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IT’S THE MIDDLE of a lazy Easter Monday afternoon when Liam Hemsworth picks up the phone in Los Angeles. For the past few days the 22-year-old has been off the merry-go-round, so to speak, after almost a full month of constant travel while helping promote the smash hit The Hunger Games, in which he plays the character Gale Hawthorne.
With an estimated US$800 million in global box-office takings in the bank when we speak – and counting – the film is the kind of production young actors dream about. Instant fame. Instant celebrity.
And while that’s certainly the position the Australian now finds himself in, don’t be fooled for a second that his success has come overnight. In Hollywood, Hemsworth’s career has already been three solid years in the making, and before that he cut his acting teeth on popular television back home, with roles in the popular Neighbours and Home and Away series. It’s the sort of grounding that over the past two decades has helped launch the careers of Hollywood A-listers Guy Pearce and Heath Ledger.
Hemsworth already brings a whole lot more to the party. His relationship with Miley Cyrus has the American paparazzi pounding the pavement in his wake, and the simple fact that he’s in Hollywood following in the footsteps of elder brother Chris – the star of the box-office sensation Thor and about to reprise the role in the much anticipated The Avengers – makes this tale almost too Tinseltown to be true.
The good news, though, is that in real life Hemsworth has his feet planted firmly on the ground. Put it down to a childhood spent chasing the waves of Woolamai, one of the world’s premier stretches of coastline, and to growing up surrounded by what this young man calls the “perfect family.” While the day job might see Hemsworth spend his time suspended in make-believe, the young star says he is determined – driven, even – to keep things in his life totally and utterly real.
How have you been dealing with all the attention your life and everything that surrounds it has been bringing you?
I haven’t really changed that much. I still do the things that I’ve always done. It’s just that I’m at a different level now in terms of my career. I’m able to meet extremely talented filmmakers and writers and directors – everyone in the business. I’m just in a different position than I’ve ever been in. But, you know, my personal life hasn’t changed. I still go surfing and hang out with friends. I just feel very lucky to be where I am and to be able to make movies.
There has been an enormous buzz around the world following The Hunger Games. What’s it like being caught up in it all?
Pretty much the whole of March I’ve been travelling, doing press everywhere. It’s been awesome. I’ve never promoted something as big as this. So it’s been pretty cool. As an actor I always look for things I relate to in one way or another, or things that are different. And this is definitely all that and has a huge fan base behind it already. I’ve never been a part of something like that before so it has been interesting.
What attracted you to the production and to the role?
It’s been different to any kind of movie that I’ve done before. I think it has given me a chance to show something different as an actor and be seen in a different light.
You grew up on Phillip Island, a pretty quiet, rural part of Australia. How much did that experience help shape the man you are today?
My dad and all my brothers have always surfed, so honestly it was the best way to grow up. We’d surf before school, after school…and I love small communities like that where you sort of know everyone. It was great place to grow up as a kid.
So how did the acting bug bite?
My brother Luke got into it first. As a kid I always loved movies; I would sit down and watch movies all day long. But it wasn’t like I dreamt of being an actor or anything. It wasn’t until I was about 17 and I watched my brothers do TV shows in Australia that I wanted to pursue it seriously, and I started doing classes outside of school. I got an agent and started auditioning as much as I could. That was in my last year of school.
Can you talk a little about what made you decide that acting was the only path you would take?
I left to shoot something for a few weeks and when I returned to school my head just wasn’t there any more. So I left school completely about three-quarters of the way through my last year and I just started laying floors with my eldest brother Luke. I was just auditioning as much as I could and laying floors as well.
What did the surfing crowd think about having an aspiring actor in their midst?
I had a really tight circle of friends. A lot of guy friends that I grew up with, there was a big group of us, and they were always just so blasé about anything I ever did in Australia. It was just, “Yeah, cool man. Let’s go and surf.” So they never really showed that much interest or cared that much. They were just good mates who never treated me any differently.
And then you landed a role in Neighbours, probably the most successful Australian TV series of all time. Not a bad start.
That was when I was still laying floors. I did that for four or five months and that was kind of my first big job, and from that I went to another big TV series (Home and Away) and then came back to Neighbours for a few months. After about two years of TV, I got my first role in a movie called Triangle, and that’s what I really love doing, movies. When you do a movie as opposed to a TV show that has been going for years and years, you have a bunch of people who are excited and very passionate about what they’re trying to make. It’s something new and fresh and just a different energy to what I’d worked on before.
Both your elder bothers – Luke and Chris – were acting as you grew up. How much of an impact did that have on you?
Well I wouldn’t be doing this job if they hadn’t gotten into it. Always, as the youngest brother, I wanted to do what they were doing, and emulate some of what they were doing. My brothers have been the biggest influence in my life and are my biggest role models. They’ve taught me a lot of what I know. Before I started doing acting classes I used to run scenes with Chris or Luke and they would kind of give me acting classes, so that’s where it all sort of began.
