interview For Thor, Chris Hemsworth was 215 pounds, but he slimmed down to 185 pounds for this film
Chris Hemsworth was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. After roles on Australian TV, he made his Hollywood debut in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek . His other films include The Cabin in the Woods, Thor, The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman.
Hemsworth, one of the best young stars in Hollywood today, jumped at the chance to play British racer James Hunt in Ron Howard’s Rush. “Well, for a start it’s a brilliant script and then there was the chance to work with Howard and to play this extraordinary character, James Hunt. So really, it was a no brainer for me,” says Hemsworth.
Howard’s film concentrates on a four-year period leading up to 1976 — regarded by F1 fans as one of the best seasons ever — when Hunt, in his McLaren, and reigning champion Niki Lauda, driving for Ferrari, were neck to neck for the championship.
Hunt was a hard-drinking playboy who loved to party and enjoyed the company of women. He married model Suzy Miller (played by Olivia Wilde) a few weeks after meeting her, but the relationship ended within a year when she eloped with actor Richard Burton.
His archrival Niki was played by Daniel Bruhl, who was “a completely different character,” says Hemsworth. During his incredible racing career — he won the F1 Championship three times — Niki was happily married and lived a relatively quiet life.
In preparation, Hemsworth read everything he could find on Hunt and listened to and watched hours of audio and TV interviews and scrutinised the footage of his races. “It’s a fascinating story because there’s the intense rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and the psychology of Formula 1. These guys lived with the looming threat of death and all, basically, for entertainment. Back in the 1970s, there were four or five of them dying a year and you think how that affected them. So there were a lot of things from when I first read the script to when I saw the finished film that excited me,” says Hemsworth.
Hunt retired from Formula 1 in 1979 and sadly died from a heart attack in 1993, aged just 45. Lauda finally gave up racing in 1985 and has gone on to become a very successful businessman, including launching his own airline.
Hemsworth vividly recalls the moment he first eased himself into a Formula 1 racing car on the set for Rush .
“I remember the first time I got into one of these cars, and there’s the incredible roar of the engine and the whole thing is vibrating. You are locked into this little cocoon and your shoulders are rubbing the sides of the cabin and you feel that this car is an extension of your body. We drive around in our normal cars and we feel quite separate from them, whereas when you are in an F1 car, you are so close to the ground and you are so connected to that machine that you feel every little bump and hook. And there’s such a sense of power because it is right at your fingertips, but you also realise how vulnerable you are because of the precarious nature of the machines. It’s an incredible feeling. Once you get into that machine you immediately understand the connection and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. It hits you in the gut,” he says.
About the physical preparation required to play James Hunt, he says, “For Tho r I was 215lbs and I got down to 185lbs for this film, so I lost 30lbs and it was hard work. It’s funny, my wife was pregnant at the time and I felt I had more symptoms of pregnancy than she had — I was moody, I was hungry, I was tired because I was over-trained and under-fed. But I had to get rid of all of that weight because I was obviously too big. James was 6 ft. 2 inches and I’m 6 ft. 3 inches so it wasn’t a height thing; it was the bulk I had from Thor and with that I certainly wasn’t going to fit in the car.”
Asked whether he met any of the drivers from that time, he says, “Alastair Caldwell who was McLaren’s team manager back then was around on the set a lot, and this was as close to James as anyone could be and he was of huge value. But even Alastair said that there was some mystery regarding who James was.”
Is Rush an appropriate title for the film? “Oh yes, there’s certainly a rush when you drive these cars. We were tossing that around for a while but I think it sums it up perfectly,” he says.
You are locked into this little cocoon and your shoulders are rubbing the sides of the cabin and you feel that this car is an extension of your body.