Chris Hemsworth, BALANCE’s No 1 wellness warrior, on anxiety, wellbeing and Centr
When Thor, the mighty God Of Thunder no less, opens up about his struggles with anxiety, it offers solace to all us mere mortals. After all, on paper Chris Hemsworth has it all: he’s one of the biggest movie stars of all time (his films have grossed more than $8 billion, even before Avengers: Endgame is released), he has a happy home life in his native Australia with his wife and three children and, as his 26 million Instagram followers can attest, he’s not in bad shape.
But then earlier this year, Hemsworth admitted he’d had his struggles with anxiety, and it made the world realise that anyone, even an Avenger, can experience issues with mental health. The 35-year-old’s candour is his way of saying: we’re all in this together.
And as Balance enjoys a refreshingly candid chat, Hemsworth says, “It feels good to openly admit ‘this is the truth to how I’m feeling and who I am, and I’m as vulnerable as anyone else’. By acknowledging that, you suddenly diminish the threat and the power.
“If you look at fear and anxiety, it really is just awareness. It’s your body telling you that you need to be aware of something and look a little closer. ‘What is it? You need to prep more. Or an animal is about to kill me, run away!’” He unleashes the sort of rich, rolling laugh that could stop traffic. “Rather than thinking fear is a bad thing, harness it as your body saying, ‘Let’s get to work in one way or another.’”
HYDE AND SEEK
Born in Melbourne, Hemsworth is your typical Victorian: grounded, likeable, what both Aussies and Brits might call ‘a bloody good bloke’. Good is in his blood: mum is a teacher, dad is a social services worker. However, despite enjoying domestic success on soap Home & Away (he played Kim Hyde from 2004-07), Chris yearned for more and got it via a small-but-memorable role in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. “If I go back 10 or 15 years, I feel that a lot of that time it was about, ‘If I only had this, or this film, or was in this position, then that would be perfect’,” he says. “Then I’d get to that position and very quickly there was a new goal or a new thing. I was always looking ahead and not appreciating what was right in front of me.
“The last year or so, I’ve cut down a lot of those things. The way I’m looking at it all is a lot more settled. My kids are a bit older and I’m getting used to being a dad and the craziness of work and balancing the two. I feel less need to prove a lot of things; I’ve ticked a lot of the boxes I wanted to tick. As a human being, I’m a little bit more comfortable in my own skin.”
More pertinent, he underwent this exploration of the self while becoming a superstar. “It’s interesting: your personal growth and development on a worldwide platform can be influenced in good and bad ways!” He laughs. “Growing as a human being, while having fame thrown into the mix can certainly alter things.”
He kept negativity at bay by “not allowing outside circumstances to be as impactful on my happiness. Whether it was a movie opening at the box office, reviews or feedback, or films I did or didn’t get, I was just asking myself, ‘Am I having fun here?’ That was why I started out on this journey and, the truth is, I am having a hell of a lot of fun.
“There was a lot of angst and anxiety earlier on, and I still get anxiety. I remember very early on finding comfort in Anthony Hopkins and Cate Blanchett saying they were never sure if they were going to work again after each film they’d done. It’s about becoming comfortable with that possibility.
“It’s so easy to let the years roll by. I even look at Home & Away and think, ‘I wish I had enjoyed that more.’ I was 19 and on the beach, earning a couple of grand a week, which was massive for me at the time. Yet I was so filled with the desire to go to Hollywood and do something else that I didn’t soak up that experience as much as I could have.”
TAKING CENTR STAGE
The whole journey is why he has launched Centr, a new website and app that introduces you to his team of trainers, experts and chefs. “In going through the years and the times where I’ve really struggled with anxiety or versions of lower self-esteem and energy and all of that, what really got me out of that funk was training and eating right; just really taking a look inside and a bit of self-analysis, and trying to re-programme why my thought patterns had led me down this path.
“I started working with different trainers, nutritionists and mindfulness teachers because I wanted to get out of this slightly depressive place that I was finding myself in at times, and I noticed what a difference it made. There was an opportunity to bring together a community of like-minded people who’d had a positive and beneficial impact on my life, and have that on a global scale. I’m looking into suicide prevention, youth depression, and I do a lot of work with my parents with child protection.
“With any sort of mental illness, the first thing that’s being prescribed now before medication is physical activity, diet, nutrition and meditation. It’s no longer this hippy approach, whatever you want to call it, and it is becoming more widely accepted and appreciated, having a much more holistic view on health and wellness.
“It’s been hugely satisfying in that sense because it has changed people’s day to day lives. We’re only a month in, but the feedback has been hugely positive. It’s a nice reminder that we’re doing something right and can make a difference somewhere. On top of that, it’s a great creative venture which is very different to anything I’ve done before.”
