“We are a couple of Aussies telling Aussie stories,” declared ‘Elvis’ director Baz Luhrmann as he sat down with ‘Thor’ actor Chris Hemsworth to discuss their craft and their leap from their country to Hollywood at the Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival on Monday evening. And for that next one hour of their languid, free-wheeling Q & A session, Luhrmann, who was on call to moderate that session and is the head of the jury at Red Sea, made good on that promise by training the spotlight on Hemsworth.
But ‘The Great Gatsby’ director spoke more than the actor, as Hemsworth had the natural ability to bounce the attention away from himself and ask Luhrmann, the director who was on top of his bucket list to work with, questions like why he made so few movies. At one point, Luhrmann even joked that he felt like he was in therapy and Hemsworth was his trusted ‘doc’. There was also a point where Hemsworth wanted to submit his “resume” during the session, angling for an acting job with Luhrmann whose body of work he adored.
Hemsworth, known for his blockbusters, including ‘The Avengers’, revealed he had just been to Brazil Comicon, where he unveiled the trailer of ‘Furiosa’, the latest instalment from director George Miller’s ‘Mad Max’ series before landing in Jeddah to participate in the festival, running until December 9.
Luhrmann remarked how George Miller had inspired him as a kid and taught him that Australians can have their own way of telling stories.
“Forty-five years ago, I saw George Miller make this film as a kid in Australia, and it’s what Akira Kurosawa would have referred to as an immaculate reality,” Luhrmann said. Hemsworth couldn’t agree more: “I remember watching ‘Mad Max’ and have vivid memories of its messaging and the type of storytelling. It was a sort of iconic Australian vision, but post-apocalyptic and had this universal appeal. And then later on, getting into acting and the fact that Mel Gibson was in the film as a young actor and created the bridge for a lot of Australians to go to America.”
When asked if he was keen to follow the career trajectory of any Hollywood star, Hemsworth was quick to name-drop Russell Crowe, the late ‘Joker’ legend Heath Ledger, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett (“she’s one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever worked with and has such truth and authenticity to her”), and Nicole Kidman. But it was this festive film from his childhood that shaped him and his choices: James Stewart’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.
“Growing up, different movies resonated with me … I watched Jimmy’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ every Christmas with my mom and dad. Something about Jimmy showed there was humility and integrity about him. He had the honour of what is right and wrong … As a kid, I didn’t know why it resonated with me, but that film moved me,” said Hemsworth. While he was inspired by a constellation of good actors and wasn’t keen to single out any particular actor, he claimed he continues to be impressed by Hollywood icon Tom Cruise.
“What I really appreciate about what Tom has done is that there’s always an entertainment factor to his work, but there’s a moral message underneath. I’d call it sort of accidental learning,” observed Hemsworth.
Luhrmann couldn’t agree more. The director, just like Hemsworth, also felt the ‘Mission Impossible’ star, who famously does his own stunts in his action-filled spy thrillers, worked tremendously hard and revived Hollywood when it was going through a tough spell. He labelled Cruise as this superhero who saved cinema.
“With Tom, it’s so interesting because it’s the longevity. Even now, he works so hard. He’s still got this unbelievable work ethic. When we did the rounds on ‘Elvis’, he had ‘Top Gun’. Let’s be honest, everyone had said the cinema was over. And then Tom comes flying in on a jet and saves cinema. It was a phenomenon,” said Luhrmann.
The director also told Hemsworth that he’s been on a roll at RSIFF 2023.
Luhrmann, whose last film ‘Elvis’ scooped eight Oscar nominations and was screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, is the head of the competition jury and has been tasked with choosing the best feature film. So naturally, he has been watching over three or four films a day and claimed that he was blown away by the movies that he was judging. Watching movies back-to-back also served as a reminder that he needs to swing back to directing and take less breaks between each of his films.
“I’ve never been on a jury before. I’ve never actually had to see three or four films a day. I have been reminded just how powerful, magical, moving, meaningful, humanising it can be. You escape into a new world,” he added.
Interestingly, Hemsworth also became an actor because he was fascinated with being transported to new worlds as an actor.
“When I was 16-17 watching ‘The Lord Of The Rings’, I remember wanting to be a part of that world. Not just an actor, but literally live in that world – fight goblins. I guess that vivid imagination as a kid still carried through as an adult and that was the attraction to inhabit different spaces, roles, and worlds,” said Hemsworth. And when he reads a script, he’s always looking for immersive storytelling and intriguing narratives.
“Does the little kid in me get excited or is my enthusiasm sparked? Ultimately, that’s the reason why I commit or dive into a film,” added Hemsworth.
Asked if film festivals are effective, he said: “Film festivals give an opportunity for people who have not had a platform or space to have global recognition or a gallery of people celebrating the same passion for stories like them. Film festivals are a wonderful opportunity.”