About two years ago, I stepped foot on the London set of In the Heart of the Sea. It was the week that Thor: The Dark World opened in theaters and just a few days prior I had seen Chris Hemsworth, fully jacked as the Asgardian Avenger, on the big screen. He was a physical specimen. Then, standing on the muddy and rainy soundstages at Leavesden Studios, I stood next to the Chris Hemsworth that was starring in Ron Howard’s nautical adventure and almost didn’t recognize him. This is Thor?

In the film, Hemsworth stars as Owen Chase, the first mate of a New England whaling ship attacked by a mammoth whale of mammoth size. The majority of the film follows the aftermath of their encounter with the great white whale, as the surviving crew is forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive.

Hemsworth certainly looks the part of a man who’s been stranded at sea; at least 30 pounds lighter than his Thor physique. The shabby clothes hang off him like a kid playing dress up with his parents’ clothes. Don’t get me wrong: behind the beard, the dirt and the sackcloths, Chris Hemsworth is still a pretty handsome dude (it’s almost not fair). I was able to speak with Hemsworth for a few moments about what it was like to build up all that muscle, lose it again, and then have to build it all back up.

What weight are you down to now?

I think I’m around kind of 185 and I was 215 for Thor. I’m not necessarily an unhealthy white male, it’s just that I was at such an extreme for Thor that it’s a long way to get back to …

Was it harder losing the weight?

Yeah, it’s the second time I’ve done it, both times with Ron [Howard] so maybe he’s got some obsession with me being skinny. I don’t know. [Laughs] But each time you put the muscle back on, your body has that muscle memory and wants to hang on to it, so you just have be well underfed and over-trained to get it off and it’s exhausting.

Was that something you were concerned about when you were getting ready for the film, how arduous all of this was going to be?

Oh, no. I mean, every film has challenges and all of us are doing it together, all the cast is doing it together so you keep each other motivated I guess and keep each other in check. And we all knew that that was what we had to do and what was required from the beginning. I can’t say I was looking forward to it necessarily, but it’s all good. [Laughs]

Do you find that the hunger actually powers your performance?

If I need to be agitated or angry or frustrated or depressed or moody, yeah, sure. [Laughs] Definitely. It’s tricky when you have to do the opposite of emotions, you know? But I think it does, especially this stuff, coming back after we return and when we are lost at sea at the worst of it. Yeah, you don’t have to convince yourself that you’re exhausted and hungry; you feel it. So yeah, I think you definitely use it.

In the Heart of the Sea opens in theaters on December 11.

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