Chris Hemsworth on ‘Extraction’: It’s the most exhausting ride I’ve ever been on
When the exhilarating action film “Extraction” begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, you’ll see a side of Chris Hemsworth you don’t often see.
But there’s no need to take our word for it because “Extraction” director Sam Hargrave swears by it. In our recent video chat with the debuting filmmaker and his dashing lead star, Sam extolled this “side of Chris that people haven’t seen—at least, not on this level.”
Make no mistake, this may be Sam’s directorial debut, but he’s really no newcomer on the filmmaking block.
Before this directing gig landed on his lap, Sam was one of Hollywood’s most accomplished stunt coordinators, having cut his teeth into projects like “The Hunger Games,” “Atomic Blonde” and those crowd-pleasing superhero films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where he served as Chris’ stunt double and “Endgame’s” stunt coordinator.
Justifying Sam’s hiring, screenwriter Joe Russo (“Avengers: Endgame”) explained, “The best action films are those where the action is used to illuminate character and their choices. A character’s emotional life is told through action—and Sam does that brilliantly.”
As it turns out, Sam wasn’t just paying lip service after breathing palpable cinematic life into Joe’s original script, inspired by his graphic novel “Ciudad.”
Even Chris’ reaction to the aforementioned flattering statement is in seeming synchronicity with his director’s.
“Doing ‘Extraction’ was the most exhausting ride I’ve ever been on,” the actor admitted. “The shoot was very challenging. But there was such a sense of accomplishment after every sequence at the end of each day.”
Having found Chris fun, open and accessible in our previous interview with him, we weren’t really surprised by Sam’s “testimony” because, in our experience as a theater director, we’ve always known that the most “open” actors are the type whose portrayals end up resonating instantly and deeply with audiences.
“They’ve seen Chris as Thor swinging a hammer and punching people in the face, but [his participation in this project] drives the action genre to the next level,” Sam explained. “Truthfully, we are just scratching the surface of this guy. Where his potential and work ethic are concerned, the sky’s the limit with Chris. So, all I wanted to do was to keep pushing that limitless potential.”
To film enthusiasts familiar with Chris’ body of work, he’s certainly no stranger to characters tasked with a do-or-die mission. He may have been mostly seen in actioners where characterization over spectacle is the norm, notably in high-profile projects where performances are often made to take the backseat.
But the 36-year-old actor has always managed to show how high the stakes are for any role he essays onscreen—from the splashy “dramedic” antics of Thor in the blockbuster “Avengers” flicks and the sleek true-to-life car-racing drama “Rush,” to the horror-comedy “Cabin in the Woods” and the twisted fairy tale “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
He even knows how to poke fun at himself, most memorably for his winkingly naughty turn in Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s “Vacation” and as the affable eye-candy in the estrogen-fueled reboot of “Ghosbusters” four years ago.
“Extraction” delivers the heady mix of hard action and compelling drama when grief-stricken Australian mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris) gets his “death wish” answered.
Tyler and his team are called in for a financially lucrative mission to rescue Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the 14-year-old son of an imprisoned Indian drug lord (Pankaj Tripathi), who has been kidnapped by Ovi Sr.’s fierce Bangladeshi rival in Dhaka, Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli).
Tyler is tasked to turn Ovi over to Saju (Randeep Hooda), Ovi Sr.’s right-hand man, after he “extracts” Ovi from Amir’s lair. But just as he’s about to wrap up his mission, Tyler learns that he’s been tricked into it with not enough funds for his deadly feat! This is when Tyler must make a Solomonic choice. What to do?
The urgently paced film follows the cat-and-mouse chase that ensues from India to Bangladesh, using exotic, “nonmainstream” locations handpicked by Sam and his creative teams in India and Thailand.
In fact, for “Extraction’s” crucial and final action sequence, which culminates with an epic gun battle on a bridge, the production had to sift through so many bridges—all 72 of them—just to capture the claustrophobic feel needed for the movie’s bullet-ridden penultimate set piece, which required more than 300 security men during the difficult shoot!
Our Q&A with Chris (C) and Sam (S):
Chris, you have a created a character that isn’t hard to root for. Did you research on a particular mercenary to understand Tyler Rake? And how did you relate to his grief and recklessness?
