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Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) takes a moment to ponder his mission in Afghanistan. [Warner Bros. Pictures]

3 questions with ‘12 Strong’s’ Chris Hemsworth

The Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth is always going to be remembered for bulking up, donning a blond wig, and playing the hammer-wielding Thor. We know that; he knows that. But he’s been in the business, first on TV in Australia, then in American movies, for a decade and a half, taking on all sorts of roles. In his newest film, “12 Strong,” he’s the real-life army captain who leads his group of Green Berets on a top-secret mission in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. Sitting down in a West Hollywood hotel room last week, purportedly to talk about the film, the affable Hemsworth, 34, was so relaxed, the conversation shot off into myriad directions. Rather than try to tie it into a coherent story, here are three questions that resulted in the coolest answers.

Q: How did a kid growing up in rural Australia land an acting career?

A: I loved movies. I loved fantasy, fiction, non-fiction, love stories. I spent a lot of time with my brothers outdoors, playing, inventing games, running around the bush. We lived in a sort of big forest in Melbourne, and then we lived in the Northern Territory. I had a very vivid imagination that was built through my adolescence, in a big way, in part because of the environments our parents had us in. So, we’d be outside a lot. But every Friday night, we’d go and rent a video, and it was one of my favorite things to do. Even as I got older, around 15 or 16, my friends were going out to parties, and I would say, “No, this is movie night.” (laughs) But I never thought about acting as a career until around the end of high school. We had very little money. I was well aware of the conversations my parents were having about trying to pay the bills, and so on. I remember asking my dad once when would he pay the house off, and he said probably never. That made me angry. I thought, “This isn’t fair; look at how hard they work, and get very little return from it.” So, as a kid I remember thinking I wanted to do something to make money and pay the house off. And naively I went, “Well, I’ll be a movie star. That’ll probably earn some money!” Everyone was laughing at this ridiculous idea, and then it became sort of an obsession. Then I started doing drama classes, and it became more and more of a passion. And then I realized I LOVED acting, and thought, “Maybe I can do this; I have this great motivation for it, to take care of my parents.” But it then became something else, as well. I did the soap opera (“Home and Away”) for a few years, then after I had done a few movies and a had a big enough paycheck, the first thing I did was pay off their home.

Q: You broke into American films by landing the small part of George Kirk, the father of Captain Kirk, in J.J. Abrams’ film “Star Trek.” How did that happen?

A: Actually, I’d already done my first movie here, “Ca$h,” a little independent film. I later auditioned for Kirk, James Kirk, but that was very early in the process and I didn’t get it. Then J.J. was trying to find someone for the role of the father, and he remembered someone that looked similar to Chris Pine. He said, “Remember that guy who came in that was too tall? Who was that guy?” So, he tracked me down and asked me to come in and read the scene. I came in and he hands me the pages and says, “I loved your audition from six months ago. I just re-watched it. Can you read this scene for me?” This was right at his desk. So, I did the scene. I was reading and he was reading, and he said, “OK, stop. You got the part. See you on Monday.” And I was like “What?” I was excited, but I had no idea what it was going to be. I hadn’t grown up on “Star Trek.” I didn’t know how big this production was going to be. And that was a good thing, because when I got on set I was kind of pretty casual and loose with it. If I’d have known it was this $150 million thing, and J.J. Abrams was who he was, it probably would have scared the hell out of me.

Q: You do a lot of riding in “12 Strong.” Is it a different deal to be acting on horseback?

A: Yeah (laughs). I’d ridden a little bit before, but this was intense. We did some horse training, and my character had ridden a lot in his life, so I had to look like I knew what I was doing. The other guys were allowed to sort of fumble their way through it because their characters hadn’t ridden before. So, I had to do more work. But once I got on the horse with the armor and the pack and gun, it felt like having to start from scratch and relearn it. And horses have a way of doing what they want to do (laughs), like not wanting to hit the mark and not wanting to face the camera and not wanting to sit still. So, it was a whole other challenge.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

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