Superhero, dad, activist: Chris Hemsworth on his new Netflix flick ‘Extraction’

The Australian superstar is much more than his 'Thor' persona. On the sets of his latest film, he talks stunts, friends and climate change

Updated - April 22, 2020 07:25 pm IST

Published - February 28, 2020 06:01 pm IST

Chris Hemsworth with Rudhraksh Jaiswal in Extraction

Chris Hemsworth with Rudhraksh Jaiswal in Extraction

Chris Hemsworth is deep in discussion with first-time director Sam Hargrave, standing amid piles of fresh tropical produce and baskets of bright chrysanthemums. I’m in Bangkok, on the set of his upcoming Netflix movie, Extraction . A make-up artiste adds some dirt and fake blood to his already grimy forehead before the shot commences. As mercenary Tyler Rake, he shoots at the bad guys and reloads his weapon.

It is the kind of scene that I’d normally document in real time on Instagram Stories or add to my timeline for posterity. But I’ve waited over a year to write this story thanks to an embargo, part of Netflix’s rather secretive protocol. Since January 2019, I’ve stalked everyone associated with the film; there were glimpses of the dubbing, additional photography and, finally, an announcement last week that the movie is out on April 24.

In that time, both Netflix and Hemsworth have been busy. The streaming platform came out with several big-budget blockbusters, including Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman (with a production cost of $200 million) and the Ryan Reynolds-starrer, 6 Underground ($150 million). The latter, with a 45% Rotten Tomatoes rating, was the eighth most popular title in India last year.

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth in Men in Black: International

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth in Men in Black: International

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old actor was in Avengers: Endgame , a Men in Black reboot, got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and announced a fourth instalment for Thor . In the last few months, his Instagram has been a picture of familial bliss, as he has taken some well-deserved down-time in Australia. It has also brought into focus his activism — he donated $1 million to the wildfires that raged across his home country, and has been vocal about the climate change crisis.

Bend it like Hemsworth

With an action-heavy filmography featuring the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is easy to put Hemsworth in a box. Perhaps it started when he played hunky high-school dropout Kim Hyde in the Australian soap opera, Home and Away . But through his career, there have been some breakaway roles and genre experiments, too. In 2012, it was a horror comedy ( The Cabin in the Woods ) and fantasy ( The Huntsman: Winter’s War ). 2013’s sports drama Rush was followed by the adventure, In the Heart of the Sea , a couple of years later.

The most recent — and one that had everyone talking about his acting range over his workout plan — was as psychotic cult leader Billy Lee in the 2018 neo-noir thriller, Bad Times at the El Royale . What drives him to experiment? “Boredom, or the fear of it,” he laughs, adding, “I’d like to do a full-fledged comedy. I had so much fun on Bad Times... because there was an insanity to that character and a darkness, peppered with a sense of humour. It keeps me sharp, and helps me approach drama or action in a different way. Even the new version of Thor [in Endgame, where he went against type, sporting a pot belly] was a big experiment for me.”

The oner
  • Hargrave was keen on attempting a ‘long take’ — an uninterrupted shot that lasts longer than a typical take.
  • This involved a good three weeks of rehearsal as he ambitiously aimed for 12 minutes.
  • The shot features car chases, running, a gun fight and hand-to-hand combat, and is one of the highlights of the film.

Breaking free of restrictions

Extraction marks his entry into the world of streaming services, joining stars such as Ben Affleck ( Triple Frontier ), Renée Zellweger ( What/If ) and Sandra Bullock ( Bird Box ), who’ve found success there, while simultaneously pursuing big-screen projects. In the film, his character, Rake — a man who lost his son — is hired to rescue Ovi Mahajan (played by Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the kidnapped son of an international crime lord, from Dhaka. What follows is an exploration of his dark past and the pursuit of redemption. “I got to invent a new character that isn’t held to any restrictions from something done before or a comic book or a real-life figure,” he tells me. The cast includes Randeep Hooda, Priyanshu Painyuli and Pankaj Tripathi in key roles, as well as David Harbour and Golshifteh Farahani.

Hemsworth is also credited as producer, which gave him more creative input. While scriptwriter Joe Russo had envisioned the lead as an American, he says, “I told Joe that we don’t see too many characters, especially action heroes, outside the country [Australia], unless it is a quintessential Aussie bloke.” So Rake became Australian, and Hemsworth got to keep his accent.

Chris Hemsworth as Tyler Rake in Extraction

Chris Hemsworth as Tyler Rake in Extraction

For an action film, the cast found it more emotionally challenging than expected. A couple of moments were quite “raw and painful”, he says. “Sam came in guns blazing, wanting to attempt things on the action front, which I was excited about. But what I didn’t expect was his intuitiveness on where the drama of a scene should take us. You can shoot stuff and make it look impressive, but if you’re not telling a story within that piece of action, it is not nearly as memorable as it can be.”

