If things had gone just a little differently for young Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, it might have been his steely grip — as opposed to that of his brother Chris, who ultimately got the role — clasping the hammer of Thor. At the same time, if things had gone just a little differently, he also might not have worked on The Last Song, the Nicholas Sparks adaptation in which Liam starred opposite his girlfriend-to-be, Miley Cyrus. The youngest of three Hemsworth brothers — actors all — 22-year-old Liam decided to pursue acting at 16 and, after a few stints on Australian television, made the leap to Hollywood in 2009. Though his career has thus far been somewhat overshadowed by those of his brother and famous significant other, this week he embarks on an epic new adventure as Gale Hawthorne, one of the central characters in The Hunger Games, which will certainly thrust him into the spotlight. RT spoke with Liam recently about his involvement in the film, his strong family ties, his favorite actors, and the career he’d like to craft for himself, but before we get into all that, here are Liam Hemsworth’s Five Favorite Films:
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Dito Montiel, 2006; 75% Tomatometer)
The first one would be A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. I saw that years ago when it first came out, and I just thought it was really interesting. I loved the way it was shot. All the actors in it were just awesome. I was a really big fan of Dito [Montiel], the director, and I actually get to do a film with him this year called Empire State, so I’m really excited. I think I’m going to shoot mid-this year, so I’m very excited about that.
The Departed is one of my all-time favorites; I just love that movie. Everything about it is ridiculously good. Every actor in it is just stupidly awesome, and the way it’s shot is awesome. Yeah, I love that movie; it’s great.
Step Brothers would be another one. I think I only say that because I think I’ve watched it a billion times. I watch it probably once a week, just, you know, a regular thing. [laughs]
Are there hints of that kind of relationship between you and your brothers?
Yeah, a little bit. [laughs] Yeah, yeah, when we were younger, for sure. But I think it’s funny because the relationship is like they’re young kids, but they’re just old men. That movie is ridiculous, so funny.
There’s a movie called James Dean. It’s about James Dean’s life, and James Franco played James Dean. I love that movie. I just thought James Franco was so good in that. He was so interesting, and it’s just a really cool independent film. I really like that movie. It was weird; he just looked and sounded and acted so much like James Dean, it was ridiculous.
Next, Hemsworth talks about joining a massively popular franchise, his favorite actors, and having a strong support system in his family.
So let’s talk Hunger Games. For those who aren’t as familiar with the phenomenon, can you start by talking a little bit about your character?
Liam Hemsworth: Sure, yeah. I play Gale Hawthorne, and he’s grown up in District 12. District 12 is one of the twelve cities or towns that make up this place, and it’s basically a post-apocalyptic world where these twelve towns or cities — districts, they’re called in the books — are run by this extremely corrupt, powerful government, which is the Capitol. That city has all the technology and the craziness of the future, and the towns around it are basically living in period. You know, they’re closer to the 1900s than the future, so they’re very poor. The town that Gale is from is very poor; he has to hunt for his food.
Katniss Everdeen is his best friend who he’s grown up and who Jennifer [Lawrence] plays. They basically are an escape for each other from this horrible world that they live in. They help each other to survive and they feed their families. They’re basically keeping each other alive and keeping each other in their right mind.
In the story, Gale doesn’t actually get selected to participate in the Hunger Games.
No, he does not.
So you probably didn’t have to go through the same extensive training that Jennifer did.
Well, she did a lot of the combat training and that kind of stuff. For my character, it was more about losing weight. Like I said, he’s hunting for his food, and also, he’s trying to provide for his family and Katniss’ family with her. You know, they’re providing for other people as well, and trying to keep other people alive as well as themselves. So, you know, he’s not eating that much. He’s going to be hungry, and I wanted to look somewhat hungry. So it was more about… You know, I’d sweat for an hour a day doing something — not lifting weights, but just something active — and then eating a lot less. I’d kind of binge it and then not eat for a while, just to feel what it’s like to be hungry. You know, get grumpy over not eating and all that kind of good stuff. [laughs] It does really help to relate to the character when you get to kind of feel a sense of what they go through.
Were you familiar with the books before you joined the film?
