Interview: Chris Hemsworth talks In The Heart of the Sea

Chris Hemsworth talks In The Heart of the Sea

The actor opens up about his role, the challenges presented and what it was like to play a real-life person.

With action adventure In The Heart of the Sea sailing into cinemas on Boxing Day, DIY sat down with the film’s star Chris Hemsworth for a highly enjoyable roundtable interview that revealed the Australian to be a hugely engaging interviewee with a penchant for laughing.

Here he tells us all about the rigorous filming process on the film, including the strict diet that Hemsworth and the cast had to adhere to in order to appear emaciated, the difference in playing a real-life person as opposed to a fictional character and just how hard it was not to laugh when filming the upcoming Ghostbusters.

SPOILER WARNING: There are one or two mild spoilers for those yet to see In The Heart of the Sea so do proceed with caution.

Have you had a chance to see the film yet?
I saw a very early cut about a year ago with no special effects, it was more of an assembly. But I have a bit of a tradition with my wife where we’ll always watch it together with the family, so they can make me feel good afterwards if it’s not good and talk me off the ledge! [laughs].

The 3D works really well and I’m not usually a fan of it.
Yeah, I’m not either!

A lot of your films have been in 3D…
When you’re shooting you wouldn’t know you’re shooting it for 3D, they just do the conversion but Ron [Howard] was telling me recently that he thought the scenes in the whale boat is where the 3D really comes into play because you feel like you’re right in amongst it. Whereas the action sequences are as great as you’d expect in 3D but it almost adds a whole different layer.

Is there a particular scene in the film that you enjoyed filming?
One of the ones that sort of caught me by surprise and was kind of heartbreaking was the scene with Cillian [Murphy] saying goodbye. Because it was at the end of the shoot as well and we were kind of saying goodbye and I was saying, “Oh my God, this is really emotional.” We had all formed such a tight little unit, this bond because we were all going through this crazy diet together and they were long days, we were exhausted and so on. It was unlike anything I’d done before, it was like being part of the football team in high school.

The other guys said it got quite competitive when you were doing the diet.
Yeah, who could lose more weight and so on. I’d come off Thor weight so for me to get down to normal weight was exhausting and then to go further… Jamie Sives [Cole], he looked sickly thin! Cillian got really thin, for that particular scene too. I didn’t have to get thin until later but that was his worst moment and I just remember those days he was like, “Just get me home, man.” I remember they pushed that scene by a few days and he was just like, “Oh my God, come on!” [laughs]

In the film it did seem as if it took your character Owen ages to grow a decent beard though. He’s supposed to be the manliest one and yet it he had the least amount of scruff for ages!
So there was a scene in the movie where we shaved and it didn’t make the finished cut. And I was like, “Oh great, why haven’t I grown a beard then?” [laughs] because all the other guys had a beard. The scene was part of Owen kind of rallying the troops and sort of [saying] “Come on guys, we’re still at sea, we’re still at work, we’re gonna shave…” and then that didn’t really make sense. It was something in the book that they’d actually done at one point I think to keep up morale. But that’s the reason! [laughs]

There’s a lot of sailing slang and vocabulary in the film. Were you familiar with any of them before?
I’ve spent a lot of time around the ocean, surfing and diving and so on as a kid but never on boats. Navigating your way around a ship and learning the lingo was a whole new thing. It was kind of like ‘doctor-speak’ where the words mean absolutely nothing, it’s like learning another language. We had a whole bunch of phrases in scenes where we’d just be improvising and moving that we could be yelling and shouting.

What in the script appealed to you?
I was swept up in the scale of it. You very rarely read something and you’re properly transported off to another place. It had that effect on me and after reading the script I kept thinking about it and the questions it raised and forces you to ask. But the opportunity to do something that was visually stunning and epic - but was at the heart a drama - was a combination I haven’t seen a lot of. The moral topics of man vs nature and nature vs man, survival and why we continue to keep fighting and why some give up… it was a lot of things that struck a chord with me. In all my free time as a kid the ocean has given me much happiness and some of the best experiences in my life. I’ve a huge amount of love and respect for it.

You started the year in a very physical role in Blackhat and now end the year in another physical role…
I don’t know if it’s a conscious choice, they’re just the things that have come my way and that I’ve liked. I was looking for a drama and a more character-driven piece and this happened to have that combination which was appealing. But from doing Rush which was a much more intimate, character-driven film and not having to compete with all the special effects like in Thor and so on, and not have to constantly try to drag it back into reality, everything in In The Heart of the Sea or Rush was there to support you in that sense.

Owen Chase was quite similar to James Hunt in a way. Testosterone driven, competitive…
Yeah, I thought that in some ways. I think James probably had a little more vulnerability in a sense. Chase was probably a little more certain. But both were highly motivated and full of ego and ambition and a need to be recognised.