Over the years, he has altered his approach to such dramatic scenes. Prepping for every line meant he was not really reacting to what was happening around him. “Sometimes, the script speaks to you in a way that affects you directly. When I read my lines and get choked up at certain points, I try and save that for the camera,” he says.

On the sets
  • An hour’s drive to the sleepy district of Nakhon Pathom, I am transported from Bangkok to Dhaka in the blink of an eye — the largely commercial area transformed into a ghetto-like neighbourhood. Art director Harrison Yurkiw tells us that only establishing shots were filmed in Bangladesh; security concerns meant they had to find a suitable location elsewhere. Thailand’s authorities were welcoming, even giving them permission to shut down a bridge, where some pivotal scenes were to be shot.
  • An immense amount of detail has gone into the sets. Posters on the wall are in Bangla, while auto rickshaws have been flown in from India. The dilapidated cars lining the street match the make and models available in Bangladesh. Yurkiw adds, “The trash strewn all around was carted here from Kolkata. The clothes hanging on the lines and the packaged snacks on the vendors’ carts are from Bangladesh.”

Keeping it real time

When it comes to physical training, the shredded actor goes all out for every role. Hargrave told him he had to be fitter than ever for this film. “It was all about functionality: my training off-screen needed to mimic what I’d be required to do on set. It was the most complex, real-life action we’ve done, no wire gags or special effects,” he says.

For Extraction , staying in the same hotel as the cast and crew — both while filming in India in late 2018 and in Bangkok — gave him the opportunity to train with the stuntmen, fostering a communal spirit that “felt like one big bootcamp”. With recent films like Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood putting the spotlight on stuntmen, it touches upon a topic that the actor feels very strongly about. “They say Sam [a stuntman-turned-filmmaker] is a first-time director, but I don’t think it really applies to him. Guys like David Leitch ( John Wick ) are making these massive blockbusters. There is this wealth of knowledge and experience that has been unacknowledged. It is not just about the danger; there is artistry involved.” His stunt double, Bobby Holland Hanton, recently shared the Screen Actors Guild recognition for outstanding performance by a stunt ensemble for Avengers: Endgame . This is the kind of acknowledgement Hemsworth is calling for from the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards as well.

Chris Hemsworth with his three children in Australia

Chris Hemsworth with his three children in Australia

After years of working in front of a green screen and in sound stages, filming on location was a refreshing change. “There is a sense of realism that is pulled from you when there is a real environment to interact with,” he says. Just then, a crew member tells us to put our earplugs in — they are testing out an explosive within the market walls. Someone suggests Hemsworth should wear some, too, and he says, “A military guy once told me that in real life, there is no time for that. When the adrenaline kicks in, the body takes care of itself.” He continues, barely containing his laughter, “So I asked another man from the military, and he goes, ‘What’d you say?’” As the father of three children, I suppose the dad jokes should be expected, even if he is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Speaking of family, he gets pensive, saying, “My daughter is seven now and my boys are five... How quickly it all goes.” It is one of the reasons he chose to base his life outside the bubble that is Hollywood. “You’re sort of suffocated and lose perspective. In Australia, there is not a close friend of mine who is really in the industry, so it is hugely refreshing,” he says. Coming to the end of what he calls “the busiest part of my life”, with back-to-back films over the last 12 months, he sounds mildly startled when we point out that he started as Thor 10 years back. “I’ve lost my sense of time, in a way. It has been fantastic to be that busy, and the fortune and fame that comes with it. But it also scares the hell out of me. I am thankful for the opportunity to do what I love, but want to stop looking too far ahead and just enjoy this moment.”

Weighing in

Rudhraksh Jaiswal

Rudhraksh Jaiswal

Rudhraksh Jaiswal: “ Working with a big star like Chris, and being the youngest cast member, I initially felt a lot of pressure. But he was very kind, giving me advice on how to relate the dialogues to my character. Once, in the middle of a fight sequence, I got a scratch — he was so apologetic, calling the medics and assuring my mother it wouldn’t happen again... That’s the sort of caring person he is.”

Randeep Hooda in Extraction

Randeep Hooda in Extraction

Randeep Hooda: [My character] is described as a wrecking ball in the script. He’s had a run as a military personnel and is now working for Ovi’s father. For the action shots, we rehearsed twice a day for 10 days, since many of my roles so far have been more dramatic. I must say, I’ve never had a director on a wire, hanging next to me, giving me instructions.”

The writer was in Bangkok at the invitation of Netflix

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