Liam Hemsworth: Tougher than Thor?
The loft suite at the Ace Hotel in New York. A December sun shines bright and hard through the large bay windows, although the thermometer outside reads just five degrees Celsius. Liam Hemsworth is strumming “House of the Rising Sun” on an Epiphone acoustic guitar, customised by Gibson exclusively for the hotel — a nod to the level of detail that goes into an upscale boho joint such as this one. Despite protesting that he only plays a little bit, he’s actually pretty good. Certainly good enough for his publicist, who presumably spends a considerable amount of time with him, to stare with her mouth wide open, clearly oblivious to her client’s hidden talents. She probably shouldn’t be quite so shocked. The last couple of years have shown that Hemsworth is full of surprises.
As younger brother of Chris “Thor” Hemsworth, the Australian actor is enjoying his own moment in the limelight, having just starred in one of the biggest films of 2014, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, alongside Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (part 2 to be released later this year). So far The Hunger Games franchise, based on books by the author Suzanne Collins, has pulled in over $1 billion in theatres worldwide and has been breaking box office records since the trilogy debuted in March 2012. Pretty much overnight, Hemsworth has gone from being “Thor’s brother” or “Miley Cyrus’ fiancé” (yep, remember that? The young lovers parted ways in 2013, soon after the singer inaugurated her tongue-poking, pixie-cut image reboot), to an established actor in his own right. On the day of our cover shoot — which sees him effortlessly modelling this season’s deconstructed suiting — he’s come straight from the Good Morning America studios where he was watched by millions over their breakfasts. As soon as we’re done, he has to dash to film The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The sci-fi movies have spring-boarded the young star into the upper echelons of Hollywood, with all its attendant demands, but he seems to be adjusting to the new altitude with ease.
“I guess the perception of me has changed. More people think about me now and the way people interact with me has changed, but it’s so not much that I’ve changed, you know?” the 24-year-old says in a soft Australian accent. “I still have all my best friends that I grew up with, and they’re still very much my best friends; they’re the closet people around me.” These aren’t empty words. His school buddy, Angus, is with him today on our shoot and gives him a friendly digging when we suggest he tries wearing a pair of Dolce & Gabbana rimmed glasses. “He grew up with me and he’s able to travel with me and it makes it a lot easier when you’re going all around the world, you know?” Hemsworth admits. “It’s nice to have someone who’s normal and familiar. For me it’s very helpful; it’s nice to to have proper mates around. And I’m super close to my family; my brothers are my best friends, we’re all really close to our parents, so I keep all that stuff close to me, you know?”
Hemsworth says “you know?” pretty much at the end of every sentence. That could be annoying, but coupled with his unpretentious demeanour (at the end of our shoot he gives everyone a hug and thanks them for their time), instead gives him a familiar feel, and makes it obvious why audiences warm to him on screen. Yet it’s his brother Chris who was the first Hemsworth to catch Hollywood’s eye, and the two, despite the seven years separating them, have very similar, rugged good looks. Chris is the better-known of the two, largely thanks to his part in the Marvel Studios’ comic book adaptations, but as with his height (he’s one centimetre taller than Chris) Liam is catching up fast.
”My brothers and I used to fight all the time. We had a throwing knife, and we’d play this game where you’d have to stand about two metres away from each other and take it in turns to throw it as close to the person’s foot and stick it into the ground.”
Hemsworth was born and spent his childhood years in Melbourne before relocating to Phillip Island, a tiny outpost off the Australian coastline, with his two older brothers, Chris and Luke (who’s also an actor), English-teacher mother and social services counsellor father. For anyone who’s seen the cult-classic Australian comedy series We Can Be Heroes by comedian Chris Lilley (the guy behind the equally brilliant Summer Heights High), Hemsworth likes to recount how the storyline, which featured the bullish Daniel Sim and his partially deaf twin Nathan, mirrored life in the outback with his own brothers. “That was us, man, it totally was. We used to fight all the time,” he laughs. “In the summer holidays we’d live in board shorts and we had a throwing knife, so we’d play this game where you’d have to stand about two metres away from each other and take it in turns to throw it as close to the person’s foot and stick it into the ground. It was really dangerous. I mean, it was kind of blunt, but it would still hurt a lot if it hit you. We used to play that a lot. There were a few cuts and bruises, a few shaves here and there. I think being a young, Australian guy you tend to do those kinds of stupid things.”
