Chris Hemsworth leans into the vulnerabilities of his action heroes

Making ‘Extraction’ challenged the actor to play a killing machine with a broken soul — and to fight like Thor never did.

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Chris Hemsworth helps launch an Australian tourism campaign in October 2019 in Sydney.

Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

It’s a three-pronged Zoom.

Chris Hemsworth aka Thor is self-quarantined in his home in Australia. Director Sam Hargrave is holed up in Los Angeles. I’m at the desktop in my home office in Chicago. We’re connecting to chat about “Extraction,” a blood-and-dust-covered thriller about a booze-soaked, downtrodden, black market mercenary named Tyler Rake (who’s that for a movie name!) who is offered the obligatory One Last Job: going to Bangladesh to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned crime lord, a surefire suicide mission given the firepower surrounding the kid and the insane logistics working against a safe trip home.

Premiering Friday on Netflix, “Extraction” is a gritty and violent film in the tradition of the “Bourne” movies. Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake is a killing machine, but he’s also broken inside — and all busted up on the outside by the time the mission reaches it conclusion. This is the feature film debut for Hargrave, a stunt coordinator and second-unit director on several Marvel films, and he dives into the deep end of the pool with this sprawling story shot in Thailand, Bangladesh and the Indian cities of Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

“I was working with Joe and Anthony Russo as a stunt coordinator and I had doubled Chris Evans on ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier,’ and that relationship led to other Marvel films such as ‘Infinity War,” when I was directing some second unit footage,” says Hargrave. “I had mentioned I was looking for directing projects and Joe said, ‘I have a script I think would be really good for you.’ And then when Hemsworth became interested and Netflix became involved, it was the like the holy trinity: the Russos, Chris Hemsworth and Netflix.”

A lot of first-time directors start with something like a character-drive set piece such as a quirky indie comedy. This was a massive undertaking for a new director. Says Hemsworth: “The label of first-time director, I don’t think it’s really appropriate for someone who has done second-unit directing. … I’ve worked with first-time directors who have maybe shot a short film, been on a set a couple of times, and you’re scratching your head and thinking, ‘Everyone else on this set has had 20 years of experience,’ and then the thing falls apart. Not always, but occasionally.

“But with Sam, though, I have such faith and a lot more confidence, because he knows about telling story through action. … What I WAS surprised about was how much nuance and education and certainty [he] displayed in shooting dramatic scenes and nuance and the character journey. So, it’s not just an action film, it has a heartbeat.”

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Like Thor, the superhero he played in “Avengers: Endgame” and other Marvel movies, the mercenary portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in “Extraction” goes through a dark phase.

Marvel Studios

At the outset of “Extraction,” Tyler Rake’s best days are in the rearview mirror. He’s haunted by fleeting visions of a long-ago past, and he’s crawled inside of a bottle and dropped out of the world. I note that between Drunk Thor in “Endgame” and this guy, Hemsworth is cornering the market on former mighty warriors who are holed up in remote compounds and getting smashed and need to get their s--- together.

Hemsworth laughs and says, “Vulnerability. In one of my first acting classes many, many years ago, my drama teacher talked about vulnerability making you so accessible, and I do think in some of my earlier work there was too much bravado. … In the last couple of films you mentioned, [I’m] showing the cracks, showing these people are vulnerable, and that makes it all the more relatable and accessible. We didn’t want [Tyler] to be the Terminator. … In the physicality, we wanted to show the pain and the bruising. He’s broken emotionally and physically.”

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fights are all about strength and speed. Here, it’s hand-to-hand combat, exhausting extended street brawls, sniper fire and car chases. “We wanted to [make the fight scenes] true to the character and his background as an SAS operative,” says Hargrave. “There’s a forward moving style, but we also play to Chris’ strengths.”

Hemsworth adds, “It was the most involved stunt work and rehearsals I’ve ever been a part of. Sometimes stuff gets choreographed and it just doesn’t make sense, doesn’t seem to work, but I found there was such a seamless choreography to this that everything did flow into the next step. … It was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done and because there were these long, wide shots, we were unable to cut to another angle if there was a mistake, so we’d get 80-90% through it and I’d make a mistake and we’d have to do it all again. Completing these sequences, there was such a sense of achievement I hadn’t felt before … reminded me of when I used to play football and you’re exhausted but that adrenaline is still running through your body …”

“Real action, real consequences,” says Hargrave. “It’s not like some of the Marvel movies, where you fight and you’re not out of breath.”

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Director Sam Hargrave (right) guides Chris Hemsworth (center) through a fight scene on the set of “Extraction.”

Netflix

Before we Zoom in different directions, I ask Hargrave and Hemsworth how they’re spending their isolation days.

“Controlling the things you can control,” says Hargrave. “I try to make a short list, establish a schedule, structure my time.”

Hemsworth, who has an 8-year-old daughter and twin 6-year-old sons with Elsa Pataky, whom he married in 2010, says: “I’m home with the family, with my kids. For the last 10 years, I’ve had a schedule, I’ve known exactly what I’d be doing and when, I knew what was coming, what the next six months looked like.

“To have that removed, for me personally, there’s a positive outcome to that because I’m spending more time with my family. … I’m enjoying the time at home. It’s tricky home-schooling the kids, that’s my daily biggest challenge.

“It’s a strange and uncertain [time], but I’m just trying to be positive and staying still within the moment.”

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