About a year before they went into production, I had lunch with a producer at Lionsgate, and she told me about these books that they had and that they were going to make into movies, and it was The Hunger Games. A year went round and I heard they were going into production, so I quickly read the books and ended up loving them. I couldn’t put the first one down. They’re just gripping and intense, and you’re on the edge of your seat, and you’re flipping the next page to find out what happens. Great writing. But when you read them, they’re written like a movie; you read it and you can see everything happening, you can see it on the screen. It’s very visual. So yeah, I read the books, and I went in and read with Gary [Ross] and really connected with him. A week later, I came in and read with Jennifer and ended up having great chemistry with her.
Was it daunting at all, entering into a franchise that has such a dedicated existing fanbase?
Yeah, absolutely. It is nervewracking because you know these books have so many different fans, and everyone has their own image of what they think the character should look like or should be, and what the world should look like. You’re not going to please everyone, you know? The best you can do is just be honest in the scenes and try to stay as true as you can to the script and the books, and hopefully it turns out well and everyone likes it.
At this point, people have gotten a taste of the film’s aesthetic from the trailer. Have you been made aware of any negative feedback from hardcore fans?
No. I mean, I haven’t heard anything negative about it. I haven’t actually seen the full film cut yet, but no one’s told me anything negative about it. It’s all been very positive. Honestly, I can’t wait to see it myself.
Shifting gears a little bit, how does it feel to have been tagged as one of Details Magazine’s “Next Generation of Hollywood’s Leading Men” back in 2010? It’s a pretty bold proclamation in your favor.
It feels good, man. It’s a really nice thing to hear, to have someone think of you like that. You know, I love acting, I love this job, and I want to be doing it for generations to come. I want to keep working because I love it and I love working. It definitely makes you feel good.
Are there any actors you particularly admire and whose careers you’d like to emulate?
I love Leonardo DiCaprio. His films are amazing. From when he was a kid up to now, he makes great choices. Heath Ledger was one of my favorite actors; I think he obviously was incredible and was at the peak of his game. I think all his work was great. I also look up to a lot of the old actors like Paul Newman and guys like that. And if I can keep working and keep making films that I relate to and stuff that I think is new and inventive, and work with great, passionate directors that have a new, exciting vision of something, then that’d be great.
Your first two films, Knowing and Triangle, are both kind of mindbending psychological thrillers, and now you’re doing this futuristic Brave New World-esque film. Do you particularly enjoy the genre or those types of themes?
I definitely like thrilling, edge-of-your-seat movies. I like suspenseful stuff. But it’s not like I’m making any sort of clear decision on sticking with one genre or anything like that. I read scripts that I relate to, and if there’s a character in there that I relate to or, you know, a new kind of fresh idea or theme, then I’m all about it. I love meeting directors who are excited and passionate and have some kind of — like I said — some kind of fresh, new, inventive, pushing-the-boundaries view on a film and what they want to make. I think the more films get made, the more creative they can get, and the more we can push it in different directions.
You definitely gained some mainstream exposure when you starred in The Last Song with Miley Cyrus, and now with The Hunger Games, you’re going to inherit a whole bunch of new fans. Has your sudden rise prompted any adjustments in your life?
Hmm… Stop being an idiot? [laughs] Yeah, you know, I’m a pretty straightforward guy. I consider myself a good person, and I’m pretty honest. What you see is what you get. I’m not really trying to be anything I’m not. You know, I got into this because I love making movies; it’s fun and creative, and I love the whole process. I don’t think I’ve changed, and I don’t really want to change. I surround myself with good people and I have a great family, so that all kind of keeps my head in a good place. I think as long as you have good people around you that bring the best out of you, then nothing can go wrong, really.
Have your brothers sort of helped you along in the process?
Absolutely, yeah. My two older brothers are my best friends in the whole world and my idols, and so is my dad. I’ve looked up to those guys my whole life. They’re my biggest inspirations and my first source to go to when I’m in a pickle or I need advice on something. They’re all there for me all the time.
Are you sick of people asking you questions about your brothers and Miley Cyrus?
No, no. [laughs] You know, I mean, my brothers are a big part of my life, and so is she. I think, you know, there’s a part of my life that needs to be private, and that’s the only way you stay sane. You know, you still need to have that part of your life that is normal and is private that is not the rest of the world’s business.
Well, now you’ve had someone ask you about being asked about Chris and Miley.
[laughs] Yeah, that’s good.
The Hunger Games opens in theaters this week.