C: We had a beautiful building block, which is the script that Sam and I responded to. [It’s also the reason why we] jumped on board. With this character, there’s something I can immediately relate to, having children myself.
The idea that any of that being jeopardized or threatened adds an extra layer of truth in your performance that you can use. In my early discussions with Sam about Tyler, it was important to not have this guy be one-dimensional—that [overused] idea that the hero of a film is simply indestructible or “Terminator-esque.” It was about having someone flawed and vulnerable … and someone who has demons. The guy has to be emotionally complicated.
It is this complexity that then dictates his fighting style, and the way he was kamikaze-like suicidal, that would push his movement and the way he would approach a mission, with very little regard for his own safety.
So, I was constantly tracking that and his emotional arc as he meets this young boy and how his interaction with Ovi changes him.
Sam, how has the transition been, from stunt director to film director, so far?
S: It’s a dream come true! I always knew that I was destined for it. But I worked so hard to get here—a path similar to a few former stunt coordinators who have come before me, like Chad Stahelski (“John Wick”) and David Leitch (“Atomic Blonde”).
Much of my path has informed my style and approach to filmmaking. Every time I was designing my action sequences, I was already practicing directing because it was always telling the story through action—it was never just action for the sake of action. It was never meant to make someone look cool. It always had to move the story forward and reveal something about character. So, those wonderful opportunities I’ve had through the years were the building blocks for becoming a director. Then, getting the opportunity, which I will forever be grateful for, was Joe Russo trusting me with a script that both Chris and I connected with.
What’s the most important part of the film that you want the audience to see?
C: In particular, there’s what we call a “oner,” a 12-minute action sequence where there’s a series of single shots that are then seamlessly pieced and cut together to look like it’s one continuous take. It took about two weeks to shoot!
That was incredibly challenging (laughs) because with the wide shots, we couldn’t have stunt guys come in and switch. If we made a mistake, we couldn’t cut to another angle. So, it had to be all-in and I had to be me right in the thick of it—with Sam right there moving with the camera in front of the car, diving across buildings and during the fight sequences.
But once we pulled it off, it felt like we’ve really done something special and pretty unique. I’m excited for people to see it.
S: Yes. That’ll probably be what most people will talk about and gravitate toward. But for me, what I found most challenging and satisfying was building the relationship between Tyler and Ovi. And I hope people end up relating to that relationship.
The action in the movie is pretty intense, but it’s motivated by what Tyler is going through.
What did you find fulfilling about the shoot?
C: Doing something unique or something that hasn’t been seen before is the biggest challenge. And I’m very proud of what we’ve done here, especially if you know how Sam shoots and how he’s there behind the camera right throughout all of these sequences. It instantly gives the scenes an energy and more buzz that you can’t fake.
S: I would have to turn the love right back on Chris because I can design this with all the crazy action sequences that you want, but if you don’t have the talent to get it done and perform it to the level that you need, all that would just be bad theater.
We rehearsed a lot, and Chris put in many hours and hard work into the rehearsal process
How did you keep the elements of action and drama from overwhelming each other?
S: It’s all about balance. In action scenes, the action has to help tell a story and reveal things about character. With emotional scenes, you try to show motivations that will lead to these actions being performed. It’s all about all weaving the threads through.
If you lay the foundation early enough about what this character is going through, then you can put obstacles his way that become satisfying for him to overcome. So, part of the fun was weaving these elements in and trying to highlight our incredible set pieces in the places we shot—from India and Thailand.
The exotic locations and those confined spaces during chase scenes set “Extraction” apart from other action films. What kind of preparation was required, logistically, for a film that looks this big and busy?
S: Oh, it required a lot of preparation! It was big and busy—and was written that way. Joe did a very smart thing by setting the story in that side of the world. You know, there’s a rich history of cinema over in India, but western audiences haven’t really seen a lot of that side of the world. So, that made the shoot there pretty cool.
We found a great space in India to call our home base, which allowed us to get the kind of look we wanted and have as much control as we could have. There were certain days that we would be doing part of those “oner” sequences where we’re racing cars down the street and we’d have over 300 security personal, just to make sure that everyone was safe, because there’s so much vibrant life and energy in that city.
Another challenge presented itself when we got to Thailand: We went through 72 different bridges until we found one that we ended up using [for the finale]. Hopefully, “Extraction” is worth all the effort and thought we put into it.