Chris Hemsworth’s sudden and remarkably busy rise continues with Snow White and the Huntsman, debut director Rupert Sanders’ stylish gothic take on the much adapted fairytale. Starring Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen Ravenna, the film is mostly notable for its often stunning imagery and dark tone, as well as a whose who of mature British actors Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Ian MacShane) as the seven dwarves. Hemsworth gives an admirably muted and touching performance as the drunken huntsman initially hired to track down Snow White, before deciding to defend her from Ravenna’s pursuit. Sitting down in a London hotel to talk about the film, he offers a much more relaxed presence than one would expect, and seems keen to show that his latest film shows that he can mix action with emotional heft following the success of Thor and the recent Avengers film.
How did you end up taking the role, you auditioned presumably…
I didn’t audition for this actually, it was just after Thor came out, and things are being sent to me instead of having to audition, which was a first! My initial reaction was that I’d seen and read the story before and I didn’t think there was anything new to do with it. And then Rupert shot a trailer which he had shot in two days which looked incredible, and he showed me that. I’d read the script, and on each page I was being surprised. It seemed like a different take, a darker take. Rupert had this epic universe that he wanted to crate, rooted in a really strong reality of snow-capped mountains and forests, and that really appealed to me because I’ve done so much green screen. I’d never felt more in amongst a project than for this shoot.
So making this film was a much more physical experience for you?
Definitely. It was cold, wet and muddy most of the time, and it created a challenging physically, but it helped. It’s so much easier, because you don’t have to expend a big percentage of your imagination creating what’s going on, or creating what should be there rather than the green screen. There was one scene in the cathedral, and we just walked in and it was so peaceful and still and beautiful, and you just think, ‘Okay, we don’t need to do too much here’, because if you do too much you are getting in the way of something far more powerful and resonant.
How was it working with Rupert Sanders, this being his first film?
There’s an advantage to coming in less cynical or less effected by the previous way things are done. There was a fearlessness to him, and there were a number of times when he said ‘Look at the sun at the top of that hill, everybody run up there’ and he’d take the camera; and there’s a shot with the huntsman and the dwarves walking, it’s in the trailer, with the sun behind us crackling through the trees. With the light and the bugs it just looks beautiful, and that was done on the fly. This is just the way he worked in the past and this was how we will continue. It’s easier to be a visual director for the sake of it, but I felt that everything we was doing was enhancing the characters and the story.
How do you balance the emotional and action elements of a story like this?
It’s sort of all done for you in a sense. It’s out of sequence the way you shoot and whether you like it or not, it’s only once you start shooting that your character starts to grow. You get to the end of the film and you think, ‘Now I know the character, can we go back and reshoot that thing that we did three or four months ago?’ Sometimes it’s really good because you feel the vulnerability the first few days on set that your character’s supposed to feel, but often you shoot the last scene first, and you really have to monitor where you are in the story. The action stuff is a lot of fun, it’s nice to have some heavily emotionally driven scenes instead of just physicalising it all, they bleed into each other nicely.
Are you not tired of swinging axes then?
What I feel is that no matter how much you think it’s solid acting and you are surrounded by great actors, Anthony Hopkins or Nathalie Portman or whoever, unfortunately the moment you take your shirt off or have a fight scene you become an action star. I got asked the other day: ’Did you always want to be the next Schwarzenegger? ‘ and I was like ‘That’s what you’ve got from those films I’ve done?’ Not everybody sees it like that, but in the next couple of films I do I’d like not be swinging any weapons! It just distracts from any acting you’re trying to get across, and it’s very easy to fall into the mode of ‘That’s all he can do, that’s all it is.’
But it’s also true that films like Snow White have an emotional edge…
I think the films that seem to be working at the moment are ones that are combining digital effects and action with humour and heart. They tick a lot of boxes, more so than ever. You see Charlize [Theron] in a movie like this or Hopkins in Thor, it attracts real actors. That’s why I would do more films like this, for those reasons, because those kind of people are there.
Snow White is much darker than one would perhaps expect as well.
It is isn’t it, and even Charlize’s motivation in being the villain and what leads her down that path, with what she has been through as a child… not that it justified what she did, but you can’t help but understand why she’s pissed off! That moment at the end where her and Snow White, there’s such an understanding that they’ve both been screwed over in one way or another… there’s such a message under there of beauty and physicality which has been pushed and dictated from the male section of the world. I really like that moment at the end where she says ‘You can’t have my heart. Sorry, I know you want it, but no.’
You already have a height advantage on Ray Winstone and the other actors playing the dwarves, was that fair do you think?
[Laughs] Yeah, especially when they put me up on that platform! It’s funny how practically we got around making them even smaller, but most of the time it was sitting on a seat this high an they sit on a seat that high. They’re iconic on and off screen those guys. The characters in this film have all been plucked from various gangster films that they’ve all been a part of at one stage, and they’re dirtied up and covered in prosthetics. It was such a treat watching them work, you would think that they’ve only got a few lines, but they had more in depth discussions of who these characters were… and they heavily shaped those characters and rewrote scenes because of how passionate they were. They could just stand there and I’d be impressed, but their work ethic was hugely impressive.
We probably have to wrap things up by talking about Kristen Stewart…
She’s great. I loved the fact that she had such a strong version of who this character was, and there was no wavering about where she was going to take it. That was good, because you don’t want someone sitting on the fence not brave enough to commit to something and to play it safe. She really went for it: physically in the battle sequences, I thought I was going to squash her because she’s tiny! But she came out unscathed. Just because of Twilight, the novelty of that world overshadows you as an actor. It’s not something you complain about because it’s got you to where you are and it’s a brilliant opportunity, but you can see her just really not sitting back and riding that wave. Rather she’s showing that she can prove something and that she deserves to be here. It was great; I loved that commitment and passion. She’s fantastic.
Snow White and the Huntsman is out now