Chris Hemsworth talks about diving into an iconic film franchise and his palpable on-screen chemistry with his Men In Black: International co-star Tessa Thompson, writes David Skipwith.
Hollywood's man of the moment, Chris Hemsworth, admits to feeling some pressure in taking on Men In Black: International and continuing the iconic sci-fi comedy franchise built by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.
Hemsworth established himself as a genuine star and won over diehard Marvel fans with his portrayal of the hammer-wielding God of Thunder, Thor, but the 35-year-old Australian believes added responsibility comes in continuing the Men In Black legacy.
"I love the original films and the franchise that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have built," said Hemsworth.
"Initially I was excited to jump on board but also apprehensive about making sure that we did it justice and were able to extend the journey.
"I feel there's always pressure in any character or film you do. There's the same amount of anxiety and need and passion and want to be true to the story and have it be something that people enjoy and worthy of people coming and paying a visit to the cinema for.
"So there's always that pressure with anything, but there's definitely a little added amount of pressure due to a legacy already being built.
"I did feel that with Thor anyway because the comic books had been around for 40 or 50 years and there was a beloved fanbase prior.
"Fear or anxiety is just a great motivator to work hard and try to do it justice, and have the people who have been a part of the films prior and the fans that have followed the franchise, to be proud of."
The fourth instalment and new spin-off movie extends the idea of the Men In Black operating as an unofficial government agency controlling the immigration of intergalactic species and protecting the Earth from alien threats.
The producers of the first three movies, Walter F Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, return, and together with director F Gary Gray (Friday, The Fate of the Furious and Straight Outta Compton) introduce new characters, gadgets – including a highly weaponised E-Type Jaguar - and exotic locations, taking the franchise beyond US borders.
"I didn't want to do a remake or a revamp," said Hemsworth. "The idea was to continue on what had been done before and expand on that and geographically take it out of the urban landscape of New York. We shot in London and Morocco and Italy and it had a different aesthetic and a different feel to it and a different energy, and that was what appealed to me initially."
As the rebellious but charismatic Agent H, Hemsworth reunites with his Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers co-star Tessa Thompson, who plays rookie upstart Agent M. The pair form an unlikely partnership as they embark on a globetrotting mission to combat a dangerous new alien that can assume the form of anyone. The film's star power is boosted by Emma Thompson reprising her role as the agency chief from Men In Black 3, while Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson and funny man Kumail Nanjiani also fill big characters.
"Tessa I've obviously worked with and it's just a gift being able to have pre-established a chemistry and relationship and you're not going to chew up a whole lot of your shooting time getting to know one another and find each other's rhythms.
"We were able to pick up where we left off and hit the ground running and it was certainly a massive credit and benefit to what we were able to do in the scenes, having known each other for a few years now."
In this long-overdue modern age of equality, Hemsworth confirms the fact that one of the Men In Black is now a woman is no accident.
"The story only ever followed those two agents [Smith and Jones] that were men, but there were female agents. But I like the fact we sort of poke fun at that, there's a few jokes about it in the film. And as the world is changing and there is a greater awareness about equality, the film has a nod to that too.
"But it was just about making a big, fun, entertaining film and broadening the horizons of what people had seen before and within, who these new characters are, having a female agent being a lead, so it was great."
Thompson has been one of the most prominent leaders of the Time's Up movement and as a queer woman of colour continues to break new ground just to get on to the big screen.
"Every big opportunity I have been provided has always been with people of colour," she said in a recent interview with Time magazine.
"There is a long list of white, male film-makers I would love to work with. But they just don't see me. They just don't."
Hemsworth confirmed the duo had no contact with their predecessors from the earlier MIB films, but the door remains open for the four characters to come together if a fifth movie ever eventuates.
"I didn't speak to Tommy or Will. Hopefully, they're proud of what we've done.
"But in my mind, those characters still exist and we could interweave or cross paths if we're lucky enough to do another one.
"Who knows? This is not a remake and it was an origin story for our characters, Tessa's character in particular. It was her sort of introduction to MIB and her becoming an agent. But if we are lucky enough to do another one I would love to see the four of us cross paths. It would be a lot of fun.
Don't be surprised also to see Hemsworth and Thompson continue to work together further in other film genres and roles.
"She's just wildly talented and I hope I can continue to work with her on a number of things."
Hemsworth is confident Men In Black: International will appeal to fans of the original films and win over a new audience.
"[There's] just a great sort of sense of cheek and fun with it. There's a real sort of throwback to almost an 80s cop drama element to the Men in Black series interjected with aliens. So it's quite unique in that sense.
"I like to think I'm making films that are enjoyable to make, that fans will appreciate, but also something that I myself would turn up and go to the cinema for, and this ticked all those boxes."
Men In Black: International hits New Zealand cinemas on June 13