If you don’t mind me saying, you look pretty awful by the end…
Sure! [laughs]

Did you secretly enjoy people looking at you in a different way?
Yeah, I think so. It was nice to transform that much. Everything from the costumes and the sets all help you feel like the character. By the time we got that skinny it was like, “Ok, cool”, there wasn’t a whole lot of acting required it was just like, “I do feel emotional and tired.” We’d do scenes after lunch and they were the hardest because you’d all of a sudden feel less that way.

Owen’s biggest moment in a way is when he reconsiders killing the whale at the end. Did you have access to his journals or letters that illustrated his change of heart in terms of whaling?
We’re really conscious of showing that moral dilemma and that inner conflict that they had with the brutality of what they were doing. Yes, it was the industry, that was their job to put food on the table. But you couldn’t not be affected by it. I guess it was like going to war, yes, you could tell yourself it was for your country but it’s horrific. So the moment where after the first whale hunt he catches the whale and is covered in blood that’s where we wanted to start showing the cracks and the inner conflict and the effect that had. That was a big turning point, where he didn’t have an answer.

What was it like acting these emotional scenes when there’s no whale to act against?
[Laughs] Yeah, it was like a tennis ball or something! You’re always having to use your imagination and it was towards the end of the shoot where there’s a whole load of emotional instability anyway because we weren’t eating much at that point so it wasn’t overly difficult. Three months into the shoot and you’re living and breathing the situation so a tennis ball quickly became something else [laughs].

Owen has quite a paternal relationship with young Nickerson - how was it working with Tom Holland?
It was a bit like that. He was extremely excited to be there and overwhelmed in a great way by it all, and was starstruck by the whole event of it. So it was easy to have that relationship with him. It was nice, we were all living in each other’s pockets so the whole cast was like that. We didn’t have to fake it.

Owen and Pollard clash a fair amount but Benjamin Walker couldn’t be less like his character and is a real joker.
He catches you off-guard because he’s very serious and then he’s hilarious and I didn’t know he had a background in stand-up. I got there last with the prep with the others because I had been shooting a movie and so they’d already formed this thing and in the script I’m supposed to be the one they trust and look to but then I turned up like the new kid in school [laughs]. He has such a great sense of humour which really helped on those days when we were bobbing about in those boats and there was not much life left in us. He’d do a few routines which was highly beneficial to our moods [laughs].

You’ve filmed in London a lot. Are you sick of us yet?
No I love it here! It’s nice to have a change of scenery but I love it here. The crews are fantastic. We used to stay in Twickenham and Richmond a lot and it’s just beautiful. Great for the family. We’re coming from L.A. at the time where there’s not a lot of foot traffic and is the complete opposite. You’re walking here with the kids in stroller, I love it here.

What was behind your decision to move back to Australia?
It was really hard once we had kids to do anything in L.A. You had to get in the car all the time and then the paparazzi live outside the door and it was kind of a nightmare. We just stopped doing things to avoid that, it was not fun. We didn’t need to be there as much, we thought, “We don’t even work in L.A.” nothing shoots there anymore. So we went back to Australia on holiday and fell in love with where we are now. I wanted the kids to have the same sort of outdoors upbringing like us and not to think Hollywood’s normal life. It got suffocating by the business; every conversation is about the work in films. You don’t feel like a person anymore, it’s like you’re always acting.

You’re doing quite a lot of comedy lately, I really enjoyed Vacation and you’ve got Ghostbusters coming up as well…
[Laughs] Yeah, it was awesome. So much fun. I was really nervous going in. I kept getting told the scenes are coming and they were gonna re-write some scenes because there wasn’t much of my character in the script, or there just wasn’t much of a character. I got to Boston the night before I’m shooting and I still haven’t got the script [laughs]. And I said, “I don’t know what to do for you tomorrow and he [director Paul Feig] said, “Don’t worry, we’ll work it out.” Everyone kept saying that was his method and I get on set and he keeps the camera rolling and the girls start improvising and he yells suggestions, you keep going, you crack up, you try and hold it together and it’s just endless reels of chaos but it was so much fun! If it doesn’t work then it’s not my fault - “You didn’t give me a script!” [laughs]. There’s something quite refreshing about that as opposed to saying, “Here’s the world’s greatest script, don’t mess it up.”

They’re funny ladies, it must’ve been hard going in there…
Oh my God, yeah it was. And then it was hard trying not to laugh. I just kept cracking up and I was just like, “I can’t…” [laughs].

You’ve played real-life people before, do you feel an extra sense of responsibility to get it right?
Yeah, I feel that responsibility with anything. I was probably more nervous about James Hunt because there’s footage of him and people around who knew him. So that was pretty scary. I loved the resources of material that we had to pull from but I didn’t feel like it was under the microscope so much. So I was less nervous in that sense.

Aside from Benjamin who’s American and yourself as an Aussie the rest of the cast are British and Irish. Aussies have a similar sense of humour to us…
Yeah, this is very familiar to me. They’re a lot more self-deprecating and sarcastic. It was perfect for the attitude of these sailors, that gallows humour.

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In The Heart of the Sea is released in UK cinemas on 26th December courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.