Chris Hemsworth unlocks potential ‘superpowers’ in Limitless
NEW YORK – Watching Chris Hemsworth in the Thor (2011 to 2022) and Avengers superhero films (2012 to 2019), one might wonder if he shares any of his character’s superhuman strength, speed and imperviousness to harm.
And the new National Geographic documentary series Limitless With Chris Hemsworth, executive produced by American film-maker Darren Aronofsky and streaming on Disney+, does its best to answer that.
Each episode puts the Australian superstar through an extreme physical or mental challenge – not eating for four days, swimming in frigid Arctic waters or climbing a rope over a deep canyon, for instance.
The goal: To test emerging research on how one can unlock the body’s potential “superpowers” to perform better, fight illness and even reverse age.
Speaking at a press event in New York earlier in November, Hemsworth, 39, admits that while filming the six-episode series, he had a few moments where he thought, “This is too much.”
And there were moments he worried he would fail.
He says: “There were certain things, especially the physical challenges, where I thought, ‘If I can’t complete this swim or I can’t get to the top of this rope, then there’s not really an episode, or it’ll be a little anticlimactic.’
“So I certainly felt the pressure and that was extra juice to get those episodes done.”
One of the toughest to shoot was the episode in which he does not eat any food at all for four days, which experts believe can help the body regenerate and live longer.
“The fasting was brutal,” Hemsworth admits.
The longevity expert featured on the show had told him: “Your body will switch from burning glucose and carbohydrates to burning fats, and you’ll go into ketosis and be sharper and have a different sort of energy.”
But “it just didn’t happen for me for most of the time until maybe the end of Day 3”, says the actor.
So to get through this and other ordeals, he had to give himself pep talks.
“It was all very demanding and I had to keep going, ‘Okay, what’s the purpose of this, why are we doing this and what am I learning from this?’”
In the end, Hemsworth – who also starred in the sports biography Rush (2013) – was glad he “stuck with it because it had quite a profound effect on me”.
“Each experience was designed to bring me right outside my comfort zone, and then I also had to articulate my feelings around that, which exaggerated my fears further.”
But perhaps his biggest unintended takeaway from working on Limitless was being confronted with his “biggest fear” – discovering that he has a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease.
In an interview he did with Vanity Fair magazine released last week, Hemsworth revealed that for one episode, he went for blood tests and learnt that his genetic make-up includes two copies of the gene APOE4, one each from his parents, which is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Even though he did not consider this a hard diagnosis, he told the publication he plans to take a break from the entertainment industry to spend more time with his family. He shares three children aged eight to 10 with his wife, Spanish actress Elsa Pataky.
The bombshell was not addressed at the New York press event as it took place before the Vanity Fair article was published, with Hemsworth only saying that much of what he learnt while making the show, he has been able to keep applying in his own life.
“It certainly motivated me to implement these techniques more consistently than before, and I now understand the science behind why they’re good for me. So I have better sleep habits, my stress management is better, and I train with more focus and specificity.”
Meanwhile, Aronofsky, 53, reveals the challenges themselves were quite hard to come up with.
“But after Chris decided to become a part of the team, we tried to build things that would be challenging and interesting to him but still connected to the theme of the science we wanted to teach,” he says.
The Oscar-nominated director – who helmed dramas such as Requiem For A Dream (2000), Black Swan (2010) and Mother! (2017) – was “also chasing something that was original and that was visually spectacular”.
There was a lot of improvisation around what Hemsworth would do, says Aronofsky.
“And of course, there were bad ideas – there always are. At one point, it was even going to be Chris racing (against) a horse for a while. But with my animal rights background, I was, like, we’re not doing it. So that got killed early,” he adds.
“It was still pretty fascinating because a human in really good shape can beat a horse over a long distance. It was just about stamina and endurance, and it was an interesting thought experiment, but it would have been a cruel thing to do.”
“Cruel to me,” Hemsworth pipes up. “Glad I didn’t do that one.”
Limitless With Chris Hemsworth is streaming on Disney+.