“THESE PLACES ALWAYS SMELL THE SAME,” LIAM HEMSWORTH SAYS OF the putt-putt golf complex as we enter. It is an unprovoked observation that might suggest that the Australian 22-year-old actor enjoyed the pleasures of mini-golf like the rest of us while growing up. But a familiar smell is a strange place to begin since so much of Hemsworth’s life right now feels like unfamiliar territory.
Mini-golf was a miscalculation to say the least. Hemsworth seemed like the type of guy that might get off on a little hand-to-eye coordinating activities, considering his roles have been action movies, in which the good guy shoots people from a thousand meters. Also, maybe there, on the quiet concourse, he would open up in a way that he might not have otherwise.
Not the case. Hemsworth shoots down my questions with the same calculated precision with which he delivers the ball along the mini-green. His consistency is commendable; across 18 holes, he never wavers. Hole-in-ones drop into cups with a sweet rattle, one by one, their echo the only rival to the eerie silence of the course where even his words are lost. Light-footed and with speech stifled by a guarding hand, despite his stature, Hemsworth lends very little of himself to the surroundings. His sunglasses never come off. They protect his eyes, not his anonymity, but only for now.
“This course seems pretty easy,” I say, making small talk. Hemsworth settles behind the ball and answers with equal banality. “Yeah, but maybe it gets better as it goes on,” he replies. Of course, his ball goes straight into the hole. I three-putt, and before I even start to stoop, Hemsworth collects the balls from the hole. One green (him) and one red (me). “Christmas colors,” he notes.
It’s late January, but the reference is strangely appropriate. Hollywood is giftwrapping Liam Hemsworth to the American public. Ordinarily, an actor’s arrival to Hollywood notoriety is the unpredictable outcome of chance. Think of Michelle Williams’ third-tier role on Dawson’s Creek to her current superstar turn as the quintessential sex icon in My Week With Marilyn. Or harken back to a young Clint Eastwood as a cowhand on Rawhide with no hint the prolific career that lay ahead. Fame is often slowly built through small, charming roles over several years, as was the case of Bruce Willis or Tom Hanks.
Hemsworth’s fate feels like it has been pre-determined. People Magazine has already named him a “Sexiest Man Alive” and Details called him one of “The Next Generation of Hollywood’s Leading Men” before he was even a recognizable face. As Hemsworth taps the little ball towards the hole in the turf, he invites little attention from passersby. The pen and paper they clutch are not for autograph hounding, but scorecard jotting. No one in proximity has seen Hemsworth’s soap opera stint as a paraplegic or his role on the Elephant Princess TV series.
Originally cast in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables, Hemsworth’s early successes proved to be fleeting. “I got a call from Stallone… It was a really surreal moment,” he says of thinking he had his first big break. “Two weeks later, we found out that the script got
rewritten. [And I was out.]”
Within the same week of that reversal of fortune, Hemsworth, who was attached to the lead role in the blockbuster, Thor, lost the role to his brother, Chris, around the time Joss Whedon called Kenneth Branaugh to cast his vote for Chris (Whedon had recently worked with Chris in the soon-to-be-released The Cabin in the Woods).
As we move forward into our game, Hemsworth never takes off his shades. In quiet pauses when he should be speaking, his gaze is fixed upon the ball, and the silence of the course conveys everything he himself cannot. The green ball rolls across a ramp, up a slope, and through a tiny alley, rolling to a stop just before the hole. It’s a magnificent putt, but Hemsworth puffs out his mouth in frustration. He perseveres, and on the second tap, it goes right in. Somehow, along the way, Hemsworth forgets the question, and answers a completely different one.
“Since I was a kid, [I’ve been] very creative,” offers Hemsworth. “As long as I’m busy and working and able to do this crazy job that I do, I’m happy.” I wish he would show some of that happiness with me. Who knows, maybe he’s even enjoying being impossible to interview. Maybe with his overabundance of films in pre and post-production: Empire State, AWOL, The Hunger Games, The Expendables 2, Timeless, and Gone, withdrawing from me is his awkward way of attempting to preserve some degree of normalcy?
