Chris Hemsworth shares Extraction 2 set secrets (like that train stunt)

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Chris Hemsworth isn’t afraid of the elements. Not only does he know how to manipulate thunder and lightning as a Marvel hero, but for his latest film, the action-heavy Extraction 2, he braved snow, wind, and literally being set on fire (more on that later). So on a Los Angeles soundstage in late May, the Australian actor is more than happy to stand under a rain rig, posing as buckets of water douse him from above. He’s a professional, even when drenched, staring down the camera like he’s got a master’s degree in smoldering. But as soon as one of the directors calls cut, Hemsworth breaks into a grin, miming an air guitar and squeegeeing water off his face with his hands. He can’t help but try to make everyone on set laugh, at one point showing off a Little Mermaid-style hair flip that even Ariel would envy.  

It’s a flexibility and spontaneity that’s served him well in his career: At 39, Hemsworth is one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars, a leading man with an action-figure physique and an impeccable sense of comedic timing. He’s played roguish space captains (Star Trek), unsettling cult leaders (Bad Times at the El Royale), and dim-witted receptionists (Ghostbusters) — not to mention 12 years as Thor, Marvel’s golden-haired, hammer-wielding god. And on June 16 he hits Netflix in the tense thriller Extraction 2, reprising his role as mercenary Tyler Rake. When the first Extraction dropped in 2020 in the early days of the pandemic, Netflix touted it as the streamer’s most-watched film premiere ever, earning a reported 99 million viewers, proof that Hemsworth can conquer both the box office and the streaming charts.

“There are some people who are just compulsively watchable,” says Anthony Russo, who, alongside his brother Joe, produced both Extraction movies and directed Hemsworth in multiple Avengers flicks. “And Chris Hemsworth is one of the most watchable there is.”

On screen, Hemsworth is constantly reinventing himself, even as off screen, he remains the genial Australian surfer he was pre-fame — always searching for something new. Returning for a second Extraction, he wanted to stretch his limits both physically and emotionally, diving deeper with character and aiming higher with action. “I’ve said this a few times,” Hemsworth tells EW, pulling a knee to his chest as he sits at a picnic table outside the rain room, “but when things become too familiar and too similar to what you’ve done, the audience — and myself — seem to check out.”

EXTRACTION 2 Chris Hemsworth shoot

Chris Hemsworth | Credit: Dennis Leupold for EW

Hemsworth has always had an affinity for action. Growing up in Australia, he and his brothers — Luke, now 42, and Liam, 33 — would binge Schwarzenegger and Van Damme films. Afterward, they’d careen around their backyard, hitting each other with sticks and reenacting what they saw on screen. 

Hemsworth has essentially now spent decades doing the same professionally (albeit with careful choreography and some of the best stunt teams in the world). In many ways, he seems an obvious choice for an action franchise like Extraction. But the Russos and director Sam Hargrave initially had other ideas about who should play the brooding Tyler Rake, hoping to cast against type with a more non-traditional action hero. (In other words, someone who looked less like a literal golden god, ripped from the pages of a comic book.)

But while working together on the Avengers movies, the Russos and Hargrave (who was serving as stunt coordinator) learned that Hemsworth was itching to do a big action project, something to test his skills outside of the Marvel universe. “We kind of looked at each other and were like, ‘Yeah, we can let our preconceived notions of what we think we should do with the script go,'” Hargrave recalls with a laugh. “We have a movie star looking for a role. We would be foolish not to capitalize on that.”

EXTRACTION 2 Chris Hemsworth shoot

Chris Hemsworth | Credit: Dennis Leupold for EW

Hargrave and Hemsworth have known each other for more than a decade, first meeting on the set of 2012’s Avengers. (Hargrave doubled for Chris Evans’ Captain America, and early on, he remembers Hemsworth inviting him and other stunt performers over for a get-to-know-you barbecue.) Extraction would be Hargrave’s first time in the director’s chair, but he has a long résumé as a stunt coordinator, second unit director, and performer, working on films such as Captain America: Civil War, Atomic Blonde, and the Hunger Games series. Together, star and director wanted to push the limits of in-camera action — meaning the already buff Hemsworth would have to train harder than he ever had before.

The first film followed Tyler as he rescued the son of an Indian crime lord, racing through Bangladesh and throwing bad guys off balconies. The sequel ups the action even more. After nearly dying in the first film, Tyler has to battle his way back to recovery before taking on a new case: springing a Georgian family from a brutal prison. That mission takes him across Europe and pits Hemsworth against hordes of stuntmen. “In our film, we’re on a moving train,” says Hemsworth, who wanted to embrace as much practical action as possible. “There is an actual helicopter flying backwards in front of the train, 20 feet away from me, and there are a million different variables and things that can go wrong. You’re on the edge of your seat because it’s truthful.”

One of the film’s most jaw-dropping sequences is a “oner,” a long, uninterrupted sequence presented as a single take. The first film had a 12-minute oner, following Tyler as he sped through crowded streets and sprinted across rooftops. In Extraction 2, the oner balloons to a whopping 21 minutes, stretching across a prison break, a snowy jail yard brawl, a high-speed car chase, and a thrilling train sequence (featuring an actual helicopter landing on a train).

