Chris Hemsworth, God of Summer, Talks Thor and The Avengers

What better way to kick off the summer than with the hero whose mighty hammer is set to swing down and launch the biggest movie season of the year? Movieline spoke with Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth -- Australian actor, costume-ripper, and onetime Verge designee -- about his career-changing turn as Marvel Studios' God of Thunder, how he's currently preparing to resume the role in Joss Whedon's upcoming Avengers film -- or films -- and more. By Odin's beard, dive in!

Two years ago almost to the week, Hemsworth made his Hollywood debut as Captain Kirk's father in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. It was an auspicious introduction not only to American audiences but to the summer blockbuster season, as Trek went on to become a critical and commercial smash success; now, just two summers later, Hemsworth stars as the titular comic book superhero Thor in a $150 million tentpole that will test the waters in Marvel Studios' planned empire of interwoven comic-book franchises. No pressure or anything.

The 27-year-old Melbourne native seems appropriately awed by and up for the challenge that awaits as Thor sets the pace for a packed summer slate. He's enthusiastic to don Thor's armor (and his necessary muscle mass, a product of strict diet and training) again for 2012's The Avengers, which begins filming today under director Joss Whedon, who, perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, was partially responsible for convincing Kenneth Branagh to cast Hemsworth as Thor in the first place.

Hemsworth sounds grateful when he talks of Branagh and his Thor co-stars, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, in the mix as Thor's disapproving father and science-minded love interest, respectively. Together, they face the challenge of balancing the otherworldly seriousness (and potential cheese factor) of the gilded world of Thor's gods and goddesses with Thor's comic-tinged fish-out-of-water experiences on Earth - just one of many challenges that Hemsworth acknowledged as he spoke with Movieline about the film, The Avengers, and the phone call that changed it all.

Humor seems to be a key element to Thor, specifically in Thor's time on Earth. How important was it to the film to ground the fantasy?

It sort of surprised all of us how well that stuff plays. I think when you have this sort of powerful guy who thinks he's a god and comes from another universe and he's thrown into Earth and is not quite as entitled as he thought, it's a great chance for comic relief. And it certainly helps ground it, it makes him seem human, and that was a challenge -- to humanize these gods and make them relatable to people, whether it be with the hook of comedy or whether it be just really finding the truth in the scenes. Working it out like, OK, this is a scene between a father and a son, or a brother to brother. We're not just playing gods.

Many superhero movies that audiences have seen and responded to lately are more grounded in a realism, or are relegated to a real world setting. Is that a big challenge Thor has to overcome, being that it's so fantastical in nature?

Absolutely. It was something that was a focus, and having Kenneth Branagh onboard and Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, you can be sure that it's a solid performance-driven film. There's nothing sort of hokey about those guys, they're all very real and truthful in the way they approach the business.

On set during your scenes with Anthony Hopkins as Odin, what did it feel like to get dressed down by him in this big, opulent, surreal setting?

It was incredibly surreal. He's one of my favorite actors and has been for years. To be on set with him playing his son was a dream; he couldn't have been more supportive and collaborative and we really had a great time. Some of my most enjoyable times on set were throwing it back and forth with him.

As legendary as he is in this business, he's still just likes being "Tony," doesn't he?

Absolutely! I found with him there was no ego. He has a regal quality, that star quality. That sort of presence just exists in some people. He'll go out of his way to make sure that he's not intimidating and that he's just a normal guy. He won't say, "Call me Sir or Anthony -- it's Tony." He speaks to everybody on set, right across the board. Not just the actors but all the crew, he's very friendly with everybody. It's very inspirational, his approach to it all.

We've heard how strenuous the physicality of your performance was, but the Thor shoot was also, coincidentally, concurrent to when Natalie was training for Black Swan.

[Laughs] That's right! We should have bonded our workouts and done pirouette-spinning bench presses or something. We both empathized with each other and our training schedules. They were vastly different but still pretty exhausting.

You're now getting back into your Thor shape for The Avengers. How much work will that entail?

It's all got to be lean muscle tissue so that means eating tons of lean protein and vegetables and brown rice and potatoes, but all very basic and simple. Getting into the gym six days a week. Then you've got to get the rest in because that's another part of the equation.

Looking forward to The Avengers, what have you been doing to prepare?

They start in a couple of weeks and I go off on the Thor press tour, so I'll come into it a few weeks in. [Note: This conversation took place in early April.] And look, I re-read the script obviously and talking to Joss [Whedon] about the story and the characters, physically training. We're working on putting the character together and getting ready for it. But I feel sort of immersed in the "Thor" of it all. It's hard to think about anything else at the moment.

You filmed Thor almost a year ago and now you're getting ready to play him again. Is that an easy adjustment to make, to get back into the character?

I guess it's probably beneficial that I'm playing the same character because I'm having to talk about it a lot and it makes me go, "Oh, yeah!" It's a good warm-up for it all.

As the story goes, when you were in the casting process, Joss called Kenneth to recommend you for the job. Were you aware of that at the time?

He had my little brother [Liam] auditioning for it at the time, when I wasn't sort of involved. I was shooting with Joss at the time and he said, "Why aren't you auditioning for this?" I said, "Oh, look -- I had an audition early on and I think it sucked, and I didn't think of it any further," you know? It was around the time that I then got another opportunity to go back in and Joss said, "Let me call Ken anyway and just give you some props," or whatever. He made a phone call and said some great things about me, which I think certainly influenced the process.

What went through your head when you got the call saying you'd won the part?

It was like, "Oh my God." I went from sort of trying to get work to all of a sudden being signed up for the next few years on something, and something of this scale with some of the best people in the business involved, acting and directing. It was a dream. I got the phone call on a Saturday morning, actually, from Branagh and the Marvel guys, and I walked in a daze for the next couple of days, letting it sink in.

How many films did you sign up for in total?

A few Avengers and a few Thors, depending on the success of each one. I guess that will dictate whether or not we continue.

You did extensive research for your role; which story lines or villains from the comics were your favorite?

I was handed a bunch across the board when I first started, along with books on Norse mythology and the Viking age and that stuff really stuck with me as well. The mythology of it all. I love that Viking era, but also they're a fatalistic people and that dictated their fearlessness in battle and approach to life. The idea that everything was pre-ordained, that they had no choice in it so they might as well throw themselves in headfirst - that spoke volumes for who Thor was as a character. As far as villains go... depending on which episodes you read, I really enjoy the Avengers stuff. Where Iron Man and Thor would clash. That was great because I knew about both of the characters.

Get more from Thor in Movieline's extensive gallery of images from the film, which opens May 6.

For all of Movieline's Summer Preview coverage, including interviews, features, and photos from the biggest films of the season, click here.