APPROACHING THE ENDGAME
His next project also promises to be very different. Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe films that will see Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and the gang potentially join forces for the final time. The MCU will continue, but several stars are set to hang up their capes and masks.
“I’ve never been more excited,” he says of Endgame which, like Infinity War, is directed by the Russo brothers. “When shooting that movie, we all knew it would be a wrap-up for some of us, or it’s certainly going to be the largest culmination of all of this for the whole Marvel Universe. They’re going to go on and make other films, but I don’t think you could ever have this sort of culmination. This was the original five, right up to how many there are now: 70-something characters.
“When we all signed on to that first film with a six or nine-picture deal, no one knew if we’d make it past the first one. It’s absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity; it was exciting and nostalgic, like when you finish high school.
“As far as this individual movie goes, I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard more positive things about it than any other Marvel film. And I don’t say that as a sales pitch because it doesn’t need one!”
One film that did require a sales pitch, however, was the original Thor, the movie that transformed him from ‘next big thing’ to ‘A-list megastar’. After all, Thor is a tricky one to nail: he can appear a little earnest in the comics, while Norse mythology doesn’t scream packed multiplexes. Yet he has done something special; his charisma, innate likeability and natural humour has helped Thor become, arguably, the finest film incarnation of a superhero ever. Yes, really. By the time we get to director Taika Waititi’s 2017 masterwork Thor: Ragnarok, the Norse god is having a blast.
“I am genuinely proud of what we’ve done with it, because there were times when I felt like I was treading water and everyone else was taking advances in their character development. Their films were big at the box office and growing and the fanfare was huge. And I felt like, ‘Yeah, we’re along for the ride. But we really need to step it up a bit!’ And Taika was really the turning point for me to reinvent it in such a big way. And then the Russos coming on board for the last Avengers film was dramatically different again. You’re going to be pretty surprised by the next one!”
FOND ON BOND
While Thor is Hemsworth’s most-iconic role to date, it was Rush and his portrayal of quintessential Englishman James Hunt, champion of formula one and the party scene, that changed perceptions. No superhero, Hunt was a flawed human, a man who chased the high life with the same passion he pursued rival Niki Lauder. “Rush was straight off the back of Thor and when I faced my biggest wall of typecasting. Going into any meeting or casting, the preconception from the director was that I was a larger body-building, superhero character and that was all I could play. So the idea of playing a lean racing car driver was a hurdle I had to get over.”
Surely, Balance reasons, playing Hunt was the ultimate calling card for another debonair British gent, one who’s similarly quick with the ladies, yet even quicker with a Walther PPK: 007 himself. Hemsworth says he’d “love to” play the world’s most famous spy, while being respectful to producer Barbara Broccoli and the legion of fans. It is, of course, the sort of impeccably polite approach that makes him pure James Bond.
He laughs again. “When we were shooting Rush someone had said that and I thought, ‘Cool, if this is my audition tape, then great.’ I don’t think you’ll ever meet anyone who doesn’t want to have a crack at James Bond. I’d love to do it.
“But that’s up to so many elements and is way beyond myself; it’s not one you can pitch yourself on to either. It’s something that the community of Bond fans, Barbara Broccoli and the whole crew there agree on, and it has to be a very organic decision from them. There have been a lot of names thrown out there and a lot of brilliant people can tackle that one.”
There’s a pause and he laughs: “Mate. You can be my motivational speaker and my agent now. I need that pitch in writing and we’ll just get that out in the world!” Chris, my word is my Bond.
Before Bond (come on, Barbara, the guy’s perfect!), he has Men in Black: International, the fourth instalment in the hit franchise. “We had a hell of a time on MiB. It was great. The idea was to aesthetically take it out of New York and have a far more international vibe to it. We were shooting in London, Morocco, Italy. We ticked that box, and just had a great laugh. There’s a lot of humour. It’s another piece of film history, a pinch yourself moment where you go, ‘Hell, I grew up with Men in Black,’ so to find yourself in amongst it is pretty cool.”
So, what about the future? “Hulk Hogan. I’ve been talking to (director) Todd Philips for a while now. He brought up the idea and originally it was going to be a TV series. Then we just started riffing one day, coming up with some ideas, and getting pretty excited about what it could be. I haven’t seen the script yet – they’re still writing it – and it’s pretty early days. I’m gonna need a hell of a lot of prep time because of the physicality, and it’s something you definitely can’t do half-heartedly, but it will be so much fun. It’s going to be quite the transformation, I’m looking forward
to it when it comes along.” Physical transformation, you say? We’re pretty sure there’s an app for that…