May 29, 2016
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Two decades after being mesmerized by Will Smith’s performance in Independence Day, Hollywood’s new golden boy has been given the opportunity to follow suit

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Liam Hemsworth was 7 when he first watched Independence Day. His parents didn’t want him to see the film, but he and his older brothers, Luke and Chris, sneaked into the den one night and popped in the VHS cassette. “Seeing Will Smith punching an alien in the face was a pretty pivotal point in my life,” the actor says.

Hemsworth is sitting on a scruffy Ikea couch in a dressing room at a studio in Woodland Hills, California. It’s not the glamorous setting you might expect for a young actor who had a leading role in the blockbusting Hunger Games franchise and who this month stars in Independence Day: Resurgence, which also seems destined for success.

If seeing Will Smith punch an alien in the face did help inspire Hemsworth’s acting career, then his latest role has a neat circularity to it. His character in the sequel serves as a kind of surrogate for the one Smith played back in 1996 (the actor reportedly opted out of participating this time around). Hemsworth plays a fighter pilot named Jake Morrison — “Not your typical cool guy” — who’s a bit of a renegade, a wisecracker, and no friend to the alien invaders. Sound familiar?

There are other similarities between the actors. Will Smith was 27 when he appeared in the original Independence Day. Liam Hemsworth is 26. Both men are athletic and handsome. And both were pegged by executives at 20th Century Fox as safe bets to head up a big-money sci-fi spectacular.

If Hemsworth is daunted by the prospect of following in his childhood hero’s footsteps — and of trying to match the box-office success of the original, which has made more than $817 million to date — he doesn’t show it.

When director Roland Emmerich approached him about starring in the sequel, in fact, he came close to saying no. He’d just wrapped his fourth Hunger Games film, and the idea of a belated sci-fi sequel seemed like something that could easily go awry.

“I honestly did have concerns about it before I met Roland,” he says. “And then when I sat down with him, he made me feel really good about it. The fact that he was excited about making another one — I just had to trust him.”

Independence Day: Resurgence, which Hemsworth shot in New Mexico for four and a half months last summer, takes place 20 years after the first film. Earth is now sheltered by a massive defense system, but of course the aliens attack, creating the need for a wise-cracking renegade pilot to stop them. The question now is: How do you go one better than an exploding White House, as per the original?

“That’s what everyone else has been saying: ‘How do you top it?’ ” Hemsworth says with a laugh. “It’s just a million times bigger than the first one.”

There’s also the question about how Hemsworth will stack up against the franchise’s original hero. Smith put in such a masterfully wry performance in the first film that the character became a part of cinematic lore. Hemsworth, for his part, is best known for playing the troubled Gale Hawthorne — an enigmatic and engaging character, but not one who is exactly brimming with sly wit — in the Hunger Games films.

Emmerich insists he had no qualms at all about casting Hemsworth. “Liam is one of the most talented young actors out there,” he says. “Audiences around the world will be excited to see him in a brand-new light. This movie allows him to be much more of a hero than he’s ever been.”

Smith may not have been on the set for this one, but other actors from the first film were, including Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and Jeff Goldblum, another one of Hemsworth’s boyhood heroes.

“He’s one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve met,” says Hemsworth. “We’d do a number of takes and Roland would come up and say a few things, and [Goldblum] would sometimes get to the point where he’d turn to me and say, ‘What do you think I should do?’ I’m like, ‘Man, you’re doing a great job. I think it’s all good.’ ”

Liam isn’t sure what to make of his own performance, but he knows it’s something that strays outside his comfort zone.

“There’s a lot going on with this character,” he says, trying to talk his way to a concrete response. “I don’t know. You’ll have to watch it and see what I did.”

Hemsworth moved to Los Angeles from Australia seven years ago, but the searchlight of Hollywood found him in 2012, when he starred opposite Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games. The casting of Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, childhood bestie to Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen (and one of her two love interests), was hotly debated by fans of the books. The pressure was immense, and the subsequent three films became a sink-or-swim learning process for the actor, even as he became an instantly recognizable heartthrob.

“You look at it on paper before going into that situation and everyone is telling you, ‘This is going to be huge. It’s the next massive thing,’ ” Hemsworth recalls. “I don’t think there is anything you can do to really prepare for that. You kind of figure it out day by day. You travel around the world and you go to these premieres where you have thousands of the most passionate fans in the world. It’s exhilarating. But nothing can prepare you for that.”

