Extraction | Chris Hemsworth shares his experience shooting in India
Ahead of his Netflix release Extraction, mid-day spoke to Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth on a video call, with the global press logging in from their respective homes!
We're asked to first wait at the Breakout Room, before being led to the Vetting Room (have spelt that right). After quite a few minutes, finally, allowed in to the Interview Suite. Felt like going past check-in, through security, into immigration.
Except, this passage to the Hollywood home of Australian-born superstar Chris Hemsworth — globally, best-known as the superhero Thor — with various check-points in place, is happening over Zoom, the video-conferencing app. There's a posse of international press logging in at their designated time-slots, from respective homes, across the world. All of them, like Hemsworth at his place, it appears, are living under lockdown, due to COVID-19 spread/scare.
"If you think about it, what we're doing is unbelievable," says Sam Hargrave, referring to the unusual manner of this junket. This is before formal conversations begin, with a moderator rotating questions, as per a pre-decided order. Everyone but the specific questioner's microphone is on mute. No doubt, these are extraordinary times.
Chris Hemsworth and Sam Hargrave (encircled) during the interview
Hargrave, placed in the window to my right, is the director of the Netflix film Extraction, starring Hemsworth, that drops on April 24. If it wasn't for the pandemic, they'd both have been in Mumbai promoting this film. Which is where I am. And where, along with Ahmedabad, mostly, Extraction was shot.
What was that like? Hemsworth offers the common adjectives — life, energy, people, positivity —that the uninitiated usually refer to mean an overwhelming experience, which India, without a national curfew, can certainly be. He recalls, "The [crowds] couldn't have been more accommodating, supportive — thousands of people standing in buildings and bridges, watching and applauding. The shoot felt like being in a coliseum, or live theatre!"
For Hargrave though, besides sanity, there was also the question of maintaining safety: "We were doing intricate action sequences, with cars flying over locked-up streets, at 50 miles per hour. [At any point in time], you'd have 300 people for security personnel alone, to make sure no one got hurt."
A working still of Extraction
Hargrave is one of Hollywood's top stunt-coordinators, with films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe under his belt, including the Avengers blockbusters directed-produced by (Anthony and Joe) Russo Brothers.
Extraction however is Hargrave's first film as director, and evidently furthest from his comfort zone, given its setting to start with: "Joe Russo, who wrote the script, actually set the film in Dhaka [Bangladesh] and India. Because western audiences haven't seen much of that side of the world. It offered lots of opportunities, visually."
Directing, as a job, is challenging enough. Double whammy for the debutant was, as he puts it, "Directing actors in two different languages — Hindi and Bengali. Neither of which I speak! We had an interpreter with us. But because of the prep we'd put in during rehearsals, while I couldn't understand what they were saying [in the dialogue], I could tell the intention.
"I knew when we'd nailed a take. And if something was off, I knew if we'd missed a line. With cinema, you can tell the scenario. Especially with action — once you've set up the hero and the villain, and they're at odds — the film speaks for itself."
One of the major Indian actors Hargrave directed for Extraction was Randeep Hooda, who comes up rather often in this conversation, as Hemsworth specifically refers to the "major [fight scene], involving hand-to-hand combat. It was so exhausting for both [Randeep and I]. Yet, when you've got an actor who's putting in a 110 per cent, neither of you is willing to quit, it's the best."
Which gives you fair sense of the film's genre — sort of a pure, street-style actioner in the old-world, Western mould. Hemsworth elaborates, "[It's] everything they used to do in the '80s and prior, [without] relying on special effects and green screen, because you couldn't. It was refreshing and rewarding to shoot like that."
Hargrave recalls, "When Randeep and I met, we spoke about the characters, relating them to the classic Westerns — Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good the Bad the Ugly..." Randeep has come again — maybe we could go further on that route (him and I went to the same school).
Or talk more about other Indian actors Hemsworth was referring to hanging out a lot with, while he was here. Or, perhaps mildly pick his brains on his last huge release, Avengers: Endgame — hugest one in the history of films!
Oh, I'm on mute. Chatting on a screen through a moderator is at best interviewing an interpreter, with a dysfunctional hearing aid. Feels rather distant. Upside? Could casually roll out of bed in boxers in Bombay, find myself seated opposite Thor for a few minutes, and then back to bed again. Done. Hoping it's not the new 'normal' though.
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