Family guy

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Erin O'Dwyer

"I'm wary of calling myself a celebrity."

"I'm wary of calling myself a celebrity." Photo: Ben Watts/Corbis Outline

Just about the only time Chris Hemsworth gets for a surf is when his three kids go down for a sleep. "Each time you add one it feels like three more," he says with a laugh. "It feels like I have six. They're non-stop, active kids."

Together with his wife, 39-year-old actor Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth has the dreaded "three under three" – daughter India Rose, 3, and twin sons Tristan and Sasha, 19 months. Family life is chaotic and all-consuming. "The biggest thing I've learnt having kids," he says, "is that now I know what love is, I know what frustration is. I know the full gamut of emotions, good and bad. I feel I had just scratched the surface prior."

Both Hemsworth's and Pataky's Instagram accounts show a picture of normal family life – Dad pushing the twins in the double pram, Mum jumping on the trampoline with India Rose.

The Hemsworth brothers (from left) Liam, Chris and Luke.

The Hemsworth brothers (from left) Liam, Chris and Luke. Photo: Rex Features/Splash.

Hemsworth, 32, is determined to keep it that way. The family is based in Byron Bay – not LA – in a sprawling, ocean-frontage Balinese-style mansion they bought for $7 million last year.

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Pataky, his wife of five years, who plays Elena Neves in the Fast and Furious film franchise, is managing to keep her career ticking over while still focusing on motherhood, despite being halfway across the world from her native Spain.

The family's decision to live in Australia is an unusual one, not just because it's far from the film industry's epicentre in Hollywood. After all, many Australian movie stars have had unhappy experiences when trying to settle back in to their homeland. The late Heath Ledger tried to put down roots in the Sydney beachside suburb of Bronte with then partner Michelle Williams in 2004, but was driven out by paparazzi, saying at the time, "We're pursued like we're aliens." And in 2009, Nicole Kidman said she had quit Sydney for good because of the city's "relentless paparazzi".

Chris Hemsworth with wife Elsa Pataky and their children, India Rose and twins Tristan and Sasha.

Chris Hemsworth with wife Elsa Pataky and their children, India Rose and twins Tristan and Sasha.

But Hemsworth says that for the most part, fans and photographers leave him alone in Byron Bay.

"Here, if someone recognises you it doesn't tend to be as big a deal," he says. "People are like, 'Oh yeah, cool,' then onward with the day. If you are living in Hollywood, people have travelled from around the world to see people in the entertainment business and they've got the cameras ready and a bigger deal is made of it. Here we have a very normal existence, people are very respectful, and that was why we chose to come here."

It has taken a mere five years for Hemsworth to muscle his way into Hollywood's elite. There's no chance of a face-to-face interview and I'm obliged to watch his new film, In the Heart of the Sea (out December 3), in the presence of a security guard before the actor's location and availability can even be confirmed. But Hemsworth remains slightly uncomfortable with his fame. "I'm wary of calling myself a celebrity. It's such a funny word to openly call myself. It doesn't sit well in my mouth."

Hemsworth with India Rose.

Hemsworth with India Rose.

In the Heart of the Sea puts Hemsworth back in his natural environment, the ocean. He plays Owen Chase, the first mate on the ill-fated 1820 whaling journey that inspired Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick. It's an assured performance that continues to mark him as one of Hollywood's leading men.

"It was the most settled I've felt [on a set]," he says. "Something about the story spoke to me. What this guy was going through, what drove him to survive and get back to his family correlated with what was going on in my life. I could relate to that drive and understand the scale of that emotion."

The film sees Hemsworth at his slightest, physically. The cast was reduced to eating 2000 to 2500 kilojoules a day (about a fifth of the required amount for an adult male) on a regime of fish and vegetables, to make the film's shipwreck scenes more convincing. Hemsworth describes the diet as "more mentally challenging than anything else."

"You try to convince yourself you're not hungry when you are," he says. "What could you have and get away with, if you did eat? And how many extra minutes is that on the treadmill?"

It's hard to believe that only eight years ago, Hemsworth's career was sinking fast. His first break – a small role playing Captain Kirk's father in the 2009 reboot of cult classic Star Trek – came and went. Month after month he turned up at auditions and heard nothing. Suffocated by the Hollywood scene, he moved down the coast and spent his time surfing, going to LA only to read for parts.

