In the run-up to the April release of Avengers: Endgame, a typical morning for the actor who plays Thor includes dropping the kids off at school and then cleaning up the chaos of toys and other debris they have left in their wake.
“It’s pretty exhausting,” says Chris Hemsworth. He laughs over the irony that the man who plays one of Marvel’s fittest, most muscular superheroes could get laid low by such mundane concerns. “My knees and back get the most grief picking up their endless trail of bits and pieces they leave around the house,” he says.
By the end of March, he had been off the set for about a month, following a long and grueling schedule of filming. In addition to Endgame, he also had filmed Men in Black: International, the reboot of the MiB franchise that Hemsworth co-helms with Tessa Thompson, his co-star from Thor: Ragnarok. “I did an 8-month run of work, and it was too much trying to juggle work and family,” says Hemsworth. “I just felt like I was not doing either as well as I could have been.”
Every time he returns to his family’s home in Byron Bay, on the southeast coast of Australia, it takes days -- sometimes weeks -- to switch out of work mode. But he eventually slows down and re-domesticates himself. “My wife’s a great reminder, telling me, ‘You can stop now,’ ” he says of the actor Elsa Pataky. The two married in 2010.
At home, he limits his screen time to certain portions of the day and spends lots of time outdoors with his kids -- often with his 5-year-old twin sons on skateboards or his daughter, 7, on horseback. That’s when they’re not all in the ocean together.
“I’ve been surfing from a young age, as long as I can remember,” says Hemsworth, “and having them do it with me was always kind of the dream. I’m thankful that they’ve all taken to it.”
As he talked about time with his family, he knew it would end soon. Endgame opened in April (and comes out on digital in July and Blu-ray in August). Men in Black premiered in June. With those dates on the near horizon, he wanted to revel in home life as much as he could. “Part of the reason for living where we do is it’s a quiet coastal town that couldn’t be farther from Hollywood,” says Hemsworth. “Most of the elements here ground me and help me get back to basics.”
Workouts for Body and Mind
Hemsworth, who turns 36 in August, spent most of his childhood in the city of Melbourne, also on the ocean, though about 1,000 miles from Byron Bay. But his parents didn’t limit their three sons’ early years to city life. Hemsworth, his older brother, Luke, and his younger brother, Liam -- both actors -- spent significant time with their parents in the remote Northern Territory of Australia’s outback.
He began acting at 19. From 2004 to 2007, he starred in Home and Away, a popular Australian soap opera. He eventually left Australia for Hollywood. His first role there: a brief appearance as Captain Kirk’s father in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reimagining of Star Trek. Two years later, he landed the role for which he’s best known: the hammer-wielding Thor, Avenger and Asgardian god of thunder. The 6-foot, 3-inch actor added about 20 pounds of muscle to play the part. And, he says now, it wasn’t all the right muscle.
“I’d be fit and strong standing there doing a bicep curl, but then I’d be told to run and jump and roll and do a fight scene, and my body would sort of freak out. I’d have injuries or pain in places that I shouldn’t,” Hemsworth recalls.
His Thor workouts have evolved in the years since, during which he’s played the character eight times. “For the last one, I lifted a lot of heavy weights but also incorporated a lot of functional movements,” he says. “I’m much leaner in Men in Black. I did a lot of boxing for that, a lot of functional training around mobility, like bear crawls, air squats, lunges, sit-throughs, sprints, and kettlebells.”
Hemsworth’s workouts do more than sculpt his body. They also help ease his mind. Anxiety has troubled him as long as he’s been acting. It plagued his early career with worries that a single screw-up could have career-ending consequences.
“I found that training was a form of meditation for me,” he says. “It was exhausting enough that I couldn’t think of anything but that. It would expel a lot of that nervous energy and get it out of my system. Or I could confront it and use it and exhaust it.”
Eventually, Hemsworth learned to harness his fear of failure and found joy in improvisation and risk-taking on set. As a result, a new Thor emerged in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Funnier, looser, more human. “I fret as thoroughly as I ever have, but when I step on the set, I like to exist in a place that can just fall apart at any minute,” he says. “If you capture that energy just prior to that, that’s something pretty cool.”