In 2009 – when you were 19 – you upped and left for Los Angeles. Had you been out of Australia before?
I’d been to Bali before – it was my only overseas trip – on a surf trip with my brothers. But I think I’d always wanted to go to LA simply because this is where all the biggest movies are made, it’s where all the big producers are. I think any actor wants to go there at some point. So I just started sending tapes of me over from Australia.
And you were originally going to play a part in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. What happened there?
I sent a tape, and Stallone called me a week later and asked me to come over. I was about to fly and they rewrote the script and it ended up not happening. Then I got flown over to do a screen test for Thor, which obviously my brother ended up getting. That was what got me over to the States and got me attention, because also people here had heard what had happened with The Expendables. Then I got a part in a film called The Last Song and that allowed me to stay here and keep working.
How did you find the change? Was it a culture shock?
At first it was pretty different. I was a bit lost, but then I got into working and was extremely happy to just be here. But at first it was weird to have made a huge jump and not have family around me at the time. I was 19, so it was certainly a big step, but I’m very happy that I did it.
Has acting always come easy or do you have to work hard at it?
When I’m on set I have always felt comfortable, I’ve never really been nervous on set. I have a nervous energy, an excited energy. I love acting, I love making movies and being a part of the whole process of making movies. I’m able to meet directors that I’m a fan of and try and get projects going with them. I’m in a better position now than I’ve ever been in and I can just try to find stuff that I care about.
And you finally got a chance to pick up the role from Stallone in The Expendables 2?
Yeah, I shot that last year and got to work with Stallone and Jason Statham, I mean, the biggest action stars there are in the world. Guys I had grown up watching. That was pretty incredible, and really humbling – to be on set with them every day and see how professional they still are, how cool and excited they are to turn up to work after doing it for so long. They’re still happy and not jaded in any way. They were just great guys to work with.
Those guys are pretty hard core. Could you keep up?
Those guys have been doing movies for so long, and they’re extremely hard workers. When they’re on set they are focused and professional and they’re trying to make things as great as they can be. It was really nice to see guys who’ve been doing it so long still so passionate about what they’re doing. They really care about it, and there was never any drama on set – [just] great guys who love making movies. They’re some of the fittest guys in the world, so I kind of felt like the weak link – they’re all so in shape. Just trying to keep up with them was tough – they’re machines.
Australian actors have had a long association with Hollywood – and with success. Were any of them role models too?
Heath Ledger was one I was always a big fan of. He was kind of the closest to my age and was just an incredible actor. And obviously guys like Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman – there are just so many talented Australian actors over here. But I think Heath Ledger was my favourite out of all of those and just simply an inspiration.
What is it with Australians, then?
I don’t really know. I think a lot of Australians come from hard-working families, they are honest people. Maybe we have a different work ethic, I don’t really know. No fucking around, maybe. Get in, get the job done, get home.
You’ve mentioned family again.
Oh, their support is huge. I come from a great family, [with] great parents, and they’ve always been extremely supportive of what I have wanted to do and what all my brothers have wanted to do. I’m very lucky to have come from a great family. I haven’t grown up in this industry. I have great people to lean on in tough times. I have great brothers who are my best friends in the world. That stuff really does help in this industry – to have a tight, strong support system.
How are you going about choosing – or chasing – your roles?
I read a lot of scripts and I meet a lot of directors. And I’m in a position where I can help put projects together, where I can find a great idea and really help it come together. That is something I never really had before. I love acting but I [also] just love movies. I love the idea of finding something that’s unique and putting it together. At the moment I’m just trying to find people who are doing something different. Meet people who are as passionate as I am. I’ve always felt I have learned the majority of what I know on set, working. You learn from watching people with experience.
And what do you have coming up?
A film called Empire State with a director called Dito Montiel. He directed a film called A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints in 2006. It’s been one of my favourite movies ever since I saw it and I was fortunate enough to meet the director last year. It’s awesome to be able to meet someone who I’m such a big fan of and then get to work with him. We start work on that soon and I’m still pinching myself. It’s just amazing that I’m about to shoot with this guy on a project that I’m extremely passionate about as well. It’s based on a true story about this guy who becomes an armoured [truck] guard, and he and his buddy got away with millions of dollars. They went to jail for it, but apparently he hid the money. It’s just a great story.
And before that – more downtime?
I’ll be playing Call of Duty on Xbox – I’m blistered on my thumbs from playing too much. If I’m in relax mode I play Xbox, I go surfing. If I’m in work mode I have meetings most days and am pretty active. I’ve been boxing for quite a while. So I try to do that most days, or go for a run. I’m pretty active so I like to keep moving. So if it’s not hard-out relaxing, I am moving.