It took only a few years for Chris Hemsworth to make the trans-Pacific leap from his native Australia to land on Hollywood’s doorstep. He earned his leading man stripes in 2011′s Thor, a role he reprised in this summer’s blockbuster, The Avengers. Earlier this year, he served up some horror in another Joss Whedon-project, The Cabin in the Woods. Now, the ever-versatile Hemsworth takes on Snow White and the Huntsman (Hemsworth is the Huntsman, if you didn’t already guess that one), a Universal project opening Friday. Despite pesky London traffic, TIME caught up with Hemsworth to talk about the dual life of a superhero and a fantasy warrior.
Did you extensively research the Snow White fairytale?
Not really. I listened to children talk about it, but honestly I didn’t do much research. I wanted this to be a first take, a first type of role. The Huntsman was never very prominent, so there wasn’t much to draw from.
What kind of physical training went into your role as the Huntsman?
I wanted to lose weight and get rid of the bulk from Thor, so there was a lot of running, training and eating less. I stripped the weight pretty fast. Obviously there were some Samurai techniques with broadswords and technical movements. I was working together a few different styles at the same time.
Is all the sword work new for you?
It is just part of the work. When I was young, I used an axe, but never like these characters. There are similarities in fighting styles in one way or another.
How difficult was using several different filming techniques to make the seven dwarves appear shorter?
Yeah, it was funny. Sometimes it was me standing on a box or standing on a runway. We also had shots where we couldn’t do that, so they had doubles. Most of my career I have been bending down or standing in a ditch or crouching somewhat [Hemsworth is 6-3], but this is the first time I was forced to be even taller. Sometimes I’ve thought, ‘This is not going to work,’ but somehow it came together.
(MORE: Mary Pols’ review of Snow White and the Huntsman)
What’s the difference between a fairytale and a superhero?
Both are fantastical realities and vivid sorts of worlds. A fairytale is a lot more grounded in reality. There are obviously mythical elements, but most of it is far more human to me than Thor. You are playing a demigod, how do you make that relatable? The Huntsman is a flawed human being, a very true character who was very tortured and pained. There are some very heartfelt periods in his life, so you can be far more open than you would when playing a superhero.
The Cabin in the Woods was filmed in 2009. What was it like to wait almost three full years for its release?
It’s nerve-racking. When you feel like something is your most recent representation and then scroll back three years, it’s definitely nerve-racking. Thankfully it had a great reception and people loved it. Another one, Red Dawn [filmed in 2009 and set for a November 2012 release], is coming out even later. I’m like Benjamin Button, I’m getting younger and less experienced. I’m not into watching stuff I did last week, let alone three or four years ago.
What was the transition like from The Cabin in the Woods to Thor?
The physical stuff was the easy. You just get into the gym. The biggest thing was knowing I was going to work with Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman on a huge project film with people far more experienced than me. I had dreamt of an opportunity like that, so when it finally arrives it is a pretty scary thing.
Was your first Comic-Con as crazy as people would think?
Yeah, it was because there was a lot of skepticism and doubt about me being cast in the role [of Thor]. You are in a room with 7,000 people who know more about your character than you do or ever will and showing them footage with your fingers crossed. They cheered and loved it and wanted us to play it again. You know how dedicated [the fans] are.
Joss Whedon was the screenwriter and producer on The Cabin in the Woods and screenwriter and director on Avengers. What was it like to work with him?
Joss is a fan of comic books and knows that world so well. We couldn’t have had someone with better knowledge on Avengers. He knows where these characters are and where they are coming from, and he has a great sense of humor.
What excites you about Thor 2? What will be different for the second go-round?
I love the Game of Thrones series and Alan Taylor is one of the directors on Thor 2. There is a very mythical element and a very organic, reality-based tangible world that it exists in. I think that is exciting for Thor. I loved the first one, but the world of Asgard could certainly benefit from an injection of an earthly time, something not so ethereal. I look forward to trying to do something new with the character. I don’t want it to become predictable; it is challenging in spontaneity.
What genre do you get to tackle next?
I just did a Formula 1 film based on two real guys in the ’70s and their rivalry [Rush, set for a 2013 release] with Ron Howard that was far more intimate. It was a smaller drama and didn’t have big set pieces and special effects. Green screens can be mind-numbing at times, so it was a breath of fresh air. Ron Howard is one of my heroes—it was an absolute dream.