BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — With the exception of some shots showcasing Chicago trading floors and exterior scenes, Chicago native Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” film about the world of international cybercrime was filmed in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Jakarta, Indonesia. That said, the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth, loved the fact his “blackhat” hacker character, Hathaway, was a Chicago guy, through and through.
The actor, who shot one of his first films in Chicago (“Ca$h,” released in 2010), thinks the sensibilities of Chicagoans and people in his native Australia are very similar.
As we discussed “Blackhat” recently in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, Hemsworth said, “I saw a lot of Australians who had drifted there for one reason or another. But yes, I’d say there is a similarity between Chicagoans and Australians in that there’s a laid-back, no B.S. quality shared by both.”
Michael Mann couldn’t have agreed more, and explained he brought Hemsworth back to Chicago to pick up even more of a flavor of the city and to witness the Mercantile Exchange (a run on the tin market plays a role in the film). “I decided the character of Hathaway should be like people I knew in Chicago probably in the 1970s. He is a son of a steelworker from the South Side — a guy who worked at the Gary mills. That was very much a part of his background.
“When I met Chris for the first time, I was impressed by that kind of forward, direct, very, very natively bright personality that you see a lot in Chicago people. There is a kind of bond between Chicago people and the Aussies, so that worked well here.”
As for Hemsworth, he not only learned a lot about cybercrime from the former real-life hackers and cyber security consultants working on the movie, but Mann insisted he look convincing in the scenes where he was working computer keyboards.
“I come from the hunt ‘n’ peck style of typing,” said Hemsworth with a big smile. “After watching me on the very first day on the set, Michael said, ‘You’ve got to learn to type!’ So, he sent me to school for that. He’d come in every couple of hours while I was in computer school to see how I was doing.
“He’d say, ‘Type this sentence,’ or whatever. I’d do it, but I’d be sneaking a glance at my hands, and he’d smack my hand and say, ‘No looking at the keyboard!’
“It was good training. It was all the things I didn’t learn in school — those thinks I didn’t pay attention to!”
Making “Blackhat” has understandably made Hemsworth more aware of both the reality of cyber-intrusion in the world at large and mindful of protecting his own vulnerability to hacking. “It’s everywhere, that’s for sure,” said Hemsworth. “When we were prepping and researching all this two-and-a-half years ago, it was already happening, of course.
“There’s a spotlight on it at the moment because of recent events. But when we made the film, I remember being kind of shocked, realizing that we’re not nearly as aware as we should be, given the world we live in. The advancement and growth of hacking is outpacing our ability to understand it, and that is pretty disturbing.”
As for how he handles his personal information, the actor said, “I certainly minimize the information that I want to keep private. With credit cards and all that, you do have to be extra careful. However, I’m not about to pull my money out from the bank and put it under my mattress. But maybe I need to. Maybe we all need to!”
When I asked Mann about keeping personal information private, he laughed and said, “I like to go back to the great investigative journalist Seymour Hersh [another Chicago native]. He said that the reasons all of his sources are protected from cyber-intrusion is because none of them are in his computer or phone.
“They are all written down on paper. … Maybe analog is going to make a comeback,” added Mann with a chuckle.