That early pressure did at least prepare him for where he is now.

“It’s all about experience,” he says. “I’ve been through this situation before. The press tours are always crazy and that part is hard for me. But the making of the film was the same, and I’m still playing a character. That’s the part I enjoy.”

Hemsworth is maturing both emotionally and cinematically, as evidenced by his trade-in of teenage Gale for soldier Jake, but he still feels a connection to the character he first played four years ago.

“There were a lot of things about Gale that I connected with,” he says, “[Like] the fact that he was brought up with such good values, and everything that he stood for was about standing up to evil and not just standing there and letting people kill your family and treat your people like that. I’m not in that situation, obviously, but I was brought up with a great family and great values and was always taught to respect other people’s opinions, religion, beliefs and everything like that. I feel like he had a good moral compass, and that’s something I try to keep in my life.”

The actor and his two older brothers grew up on Phillip Island, a small town about 85 miles south of Melbourne. Luke is a TV star who also lives in L.A., and Chris is best known as Marvel’s Thor.

Despite the inevitable brotherly bickering that went on, Hemsworth idolized his siblings and says they always encouraged him to pursue his interests, whether it was surfing (he did it competitively until he was 18) or acting. He was particularly close to Chris, which means they were also particularly scrappy.

“I’ve always gotten along with Luke,” he says. “He was so much older than me I just wouldn’t mess with him. Chris and I have similar personalities; we are both very stubborn. It wasn’t until I started high school that we stopped arguing and fighting. But I always looked up to him. He was my best friend.”

Hemsworth wasn’t an attention-seeker as a boy. He was terrified to read aloud in class, he says, and even now, he describes public speaking as his “worst fear.” He pursued acting, in part, to help overcome his shyness, and started auditioning for roles in high school, inspired by watching his brothers do the same years earlier.

“I was 16 when I saw Chris working on a TV set,” he says of what has become the family business. “After that, it was all I could think about. I got an agent and started auditioning as much as I could.”

Liam’s first real on-screen role was in 2007 in an episode of the Australian soap McLeod’s Daughters.

“I remember being so scared,” he says. “Up to that point, I was really good about auditioning: I had a self-confidence about it and really felt like I could do it. Then all of a sudden, I get up to the set, and I’d never worked on a set before. I had been on a couple with Chris and Luke. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m so glad I don’t have more lines today because I can barely breathe.’ And I had, like, two lines.”

In such moments, sibling rivalry would be set aside, and the youngest Hemsworth boy would fall back on his brothers’ experience. “I think we’ve pushed each other and motivated each other in a lot of ways,” Chris says. “I know there was a competitive nature between us, but it was always a supportive one. I think it was initially just to not be stuck on our parents’ couch years down the track. We successfully got off of that due to the support of one another.”

Hemsworth has since gotten a difficult lesson in the downside of fame. Over the last few years, his relationship with Miley Cyrus has garnered constant attention from the tabloids, which, understandably, makes him uncomfortable.

“Look, my private life is my private life and, you know, it’s important to me to keep it private,” he says, adding that he refuses to read a single line of Liam-Miley gossip. “I used to, but what’s the point? Everything that is written is made up. They don’t know. They don’t know what’s going on. Story after story gets made up and that’s all they can write, but they don’t know.”

The best Hemsworth can do in the face of all this, he says, is to buckle down and focus on his career, which is clearly on the rise. He hasn’t selected his next film yet, but he has been spending his free time reading as many scripts as possible. He has two other films in the can, neither of which currently has a U.S. release date: The Dressmaker, an Australian drama with Kate Winslet, and The Duel, a Western that reunited the actor with Woody Harrelson, his co-star in the Hunger Games films.

As for what kinds of roles he’ll be pursuing in the future, Hemsworth is a little muddy.

“I don’t want to do films for the sake of working,” he says. “I want to do films that I think are going to be good.” When asked what “good” means to him, he replies: “I’m not sure.”

Which is OK. No need to rush things. After all, two decades after he was awed while watching Will Smith battle aliens, he has been given the opportunity to bash a few aliens of his own. Welcome to Earth.

Source: American Way

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