Although his appearance in "Star Trek" was brief, Chris Hemsworth's emotionally-charged turn as Captain George Kirk in the 2009 blockbuster certainly made people take notice -- including director Kenneth Branagh, who was looking for a star to anchor his film about the Norse God of Thunder.
"'Star Trek' actually came out when I was auditioning for 'Thor' -- and Ken has said he had seen the film and was impressed," Hemsworth said in a recent interview. "It was perfect timing."
Oddly enough, Hemsworth, an Australian native, had precious little time to prepare for small, but pivotal role as the father of the iconic James T. Kirk.
"I was cast on Friday night at (director) J.J. Abrams' office. He said 'You got the job -- you start Monday,'" Hemsworth recalled with a laugh. "I didn't know much about what I was doing, but I left myself open and available to what I was doing and tried to find the truth in it. It was a lot of fun."
While George Kirk was captain of his ship for 12 minutes, "Thor" definitely puts Hemsworth in command of the whole film, opening in theaters nationwide on Friday. The major difference is, while Kirk was a selfless individual who sacrificed himself for 800 others, Thor, when we first meet him, is the complete opposite: arrogant, selfish and hot-headed.
Lucky for Hemsworth, Thor's attitude only represented his beginnings in an eventful character arc.
"That was the big incentive for me in wanting to get the part -- I prefer, personally, a part that presents a lot of contrast," Hemsworth said. "I wanted to get a part that was unpredictable because as people we're unpredictable. You want to surprise an audience, and challenge their interpretation or views on who they think the character is. It makes the character certainly more interesting to watch, and certainly the script allowed for room to do that."
Based on the legendary Marvel comic book series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, "Thor" chronicles the character's exploits in epic fashion: from his reckless ways as a powerful but petulant warrior in the mystical realm of Asgard, to his banishment to Earth by his father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins). It's there where Thor meets research scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and must adapt from prince to pauper if he is to live among the humans and ultimately learn humility. And it's where he will eventually have to face the dark forces sent from his world to protect the innocent of his new home.
The Shakespearean Factor
While there were concerns expressed by the comic book's faithful fans with the selection of a Shakespearean director in to helm "Thor," Hemsworth said he never had a doubt in his mind that Branagh -- who's film adaptations include The Bard's "Hamlet," "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "As You Like It" -- was more than suited for the job.
"He's kind of perfect if you think about it, with his Shakespearean background, because there's an old English feel to this film and he knows that feel better than anyone," Hemsworth observed. "Odin, Thor and that world pretty much represents the Royal Family with kings and queens. Thor's journey is pretty much like 'Henry V,' which he did an Academy Award-nominated version of. For me, he was perfect -- a resource of knowledge of the regality of that world."
The bonus, Branagh offered in a separate interview, is that the tale of "Thor" has inherent Shakespearean qualities.
"The Marvel treatment of the Norse myth to attain, achieve and aspire to a god-like quality in themselves, whatever that might be -- piece of mind or generosity of spirit -- and reassessing what that means," Branagh said. "That dichotomy, that paradox, that tension -- between god and man, man aspiring to be god-like, and gods dealing to be human-like -- is a kind of tension and exploration of the inner-life of a character that is very Shakespearean. "
"I think in both cases, with a Shakespeare play like 'Henry V' and with a tale like 'Thor,' all of that is wrapped up adventure tale," Branagh added. "That's where those two intersect."
Building The Perfect Thor
While Hemsworth said he benefited from being in the company of Branagh, as well as such acting stalwarts as Hopkins, Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and Tom Hiddleston (who plays Thor's conniving brother, Loki), it was entirely up to 6-foot-3 performer to when it came to building Thor's massive, sculpted body.
"It took a good five or sixth months of force-feeding myself buckets of protein, and then spending six or seven days a week in the gym," Hemsworth said. "I've always been pretty active and played a lot of sports, but I've never lifted weights, so this was a whole new thing for me. My body didn't set well with that weight, eating tons and tons."
And, as Hemsworth found, the regimen didn't stop when filming began. After all, he had to be ripped when it came time for removing his shirt (and see Portman's and co-star Kat Dennings' jaws drop collectively).
"I had to keep up with it because the shirtless scene was about three-quarters through the shoot," Hemsworth said. "It meant at the end of a 16-hour day, I'd have to get into the gym. It was very exhausting. It was a good thing that I was prepared for it all."
For the time being, Hemsworth, 27, said the workouts will continue, thanks to his role in writer-director Joss Whedon's Marvel superhero ensemble extravaganza "The Avengers," which is set for a May 4, 2012, release. Thor and Loki will be featured in the film, along with several other Marvel legends including Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo)/The Incredible Hulk (voice of Lou Ferrigno).