NEW YORK — Hosting "Saturday Night Live" earlier this year, Chris Hemsworth exaggerated his swift ascent in Hollywood: "If a jacked Australian with a perfect face can make it, anyone can," he said in a mock "American Express" ad.

Hemsworth, the 32-year-old Australian actor known the world over as Thor, appears as if perfectly chiseled out of movie star granite. But whatever his considerable natural gifts, Hemsworth has proven an interesting actor inclined to use his powerful screen presence in roles that both exalt it and upend it.

In "In the Heart of the Sea," which opens today, he reteams with Ron Howard, who directed him in "Rush," the 2013 movie that yielded Hemsworth's most confident starring performance as the Formula One driver James Hunt.

In "Heart of the Sea," a recounting of the plight of the Essex (the cursed whaling ship that inspired Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick"), Hemsworth plays the swashbuckling first mate. Shipwrecked by a mammoth sperm whale, Hemsworth's heroic seaman is humbled, left a gaunt survivor. (The actor shed considerable weight for the role.)

It's the kind of duality that defines Hemsworth: a hunk but a family man (he has three kids); an "Avengers" superhero but a talented comic actor. Along with his shirtless cameo in "Vacation" and playing the receptionist in the upcoming "Ghostbusters," he hosts "SNL" again on Saturday.

In a recent interview, Hemsworth discussed his new film, the box-office disappointment "Blackhat" and the stresses of being a Norse god.


Q: Do you ever feel any pressure to live up to Thor?

A: You feel like you've tricked everyone successfully. I never felt big enough playing Thor. And then people talk about you like you're 9-foot tall and 800 pounds. I'm well aware of the illusion. There's not a second where I go: Yeah, I'm a god.

Q: Your first taste of fame didn't come in Hollywood but in Australia as a star on the long-running Australian soap opera "Home and Away."

A: I did get the recognition of: You're famous. I wouldn't say it came with a whole lot of respect, though. I wasn't considered an artist or actor. But, you know, it's a soap opera. That's kind of the universal opinion people have on that. I mean, I have a huge amount of respect for the show. I think it's harder than just about anything. It's 20 scenes a day and they're not the greatest scripts at times.

Q: How did that prepare you for Hollywood?

A: I walked the gamut of what you can experience in this business in that period, and no one was paying any great attention — which was awesome. By the time I got to Hollywood, it was like: Now it's time to work, and I know why I love it. I kind of got a chance to start again.

Cillian Murphy, left, as Matthew Joy and Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase in Ron Howard’s action adventure film, "In the Heart of the Sea."
Cillian Murphy, left, as Matthew Joy and Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase in Ron Howard's action adventure film, "In the Heart of the Sea." (Warner Bros. Pictures — the associated press)

Q: The best scene of "Thor" must have been when Thor tries coffee for the first time, slams it on the floor and demands another.

A: It's funny, that's probably closer to me than the serious, gladiatorial-type Thor. I'd rather have fun with it. It comes easier. When doing Thor, those scenes where he (lowers voice) spoke like this and everything was grand and big, people thought: That's what he is. "Saturday Night Live" and "Vacation," as well, are good opportunities to go: Actually it's not.

Q: What was your experience on Michael Mann's cyber-crime thriller "Blackhat," which some critics defended but which flopped at the box office?

A: Really hard, actually. I love Michael and it was great. But I do wish I had done more of what I truly wanted to do. I remember being so in awe of him that I said I would just do anything he said, regardless of whether I agreed with it. And that's a real danger because someone hires you because they want to you bring what you're going to bring to the table. I was just so in awe of Michael Mann that I went, "Yep, cool. Wherever you want me." So I don't feel like it was my performance so much. And that wasn't the fault of Michael Mann.

Q: You and Howard, however, seem to be a good team.

A: I can't speak for him but for me ("Rush") was the first time I felt I was truly in an environment where I could just take risks and explore. Something felt sort of pure about that experience. And it was probably the role, too, something I directly related to or liked about that character. Full of insecurity and fear but also cockiness and overconfidence. It was all these contradictory things.