"It was audition after audition," Hemsworth says. "The feedback was bad and it's a slippery slope and it just got worse. The anxiety which I thought I'd learnt to manage crept back in."

The callback came as he was thinking about returning to Australia. But those desperate nine months remain with him: fear and self-doubt fire his ambition.

"It used to be, 'Oh God, there's something wrong with me, I have all this doubt and all this fear and I have to get rid of it in order to do it properly," he says. "But then I noticed when I would feel 100 per cent confident, there wasn't a motor driving me or there was something missing. That fear is the engine room to working that bit harder and being more disciplined."

Hemsworth has nothing to worry about. He is Thor – God of Thunder. And along with his magical hammer and the power of flight, he has developed an uncanny ability to pull in the crowds.

Thor was Hemsworth's true lucky break. The phenomenally successful 2011 film took almost $500 million at the box office and spawned two sequels, with a third to be filmed in Australia next year. (He describes the regime required to bulk up 13 kilos for Thor as being "as hard as anything I've ever done".)

He's also part of the superhero team in 2012's The Avengers, the third-biggest grossing film of all time. A sequel followed earlier this year and already two more Avengers movies are slated for release, in 2018 and 2019.

Hemsworth's involvement with the Midas-like Thor franchise was pure chance. Younger brother Liam had made the short list but not Chris. His manager, William Ward, reportedly told producers: "You've got to reconsider Chris; he's your guy." Hemsworth got his screen test and director Kenneth Branagh gave the nod.

It's the stuff of Hollywood legend. And it's paying forward for Hemsworth. He has a reported net worth of $71 million. He's on the Forbes list of highest-earning actors, ahead of the usual suspects such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney and big-earning compatriots like Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman.

Like Crowe, Hemsworth also has a serious oeuvre. Or as Forbes put it: "When he's not playing a Norse god, Hemsworth is busy pursuing an Oscar."

His 2013 film Rush – about British motor racing legend James Hunt – was the first to take hunky, comedic Thor and give him serious acting stripes. The likeness between the two big blonde laddish men was remarkable. Yet it took a cold call from Hemsworth to convince director Ron Howard to consider him. "Just in this little audition he did, you could just see a lot of nuance," Howard said at the time.

Howard also directs In the Heart of the Sea and Hemsworth says their working relationship is one of trust and rapport. "With other directors, it's all about 'don't do that, don't step here, this is the right answer,' so you're going into it with hesitation all the time. Ron instils a whole lot of confidence in everybody."

Family life anchors Hemsworth. He grew up on Victoria's Phillip Island and spent time in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, after his father, a social worker, took a job there. Money was scarce and Hemsworth recalls his parents saving all year for their annual camping holiday.

"We'd go up the coast of Victoria and set up a tent and a campfire and it was great," he says. "But looking back on what that cost and what they had to do for us to get there is crazy, in comparison to working in this world now."

Eldest brother Luke went into acting first. He studied at Deakin University, then won a role on Neighbours. Chris and Liam auditioned for Neighbours and Home and Away straight from school.

"We thought, that looks like a hell of a lot more fun than working on a building site, which is what I was doing around the time I was finishing school," says Hemsworth. "It just looked like fun."

None of the brothers has looked back. Chris spent more than three years on Home and Away before Ward scouted him and invited both him and Liam to Hollywood. Liam now stars in the successful Hunger Games franchise while Luke, who has four small children, recently moved to the US for a role in Westworld – an upcoming HBO sci-fi series.

Hemsworth says the brothers spar over their surfing and skateboarding prowess, rather than their acting.

"They are the best support I have, and hopefully vice versa," he says.

It's clear from the red-carpet snaps of the boys' parents, Craig and Leonie, where their good genes come from.

The couple, who both worked in child protection at the Australian Childhood Foundation, now spend much of their time travelling with their famous sons.

"They joke that they're reliving their youth travelling with us," Hemsworth says. "I'll say, 'What are you doing the next few months, Mum? And she'll say, 'I don't know, where's the next premiere?'

"We laugh and shake our heads and don't try to dissect it too much," he says. "We might jinx it." 

THREE FACTS

Chris Hemsworth

Bought his Malibu house from Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan for $4.8 million.
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Named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive in 2014.
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Supports child protection group, Australian Childhood Foundation.