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The hand that wields the hammer

From muscle-bound action hero to Ron Howard's actor-of-choice, Chris Hemsworth has come a bloody long way from Home and Away

As a kid, you run around the house pretending to be a superhero, and now to be doing it as a job, I feel very lucky.

It's 13 April, 2004, and a new 'spunk' has just joined the cast of Aussie soap Home and Away. For those who watch Australian telly with the attentive eye Kennedy assassination theorists reserve for the Zapruder footage, the man in question might be familiar for his brief appearances on The Saddle Club, Guinevere Jones and H&A's arch rival Neighbours. But to most of the audience, he's just the latest in a long line of tall, blond blokes with a none-too-bright expression on his face. The character's name is Kim Hyde. The 20-year-old playing him is called Chris Hemsworth.

Fast forward eight years to 11 April 2012, and Marvel's Avengers is opening in Los Angeles. All the gang are here — Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo... Judging from the reaction of the fans and photographers, the real draw is a man who has swapped the board shorts for Hugo Boss and Summer Bay for Hollywood Boulevard. From soap star to superstar, Chris Hemsworth has come a remarkably long way in next to no time. And his incredible journey is a long way from over.

The son of a teacher and a counsellor, Hemsworth was born on 11 August 1983 in Melbourne. The suggestion that acting might be in his blood appears borne out by the career choices of his siblings; while elder brother Luke is an Aussie TV mainstay, young Liam is famous for starring in the Hunger Games series and for squiring Jennifer Lawrence.

The middle Hemsworth's preparation for a career in front of camera commenced with his studying American English at the Screenwise Film & TV School in Sydney. It wasn't long after graduating that he landed the part of Hyde, having actually auditioned for another role. The same year, he picked up what remains his biggest acting honour to date, the Gold Logie for Most Popular New Talent. A successful stint on Dancing With the Stars began shortly thereafter.

As a kid, you run around the house pretending to be a superhero, and now to be doing it as a job, I feel very lucky.

But how did he come to cross the Pacific Ocean? By snaring the small but pivotal role of Captain Kirk's old man in JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot. After which, something rather weird happened. For with the exception of a few forgettable indie pictures, Chris Hemsworth all but vanished off the radar.

Far from being unable to find work, Hemsworth's 'quiet time' was actually a period of frantic activity. Besides starring in a remake of John Milius's American invasion movie Red Dawn, the strapping Victorian had won a role in The Cabin in the Woods, an inventive horror conceived by Joss Whedon of Buffy and Firefly fame. But while the first picture was held up by concerns over its depiction of China as a threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — it was later decided that the North Koreans would make less contentious bad guys — Cabin came a slight cropper when Whedon insisted the picture be shelved until the world had had the chance to see Hemsworth in another guise, that of the cape-wearing, hammer-wielding Norse god Thor.

With his 6' 3'' frame and his '80s rock star hair-do, Hemsworth couldn't have been more perfect for his breakthrough role had he actually hailed from Asgard.

That Kenneth Brangh's comic-book drama mightn't be the best of the Marvel movies is neither here nor there. For no sooner had he seen the rushes than Whedon — who'd already been handed the keys to the Avengers team-up movie — knew he had the right man for a very tough job. A year on, Whedon's movie would have grossed over a billion dollars and Hemsworth would be well on his way to becoming a household name.

And ever since, the success story has snowballed. Sure, not every movie has been magnificent, but the fact Hemsworth's making a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman proves there's an audience for such pictures. As for the Australian's acting chops, these were clearly on view in motor racing biopic Rush where even the most die-hard Brit would have to agree that none could have made a better stab at breathing life into English playboy extraordinaire James Hunt.

Rush also brought our man into the orbit of Happy Days star-turned-Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon). This, in turn, has led to the boy from Oz securing two major gigs. The first is the lead in Blackhat, the forthcoming thriller from another bona fide Hollywood heavyweight, Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider). The other is the part of Owen Chase in Howard's In the Heart of the Sea, the incredible true story of a 19th century ship that was sunk in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by a sperm whale.

A more exciting basis for a motion picture is hard to imagine. Likewise, it's hard to see how Hemsworth's future could look rosier. A second Avengers movie, a third solo outing for Thor; heck, he's even down to play the Chevy Chase part in a retread of the National Lampoon's Vacation series. All this plus a stunning wife — Spanish actress Elsa Pataky — three beautiful children and more money than he'll ever be able to spend. It's a good job he's such an ugly bastard or you could easily despise him.

That Thor’s alter-ego remains so easy to like would seem to stem from the fact that, while he’s a long way from where he started out, he remains a good old Aussie boy at heart. Just compare the pictures of Hemsworth on the red carpet to the pap shots of him at home. In the former, he sports Hugo Boss so well, you’d think he was wearing a second skin instead of a suit. But in the pap shots, where he’s seldom to be seen without his tracksuit pants and an untucked T-shirt, it’s obvious that this reformed beach bum would still look at home in Summer Bay.

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