He is on the verge of fame. He has a team of agents and publicists and managers, all looking out for what’s best for Liam, or some such nonsense. What is that feeling? What thoughts run through your head as you lay in bed, wondering if tomorrow might be the day when the fame game is just simply too much? “You lose focus when you don’t have good people around you,” he says. “I think whatever I was doing in this world I would want a loving family that supported me and friends, good people around me that bring out the best.” That’s about the best I can get out of him, the whiff that there are unsavory characters that exist, that have attempted to crack his inner sanctum. But in the glasses, there is only darkness, nothing else to read into.
* * *
Shortly after losing out on the part of Thor, Hemsworth began filming The Last Song, a Nicholas Sparks adaption. During the filming, he began a much-publicized relationship with his co-star, Miley Cyrus, with whom he won a Teen Choice Award for “Best Liplock.” Hemsworth nearly loses his balance when I mention Cyrus. I start to back up, but Hemsworth drowns me out with a pat answer. “It is definitely nice to have people like [my brother] and my girlfriend who have experienced it before. To ask them questions, it definitely makes it easier in that sense. It doesn’t
make it any easier getting roles,” he says, half-jokingly. “It’s just me in the room when I’m meeting directors and reading with directors.” I get the impression that he’s still trying to figure out the best way to answer that one.
Perhaps Hemsworth is taking a cue from the mistakes Cyrus made in her own career, now an entire decade spent surrounded by notoriety and public scrutiny. The media terrorized Cyrus as she came of age in the spotlight. She has been criticized for her adolescent sexualization, notorious public statements and viral, incriminating videos. Hemsworth is in a position to act otherwise.
So it goes that Hemsworth is much more comfortable talking about his philanthropy. The conversation turns towards The Hunger Games and his character Gale Hawthorne, who is a defender and protector of children. “I definitely related to Gale,” he says. Hemsworth’s father has worked in child protection for 22 years, and Hemsworth himself is an ambassador for the Australian Childhood Foundation. “[It] is a foundation based on protecting children who are abused inside the home, outside of the home, in schools. It’s about making sure they grow up in families like where I grew up. I want to help children have best friends they can talk to or run to for advice and help get the kids out of these situations.”
I squint. There must be a different Hemsworth I cannot see, one I’m not allowed to get to, on the other side of those sunglasses.
* * *
The course is silent, save for the creaking of a tired mini-golf windmill. Hemsworth hits the ball with another near perfect putt. I feel like maybe he is taking something out on me, like he hasn’t got the knack for publicity, and the reporter must be punished with nine holes of nothingness. But he’s not angry-seeming, let alone malicious. He’s just oblivious to the struggles of a journalist with a bad golf swing.
A moment of clarity arises when I ask him about being cast in The Expendables 2 after being sliced from the first film. “That’s just the nature of the business,” he says, “and it’s never anything personal. It’s just what was right for the film at the time. I’m definitely a lot more confident in my acting—as I work and get more experience—and I think it’s a blessing. I respect Stallone immensely. I think he is an extremely smart guy. He built
his career on his own.” I think about the young Stallone and how so many critics underestimated his staying power and wonder whether Hemsworth feels a mystic kinship for Sly for this reason among others.
But Hemsworth even pays his respects with concealed vagueness. “To come onto a set with all of these guys,” he says, “to find out how down to earth they all are, how professional, and just great guys who have been working for so long. Guys I’ve grown up watching. [To] be the new guy on the set and have them welcome me and make me feel comfortable….”
I may as well throw my recorder into the water trap. Hemsworth, undeterred and unaware of my frustration both in the interview and on the course, drops a beautiful putt into the cup. Of his upcoming independent film AWOL, he talks about how enjoyable it is to work on a small-budget film. “It was nice to have everyone on set who was there not to make money, but to create what we all thought was a great project,” he says. “To come to work with every day with these people who were so excited about it—it was a much different energy.”
Okay, there’s something there.
* * *
On paper, Liam Hemsworth is destined for success as an actor. But as he mumbles, “What else have I got?” in response to a lull, I wonder if he has what it takes to be a celebrity in this day and age. He is guarded to the point that borderlines on absurd.
Once seated in his sporty BMW—bidding me adieu—the sunglasses come off of the crystal blue eyes that probably could tell his story better on their own. He tousles his hair in the rearview mirror and pulls onto the road. Maybe he is wise to stagger his public offerings. Maybe a non-interview is better than being caught on camera smoking salvia or fondling a phallic birthday cake. Then again, maybe those things aren’t so bad after all. And you know what? It doesn’t matter, does it? Liam Hemsworth is going to be a big movie star. And that’s what talks the most.