Left: Adam Bessa, Andro Jafaridze, Chris Hemsworth, Tinatin Dalakishvili, and Golshifteh Farahani in ‘Extraction 2’ | Credit: Jasin Boland/Netflix

Center: Chris Hemsworth in ‘Extraction 2’ | Credit: Jasin Boland/Netflix

Right: Golshifteh Farahani and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Extraction 2’ | Credit: Jasin Boland/Netflix

After more than a decade of playing Thor, Hemsworth knows his way around action choreography. “I can turn up on a set in the morning and rehearse a traditional action sequence, and then shoot it that afternoon, just by the nature of being able to shoot it piece by piece,” he says. But because the oner had to be perfectly scripted and timed down to the second, it took three months of prep and planning.

“It’s not an easy movie,” Anthony Russo adds. “It’s not a movie where you show up and you’re staying at a comfortable Four Seasons, where you do a couple of scenes on a stage set. You’re going to get your hands dirty. You’re going to get beat up. The conditions are extremely harsh. So, you have to be all in. And Chris is absolutely all in.”

At one point, Tyler gets caught in the middle of a prison riot. That sequence alone required more than 400 stunt performers, filming overnight in 10-degree weather in Prague. Hemsworth remembers it as one of the most brutal shoots he’s ever been on — not just because of the cold, but because of the pressure he put on himself. “People are on fire, things are blowing up, and if you miss a step or a punch, all of a sudden every single person on the set has to start again,” he explains. “It’s not just you going through it. You’re dragging everyone else back into another take.”

To be clear: When Hemsworth says “people are on fire,” he’s also referring to himself. There’s a moment during the prison brawl where a stray Molotov cocktail sets Tyler ablaze, and he has to scramble to extinguish himself while also dodging punches and any number of makeshift weapons. Yes, those were real flames, and yes, Hemsworth did the stunt himself.

“Initially, I thought it was a great idea because it was so cold,” he deadpans. “But as you know, fire has a tendency to hurt.”

To complete the stunt, Hemsworth wore a flame-retardant jacket, coated with a thick flammable liquid. But the longer a fire burns, the less effective the jacket becomes, and Hemsworth had to carefully time each blaze in his head. If the fire stretched past 10 or 15 seconds — or if his arm ever started to feel too hot — it was up to him to extinguish the flames with his hands.

Hargrave estimates that they set Hemsworth on fire six or seven times in total. Obviously, there were countless safety measures in place, but the director still found himself worrying about what-ifs — especially as his star burned bright. “We watched the weather reports, making sure it wasn’t going to get breezy suddenly,” Hargrave explains. “If a gust of wind comes up and that wind blows that fire back into his face, that’s Chris Hemsworth! That’s a face that millions of people love!”

When EW spoke with Hemsworth in May, he was gearing up for a whirlwind tour, jetting around the globe to promote Extraction 2. It’s his first big work trip in a while: Last year, after the release of Thor: Love and Thunder and after wrapping Extraction 2, “I decided to take some time off because I was exhausted, and I wanted to be home with my family,” says the actor, who lives in Australia with his wife, actress Elsa Pataky, and their three kids — daughter India, 11, and twin sons Sasha and Tristan, 9. At the same time, news broke that while Hemsworth was filming his National Geographic docuseries Limitless, he learned he has a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s that leaves him at much higher risk to develop the disease later in life.

“It was interesting, because those two headlines got coupled together, that I was taking time off because of the genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s,” Hemsworth says of the coincidental timing. But while the revelation had nothing to do with his vacation, he admits “that experience and that show [Limitless] made me go, ‘Oh wow, none of us are invincible.’ It kind of slams you into the moment. You start asking bigger questions, and you think, ‘I need to slow down and just experience this moment now and not have the years race by.’ It was a positive in that sense, but it got a little overdramatized, like I was potentially retiring because of this thing. Which just isn’t the case.”

EXTRACTION 2 Chris Hemsworth shoot

Chris Hemsworth | Credit: Dennis Leupold for EW

Still, he’s enjoyed the time off. On weekdays, he tries to get the kids off to school in the morning — which he describes as a “battle, because they’re a bit like me.” “They love sports, and they love art,” he says with a laugh. “But math, science, et cetera isn’t necessarily something they’re gravitating toward with any huge amount of excitement.” During the day, he’ll hit the gym, surf, and catch up on scripts — until it’s time to pick up the kids. “And then,” he adds, shaking his head slightly, “the chaos begins.”  

It’s been a welcome recharge, but he’s also eager to get back to work. “It’s all about balance. I realized how restorative and replenishing that time can be, but I also realized how much I need an outlet, too. I need to be building something, creating something,” Hemsworth explains. “As fun as sitting around on the beach all day sounds initially, it very quickly becomes… I don’t want to say mundane, but too familiar. For me, I like the spontaneity. I like the unexpected. I like being challenged.”

