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Nineteen-year-old Australian actor Liam Hemsworth has had a peculiar year in Hollywood. After notching a few seasons in Australian TV, the youngest in a family of acting brothers was flown to Los Angeles to screen test for the lead in 2011's Thor; the role went to his older brother, Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek), but before long Liam landed a decidedly different gig with which he makes his Hollywood debut this week: the Nicholas Sparks drama The Last Song, opposite musician-actress Miley Cyrus.
It may seem an unexpected move for a young actor who might have been the face of action heroism for a new generation, but Hemsworth takes it all in stride. Fully embracing his role as Will Blakelee, a college-bound teenager who falls for rebellious teenager Ronnie Miller (Cyrus) one summer on Georgia's Tybee Island, Hemsworth makes for an engaging (and yes, strapping) love interest and All American foil for Cyrus's sarcastic, guarded Ronnie.
Cinematical caught up with Hemsworth to discuss his burgeoning career, his on-set first kiss with real-life girlfriend Miley Cyrus, and the undeniable power of Nicholas Sparks. He also discussed his recently-announced action movie debut in Chuck Russell's Arabian Nights, offered some of his favorite films and actors, and shared with us what he learned from watching Nicolas Cage at work on the set of Alex Proyas's Knowing.
There's been a lot of chatter about how you and your brother were up for big action roles, but The Last Song, a romance, is how you're making your big Hollywood debut. How did your role as Will Blakelee come to you?
Liam Hemsworth: Originally I'd been in the States for about five weeks before I got this script. And I'd been flown over here to do a screen test for Thor, which my brother got. I'd seen The Notebook before and thought that was a really great story, and I got this script and thought it was a great story, too; I think Nicholas Sparks, he's got the power to affect people in some way or another. His stories incorporate so many different emotions, and have really good messages about family and love and friendship. I felt the same way about this story; it's about a girl growing up and getting to know her father, and falling in love and dealing with responsibilities that come with that. And dealing with death, also.
It's interesting that you bring up The Notebook, since a lot of men don't really give it a chance, do they?
Hemsworth: No, and I would have been one of those guys, too. I watched it years ago. But, you know, it's a good story. I think whether guys watch it or not, you can relate to Nicholas Sparks stories because they're very real, about very real emotions that people deal with in life. I think that's why they do so well.
Speaking with you now I'm even more struck by how well you mask your natural accent in the film.
Hemsworth: It's not easy. I did a film just before I came to America, in an American accent. So I've worked with an accent coach before, and I worked with an accent coach on this as well. I do a lot of work with it. And we grow up with more than half of our television being American TV, and we watch a lot of the same movies that you guys do. It definitely takes work, but I've done it my whole life.
You're 19 years old, but you'd already spent several years acting in Australian TV before moving to the States to work more extensively in film. At what point did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in Hollywood?
Hemsworth: I think when I started acting, the whole time I was working towards one day coming to America. Hollywood, in particular, is seen to be the center of this industry, and I was just waiting for the right time to come. I'd gotten flown over for Thor, so that was kind of the right time for me. And it definitely feels like I'm doing the right thing, and in the right spot.
Rumor has it that on your very first day of filming The Last Song, you and Miley had a kissing scene. Was that a strange way to start things off?
Hemsworth: Yeah! It's funny, because I didn't actually know there was going to be a kiss in that scene; it wasn't in the script. In the script it just said we were running through the water, having fun and splashing... about halfway through the screen, Julie Anne [Robinson], the director, yelled out, "Kiss!" And we kissed. It was kind of a good way to do it, because neither of us had time to get nervous about having a first kiss in front of a hundred people. It was good, we just got right into it, and then you've got the first kiss out of the way and you're fine!
As opposed to most of the time with movie kisses, when they're meticulously planned and rehearsed...
Hemsworth: Absolutely. And you just sit there wondering how to kiss, and what to do. So it was good, we just got thrown into it. [Laughs]
It's recently been announced that your next film will be Arabian Nights. What can you share about the story this early out?
Hemsworth: Yes, I'm in negotiations at the moment. It's a big epic, fun film. It's about magic, and swords, and action... I play the commander of an army, and my king gets killed and I meet up with Sinbad and ask him to help me and come defend my kingdom. He comes back, and we do some sword fighting. I think it's going to be really cool. I love getting into physical shape for a film, it makes me feel more like what the character needs to be.
Have you spoken at length with Chuck Russell about his vision for the film?
Hemsworth: He's an amazing guy; he's got so many great ideas for the film. He showed me concept art. It'll look amazing. I think he's got a strong vision for the film. He's so enthusiastic about it, and he believes in it so much, and when you have a director like that you know you're in good hands.
Your name's been thrown about with a lot of action-type properties, but what other kinds of work interest you?
Hemsworth: There's a lot of things I want to do. I'd love to do action-y types of films; you know, as long as they're good stories. My favorite actors are Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith, guys like that. I love films that they've done. I love The Departed, it's one of my favorite films. I'd love to do a film like that; the acting is just amazing. Or a film like The Bourne Identity, something that's physical and on edge. I love those kinds of films, and they're the kinds of films I'd love to do. It's almost impossible to plan out what you want to do. You choose things that interest you, what feels right at the time in my career. I want to do things that I'm genuinely interested in and believe in. I want to make good stories. I'd love to do comedies!
A few years ago you appeared in Alex Proyas's Knowing, which was shot in Australia. What are your strongest memories from that shoot?
Hemsworth: That was years ago; I think I had two or three lines. That was really cool because I got to meet Alex Proyas and work with him for two days, but it was more the fact that the two days I was there, the camera was on Nicolas Cage most of the time and I could just sit there and watch him, which was really, really cool.
What did you learn from watching Nicolas Cage on set?
Hemsworth: He's just so professional in what he does. You know, he won't really talk to anyone between takes; he'll talk to the director, but he keeps very much to himself. He's just amazing; you can tell when he's looking at you that he's got so much going on in his head. There's so much going on in his eyes.