In other respects, the Hemsworth boys were not at all like their good-natured but essentially blokey Aussie peers. After taking part in high-school plays, and appearing in Home and Away and Neighbours (one or both soaps being a rite of passage for most actors there), Hemsworth followed Chris to LA in 2009. Both brothers auditioned for the lead role in Thor, and while Liam lost out to Chris, that same week he landed a part in a Disney romantic drama The Last Song, based on the Nicholas Spark novel, alongside Miley Cyrus. He’d been in LA just three weeks. “I remember the first thing I saw him do and being really surprised by how natural and comfortable he was in front of the camera,” Chris Hemsworth will tell me over email in response to a question about his younger brother’s early successes. “He always had a solid foundation and focus that was there from day one. I might’ve made a few suggestions with advice over the years but I’m not sure he needed them. Liam has a very strong sense of who he is and what he wants. The main thing I’d say is what my parents always told us, which was just to have fun, enjoy the ride; otherwise do something else.”
Liam Hemsworth remembers the advice being more involved than his brother suggests. “While we’d all read lines together and help each other out, Chris and Luke always made such a point of saying, What’s going to separate you from other people, what’s going to be the difference between you getting a job and someone else getting the job? So, you know, they told me to be prepared. They told me that if you commit to something and you believe in it then that’s the best thing you can do in the auditioning process when you first start out.” Whether it was his older brothers’ words of wisdom or his own strong work ethic, Hemsworth managed to avoid the years of waiting tables and back-to-back fruitless auditions and was instead thrown almost immediately into the big studio stuff. Following The Last Song, which propelled the young actor onto everyone’s radar as snaps of him and his co-star girlfriend Cyrus became gossip-mag fodder, leads in action thrillers Empire State, with Dwayne Johnson and Emma Roberts, and Paranoia, starring alongside Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman and Amber Heard, came along before the humongous Hunger Games propelled him into the really serious franchise league.
Chris on Liam: “He has a very strong sense of who he is and what he wants. The main thing I’d say is what my parents always told us, which was just to have fun, enjoy the ride; otherwise do something else.”
Interest is certainly increasing off the back of that role. There are rumours circulating around that he might be dating his co-star Jennifer Lawrence (an easy story to conjure up), but there is more to Hemsworth than you’d read in the gossip columns. Both he and Chris are ambassadors for the Australian Childhood Foundation, which works to prevent child abuse and educate schools and communities to put background checks in place for anyone working with kids. “I grew up in a great family and was able to dream big and had an incredible support system,” he says. “The world is scary enough; kids deserve to feel comfortable and, you know, it’s just about paving the path for a more positive future and bringing up kids with morals and a good education. When you’re in my position you have a responsibility to do things. People are influenced by your words and I wanna have a positive effect on people and contribute to a more positive future.” His next project, The Dressmaker, which he’s currently filming with Kate Winslet in Melbourne, sees the actor back in his homeland for the first time since he left for Hollywood. The small, indie film is based on the best-selling book by Aussie author, Rosalie Ham. It’s set in the 1950s and sees Winslet play a woman who returns to the small town she grew up in to seek revenge.
While he’ll be back in front of the cameras with an Academy Award-winner, Hemsworth says he is most excited about meeting up with his old friends for a few beers. “I mean, I grew up on a really small island, we didn’t have traffic lights, it was just paddocks and the ocean,” he reminisces. “Just thinking about having spent my whole life there and already having been quite disconnected and removed from the rest of the world and now being where I am and travelling and working is quite, I dunno…”, he trails off. “I feel very fortunate to be where I am; not many people get out of that small town. I mean, I love that place and I could still go back and live there and be very happy.”
Maybe he would be happy to go back home one day. Maybe his new life in Hollywood hasn’t yet seduced him completely. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it was Liam Hemsworth, with his rock-solid faith in who he is and where’s he’s come from, who seduced Hollywood. In which case he could go anywhere he damn well pleases.
For all images of the shoot click here.
FASHION ASSISTANT: HEARTLEIGH LITTLE. GROOMING: KATE GOODWIN AT ILLUMIN8 MAKE UP STUDIO. PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS: BRIAN HAHN AND NICK STOKES. SHOT ON LOCATION AT THE ACE HOTEL NEW YORK.