Challenged and busy. Up next, Hemsworth joins an entirely different action franchise, starring alongside Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa, George Miller’s long-anticipated follow-up to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. “It’s massive and otherworldly and everything you’d expect from the Mad Max world,” says Hemsworth, who loved the Furiosa script and jumped at the chance to work with a fellow Aussie, Miller — though he found himself struggling with doubts, unable to get a handle on playing the film’s villain. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” he says. “It was starting to get scary the closer I got to shooting. Then, all of a sudden, it clicked, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

As for his future as Thor? Hemsworth pauses, knowing that anything he says will spawn countless headlines across every geek blog on the internet. “I’ve got to be careful how I word that because I have no idea what’s happening in the next phase,” he says. “There’s always conversations, like with Extraction. Before anything is official, people are throwing around ideas. But officially, I don’t know.”

If he does pick up the hammer again, it’ll be his 10th onscreen appearance as the character in 12 years. Thor is already the only Marvel character to get four solo movies — to say nothing of the multiple Avengers films. He loves playing the Asgardian hero, but he wants to make sure that the next chapter — if it happens — doesn’t devolve into “Thor’s Greatest Hits.”

“I don’t want to continue to do it until people are so exhausted that they roll their eyes when they see me come on the screen as that character,” he says. “If an audience wants to see it, and if there’s something that we believe is exciting and fun, then great. I’ve loved being able to reinvent that character a few times. I don’t have the answer yet, but I would love to try and [figure out] how we can do that again and keep it a little unpredictable.”

Chris Hemsworth in ‘Extraction 2’

Chris Hemsworth in ‘Extraction 2’ | Credit: Jasin Boland/Netflix

He feels the same way about Extraction. His goal in this second film was to peel back the layers of Tyler Rake’s psyche, focusing as much on his emotional state as his physical one. He’s also already thinking about where Tyler could go next: “The third one — which we plan on doing if we’re lucky enough to do it — will be totally different,” Hemsworth teases. It makes him one of the rare actors to launch franchises both at the multiplex and on streaming, and when asked about the never-ending battle between the two, he takes a diplomatic approach.

“Streaming has allowed so many more films to be made,” he says. “Due to the nature of competing mediums and distractions that an audience has at their fingertips, it’s become harder to get them into the cinema. So, I’m thankful for the bigger films that are still able to do that and keep things flowing. But I’m also thankful for the streaming platforms that can sort of bridge the gap for films that people might not watch at the cinema, but they’d watch at home.”

There’s room for both, Hemsworth adds — but he also admits that when it comes to big, action-packed flicks like Extraction, he’s a sucker for plush seats and popcorn. “I’d be lying if I didn’t wish this was also at the cinema, because I think it plays so well on a big screen and big sound system,” he confesses. “But I’m thankful that we’ve been able to make the film. We might not have had the opportunity in a cinema release.”

“Chris is a very multi-talented producer,” Anthony Russo praises. “He’s not approaching storytelling simply as an actor. He’s thinking about the larger picture of what can be done with movies, what can be done with storytelling. He’s thinking about the movie in the biggest possible terms, not just from his character’s point of view.”

Left: Chris Hemsworth for EW | Credit: Dennis Leupold for EW

Center: Chris Hemsworth for EW | Credit: Dennis Leupold for EW

Right: Chris Hemsworth for EW | Credit: Dennis Leupold for EW

At this point, Hemsworth says, he’s a little choosier about which projects he takes — especially as his children grow up. “My kids are in school, and they’re of the age where it’s not as easy to upheave their life and travel across the world,” he says. He’s also made it a goal to work with as many interesting directors as possible, eager to soak up as much knowledge as he can, pointing to Miller as the perfect example. And he’d like to do a contemporary drama. Maybe a love story. (Hollywood, make it happen!) “I’ve done so much gritty action and fantastical aesthetic,” he says. “It’d be nice to be a little… what’s the word, cleaner? Not be covered in blood and dust and dirt and being shot at. I’m sick of being beaten up.”

He pauses, then grins. “But watch, I’ll get sent a bunch of things that completely contradict what I’ve just said, and that’s where I’ll head.” He shrugs. “It’s in the hands of the gods.” Good thing he knows a thing or two about those.

Directed by Alison Wild & Kristen Harding

Photographs by Dennis Leupold

DP: Amina Zadeh; Steadicam Op: David Baldwin; 1st AC: Corey Cave; Gaffer: Nate Thompson; Key Grip: Zachary White; BBG: Ian Lancaster; BBE: Lincoln Webb; 1st Photo Assistant: Tommy Blanco; 2nd Photo Assistant: Winston Kingstro; 3rd Photo Assistant: Allison Lopez; Digital Tech: Kevin Leupold; Color Correction: Cameron Marygold; VFX: Ira Morris 

Styling: Samantha McMillen/The Wall Group; Hair: Lucy Halperin; Set Design: Green House Creative; Studio: Studios 60

Photo Director: Alison Wild; Head of Video: Kristen Harding; Senior Video Producer: Ethan Bellows; Creative Director: Chuck Kerr

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