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Chris Hemsworth: In the Heart of the Sea

December 08, 2015

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By: Lynn Barker

Hunky actor Chris Hemsworth really paid his actorly dues in In the Heart of the Sea. Playing first officer Owen Chase on the American whaling ship Essex that was sunk by and enraged, giant whale in 1820, the actor was on such a restricted diet that even horrible-tasting dried biscuits that were supposed to be props tasted good! Chris was so in love with the story that he brought the script, based on a novel of the same name, to director Ron Howard who had always wanted to make big “water” movie.

Adrift after the attackAdrift after the attackCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Actors had to learn several ancient skills and went to sailing school. Real sailors are among the crew in the film. Some of the biggest challenges weren’t on the open sea but in a tank in a studio. Check it out.

Before the whale attackBefore the whale attackCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: Chris, talk about your physical transformation for the harrowing later scenes in the movie. Also what was the hardest day on the water for you?

  • Chris: The hardest stuff I thought was in the (water) tank in London because it was freezing and a lot of night shoots and it basically just felt like a theme park from hell, being shot with water cannons and flipped out of boats. Ron (Howard, director) would be on the loud speaker and we just couldn’t hear. It was chaos. We thought the stuff on the ocean was going to be trickier but I think the stuff in the studio ended up being more challenging because you are dealing with all the technical machines and things whereas the ocean, you just had to adapt to whatever the environment was doing and get on with it which was nice.
  • The physical transformation? From the beginning we all had a goal to get to look as skinny as possible and as beat to hell as we could possibly make ourselves look so we started on a normal diet and reduced that intake each week until the last couple of weeks where it was down to five or six hundred calories or something which is a pretty ugly experience.

When harpooning whales was legalWhen harpooning whales was legalCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: Sounds like you were really starving!

  • Chris: Well, it led to some interesting mood swings and inconsistent patterns of emotion that, as my wife can vouch for, were negative. But, what was kind of great in that was we were all doing it together so there was certainly an opportunity to form this great bond and camaraderie between us, one that we might not have found in such depth had we not had that experience together.

(Note: Director Ron Howard says toward the end the actors got excited about a simple snack like a cucumber with olive oil and an almond on it.. Yikes!)

  • The toughest day? Actually the stuff in the ocean I kind of loved. It was difficult in the whale boats because just logistically getting on and off them was so tricky and that was when we were at our hungriest. You’d be sitting in the hot, beating sun and you are either soaking wet or (crispy) dry and you’ve got the beards glued on and falling off. It was kind of uncomfortable but I’ve got to say, being out in the ocean I did kind of love as challenging as it was.

Can we survive?Can we survive?Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: What were you actually eating that they called “hardtack”? A dry biscuit?

  • Chris: The hardtack was amazing. It tasted like gingerbread or something. It was props and we aren’t supposed to eat the props on set. In this one scene I’ve got this little box of it and I’m supposed to break off a piece and have it and I’m like “this is delicious” so in between scenes (I’m munching and thinking) this is awesome! The props guys were like “We don’t have much. Stop eating it”. I’m like “It’s fine”. We kept sneaking more and more of it. Later I had a piece and thought “this is horrible” but, in that state (of extreme diet) it was delicious.

Biggest whale ever!Biggest whale ever!Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: Did you feel a need to be the leader among the actors as you character is among the crew?

  • Chris: I remember Ron saying at the beginning, “You kind of have to be an example. Everybody is going to be hungry and tired so lead the charge and keep everyone positive”. These guys had already been together for two or three weeks and I’d been shooting something else so I came in late and kind of felt anxious about being the new guy at school but having to play the leader of that group but everybody already had the same passion and excitement and wanted to do the story justice so I felt part of a tight unit.

Owen (Chris) and the crew plan the voyageOwen (Chris) and the crew plan the voyageCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: What were your fisherman skills like before the film?

  • Chris: I thought “Who is going to teach me how to harpoon a whale? Who is a professional to show us that? Nobody. There wasn’t someone to teach us that but there were old films. (Ron says also etchings and drawings).

On the docks at homeOn the docks at homeCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: You are very famous now for your role as Thor. When you aren’t doing Thor or Avengers films, do you look for something totally different to do?

  • Chris: Yeah. I’m always looking for something different to contrast with the last thing I’ve done more for my own interests and what I’m passionate about. The only way you can do something justice is if you are in love with the material and have a passionate opinion about it. When things start to feel familiar is when it gets dangerous and you can get lazy.

Discussion with the second mate. Discussion with the second mate. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: Why were you so into doing this film and playing Owen?

  • Chris: On this one, there is the visual adventure epic but at the heart of it, there are also the relationships between these men and the horrific circumstances they endured and the effect that had on them post that and who they were prior to these events. There were a lot of complexities and interesting character traits and ideas and questions raised. Very simply, I just loved the script. I try to hang on to that first impulse before I try to dissect it and ask why. I remember being swept away in the story and still thinking about it afterwards. I got the script around when I was doing Snow White and the Huntsman and Ron and I had worked together on Rush. He asked if I had anything else I wanted to you and I said yes, so let’s give it a go again.

Thar she blows!Thar she blows!Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: Did you ever read the book “Moby Dick”?

  • Chris: I started reading it and Ron said “Skim through it”. I read the parts in red but the “In the Heart of the Sea” (the book) was the bible for me. “Moby Dick” was the fictionalized version of it.

In the Heart of the Sea opens this Friday, December 11th

In the Heart of the Sea movie posterIn the Heart of the Sea movie posterCourtesy of Warner Bros.
Have Your Say

Are you a big Chris Hemsworth fan?  Did you know that “Moby Dick” was based on a true Man vs. Whale story? Start with a comment below.