Off set, Hemsworth has taken what he’s learned about physical and mental fitness and put it into a paid subscription app called Centr. Two years in development, it released in February. “The genesis for the app was looking back at what got me to this point in my life,” he says. The app is built around what he calls his “three pillars of happiness”: nutrition, movement, and mindfulness. He wants everyone to reach those pillars and recognizes that different users will need different paths. “We designed a variety of different training methods rather than one particular route,” he says. “The same with the nutrition and the mindfulness.”
Who are Hemsworth’s own heroes? He doesn’t hesitate: “My parents, who worked in child protection, were my heroes and still are. Their duty was to protect those who were most vulnerable -- children -- ensuring their safety and supporting them.” His father, Craig, is a social worker, and his mother, Leonie, teaches English.
For more than 10 years, Hemsworth has supported the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF), an organization founded in 1986 that advocates for and supports children traumatized by abuse, neglect, or violence and works to prevent such harms. Hemsworth’s parents and his brother, Liam, also work with the ACF. The organization estimates that half the children they assist entered care before age 5, while 40% had been abused for 5 years or more.
In addition to raising money for ACF, Hemsworth has spearheaded an awareness campaign and voiced characters for an app the organization produced to help teach children calming techniques and problem-solving skills. His involvement, says the foundation’s CEO Joe Tucci, PhD, “helps to give the message that protecting children from abuse is a community’s responsibility.”
Hemsworth points to his own childhood as inspiration for his ongoing support of ACF. Every child, he says, deserves the type of support, care, and love that he got from his parents. “Our experiences as kids form the foundation for the rest of our lives,” he says. “If they are shaped by trauma and fear, the ripple effect beyond childhood can be devastating, but if you get love and support, there’s an opportunity for change and healing.”
Chandra Ghosh Ippen, PhD, agrees. Traumatic experiences leave a lasting impression even in very young children. “Their brains are developing at that time, and trauma impacts memory, learning, and structured thought,” says Ghosh Ippen, associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco. “That’s why it’s so important to have people like Chris Hemsworth and others ask how we can, as grownups, stand together to ensure children’s safety.”
Hemsworth wants nothing for his children so much as to give them love and make sure their home is a safe place. But he also tries to model the meaning and value of empathy, particularly for those who do not have what they do. “Their brains are so young and so vulnerable and searching constantly for experiences that will help them develop and grow,” he says. “You have to be there to shepherd that.”
He laughs when he starts to recall his attempts to sit his children down and share “wisdom” with them. (His air quotes come through loud and clear despite being on the phone many thousands of miles away.) Instead, he says, he wants to lead them down the right path by showing rather than telling. His work with ACF is part of that. “Leading by example is so important,” he says.
Hemsworth’s days as a superhero may be numbered -- he has not signed a new contract to play Thor again. How does he feel that Avengers: Endgame may truly be the end? “It’s just been such an epic journey on every level,” he says. “When the time comes to hang up the hat or boots or hammer or whatever it is, I’m going to be sad.”
He struggles to name something he won’t miss about his days as an Avenger, but he worries the universe will give him a slap if he carps about anything more than his “slightly uncomfortable costume.” (An understatement of heroic proportions: He wore four layers of rubber and leather during fight scenes filmed in the summer in Albuquerque, NM.) “It’s what I dreamed of as a kid, running around the house pretending to be a superhero,” he says. “So now, as a slightly bigger kid, I don’t think I can complain."
Child Abuse in America
Domestic violence happens in an estimated 20% of U.S. households. About 700,000 American children are abused or neglected each year, and nearly 2,000 children, the vast majority younger than age 3, die from it. Such trauma can profoundly affect a child’s sense of safety, “Their source of protection becomes their source of fear,” says Ghosh Ippen. “Traumatized children become wired for danger.”
Such children often become anxious, lose sleep, and have nightmares. They can’t concentrate and may themselves become aggressive. Over time, this can make them more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as they grow older, and have emotional disorders, like depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, that will follow them into adulthood. Trauma also challenges their ability to trust and to bond.
“They ask themselves, ‘Do I expect grownups to stick around, given my history?’ ” says Ghosh Ippen. “It’s about what they learn.”
Childhood trauma presents very complex problems with no easy solutions, Ghosh Ippen says. But there are good ways to help kids. For more information, visit the federally funded National Child Traumatic Stress Network at nctsn.org.
Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of WebMD Magazine.