Chris Hemsworth (Marvel's “Thor,” “The Avengers”) plays a new kind of hero in Universal Pictures' cybercrime thriller, “Blackhat.”
The Australian actor is cast as Nicholas Hathaway, a genius coder and furloughed criminal set on a mission of revenge. An unlikely operative fighting to protect our world from an impending attack that will shatter people’s lives, this hacker on furlough must lead a manhunt to stop an unseen danger that can strike anyone, anywhere.
Director Michael Mann introduces us to the tale: “The film starts off in Los Angeles. The premise is that Hathaway is in his fourth year of a 13-year prison sentence. He’s offered a conditional release if he works to identify and apprehend a cybercriminal who has already taken down a nuclear power plant in China and manipulated the price of soy futures on the commodities exchange. Nobody knows who he is, where he is or why he’s doing what he’s doing. But he has obviously no regard for human life, and he’s skilled and dangerous. If Hathaway works to identify and apprehend this cybercriminal organization, he’ll win a commutation of his sentence.”
Mann explains how Hemsworth became his Hathaway: “I first saw Chris in `Thor,' and I thought he was great. Then I talked to Ron Howard, who had worked with him on `Rush,' and Ron had a great experience and was kind enough to show me about 45 minutes of the film. Chris was just terrific. Then, I really wanted to meet him. So I went down to Costa Rica, where he was vacationing with his family, and we spent about two days together just talking about the film. I decided, at that point, this guy’s it.”
Mann found Hemsworth to be centered, self-confident and fascinated in the world around him. The director continues: “Chris is ambitious and has a strong artistic ego. I love working with people like that. He felt like some very bright people I knew in the steelworkers union years ago who had a self-confidence and dignity. ‘I’m sitting across from Hathaway right here,’ I thought. And Chris responds to challenge. He’s physical in his life, both as a surfer and kickboxer. He was eager to immerse himself, getting into character.”
For this role, Mann wanted to defeat the outdated stereotype that the hacker is a middle-class, skinny white kid. He offers: “That hasn’t been the case for years. It’s somebody in a housing project. It’s somebody in Mumbai. I thought that Hathaway should be the son of a steelworker from the South Side of Chicago.”
For Mann, attention to detail and precision trumps all, and working with the director was an intensive education. Hemsworth, no slouch when it comes to preparing for a part, was keen to dive in. Hemsworth says: “He knows what he’s looking for. It’s certainly the most prep I’ve done, and it’s been hugely beneficial. It made me think about how I’ve prepped in the past and will in the future.”
As part of the prep work, Mann and Hemsworth toured Stateville prison and “hacking schools.” Physical training, which began several months prior to shooting, included boxing and fight work. The six-foot-four-inch Australian is no newcomer to intensive preparations for roles, but it was learning to think, act, move and behave like a hacker doing hard time that proved to be his greatest challenge.
As it is to most of us, the world of cybercrime was relatively unfamiliar to the Australian actor. The idea that someone could, with a little ingenuity and a few keystrokes, send the stock market reeling or seriously damage private or public infrastructure seemed far-fetched. It was the conceit of, well, movies. “It wasn’t a topic I knew a whole lot about besides whatever was creeping into the news,” Hemsworth says. “For a character like Nick, it’s pretty organic; it’s in his blood.”
Hemsworth met and worked with professional hackers, some of whom, like his character, had been convicted and sent to prison. It was an illuminating experience for the actor who explained that his guides into the universe of keystrokes and endless digits had an almost otherworldly understanding of the technology that is rapidly expanding. “It’s a bit like The Matrix for them,” offers Hemsworth. “They can make sense of something most people can’t. It’s another language, a series of numbers, letters and punctuation. It looks like a mess to most people but if you live in that world, it means something else entirely.”