Living for the Rush

Chris Hemsworth plays a race car-driving playboy in Ron Howard’s new film

If you’ve seen the trailer for the Formula One racing spectacle Rush you’ve likely been witness to the film’s most quotable slice of dialogue: “the closer you are to death the more alive you feel.”

“I think that’s the reason any of us engage in anything high-adrenalin driven — because of the immediacy it gives you” proclaims lead actor Chris Hemsworth during a recent sit-down interview to promote the film. “We spend so much time thinking of the future and the past. And things like this where death is the other option if you don’t concentrate there’s nothing that slams you into the now more than that.”

Hemsworth is of course speaking about one of the film’s more pliable themes but on a metaphorical level nobody understands “the now” more than him. Born and raised in Melbourne Australia the 30-year old actor has the sort of chiselled features that naturally lend themselves to Hollywood worship — which of course it began doing shortly after his American debut in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. From there he was cast as comic-book hero Thor in his own big-screen adventures as well as in The Avengers .

Just prior to this however Hemsworth had been kept away from worldwide fame appearing in the Aussie television soap opera Home and Away for three years. If anyone knows about life suddenly moving at raceway speeds he does. Yet Hemsworth is as grounded to the asphalt as gum on the street.

“I think it helps having a family and keeping quiet” says the affable Australian. He also credits his measured outlook to decent advice from such respected artists as Matt Damon who told him the secret to staying out of the tabloids was to “just stay boring.”

“We were talking about outside of the movies and work [and] he said if you don’t do anything outrageous and you’re not falling out of a club at 4 a.m. with women then you probably should be able to get by all right” says Hemsworth. “But he also admits that’s a percentage of what you can control. Sometimes you are a target or not for a million different reasons.”

In the real-life drama Rush Hemsworth embraced playing a character that became not only the target for many but specifically for his racing rival Niki Lauda. Focused primarily on the notorious 1976 Formula One season Rush pits the disciplined Austrian champion Lauda against rising British playboy James Hunt (Hemsworth) in one of the more stirring sports rivalries in history.

“I admired the honesty he lived with” says Hemsworth of the late driver known best for outrageous behaviour that included flagrant womanizing and drug abuse. “He just did [things] his way and there’s something refreshing [in that]…. We all find ourselves politically trying to avoid a conflict or say the right thing and that’s tiresome at times.”

Hunt’s antics and incredible relationship with Lauda occasionally seem concocted for the cinema. As dramatic as anything a Hollywood writer could’ve dreamed up director Ron Howard says it’s imperative to keep the real-life roots of the story in mind when watching Rush .

“[It’s] undeniably more resonant when you’re dealing with the truth” says Howard. “This was an education for me and a surprise because now when I screen the movie for audiences all of those twists and turns that have to do with the truth — not what you would sort of write or create — those are the things that people take away with them and value the most.”

“I think the fact that it — on one hand — sounds like a kind of Hollywood story [it] forces everyone to go ‘hang on did that actually happen?’ and it did” adds Hemsworth. “This [racing] season and these characters was greater than any fiction we could’ve created.”