, when he takes his shirt off there’s obviously a wow factor that cannot be denied,” Branagh says. “As Louis D Espisito, the co-president of Marvel said, ‘My God, he looks good in 3-D.’”

Bulking up enough to earn those accolades wasn’t easy for 27-year-old Hemsworth — though it wasn’t the weight-lifting that gave him the most trouble. “The most uncomfortable thing was the eating. I didn’t mind so much the working out,” Hemsworth says. “But I just don’t naturally sit at that weight, so I’d have to force-feed myself with, you know, 20 chicken breasts and rice and steak. All very boring, sort of plain things. That was the most exhausting part of the whole film, actually, the eating.”

Also daunting for Hemsworth was working with the veteran Hopkins, as the younger actor wasn’t quite prepared for Hopkins’ brand of humor. “I remember being on set our first day with Tony and going through the rehearsal, and Tony saying, ‘Is that how you’re going to do it?’ and then going, ‘He’s kidding, right?’” Hemsworth remembers. “That’s a big thing I learned from Tony — have a good time doing it. That appreciation for it and having fun. What should’ve been the most intimidating experience walking in was the most enjoyable.”

As it turns out, Thor wasn’t necessarily Hemsworth’s first choice when it comes to superheroes — not the he isn’t thrilled to play him. “Growing up, I loved a lot of different films. Superman was probably the first one I was aware of,” he says. “I would run around the house pretending to be him at some stage when I was a kid. I also had a Robin costume – Batman’s sidekick. A nice pair of green underwear and a yellow shirt and red cape.”


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