The star portrays a charismatic visionary in the Netflix drama: "I wanted to embody an immaturity almost, or a stunted growth with the character....there is something there that is missing."
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As charismatic villain/visionary Steve Abnesti, Chris Hemsworth wields a different kind of hammer in Joseph Kosinski's (Top Gun: Maverick) playful Netflix sci-fi drama Spiderhead: A pack of emotion-altering drugs that he tests on prisoners at the plush, minimum-security prison he oversees. (Inmates include Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, and a terrifying Nathan Jones.)

Hemsworth sat down with EW via Zoom from Australia to chat about his complex (and very funny) character, human behavior, and why it's getting harder and harder to entertain audiences. Spiderhead debuts on Neflix today.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your character, Steve Abnesti, seemed to be having so much fun. What drew you to this role?

CHRIS HEMSWORTH: The character that I play was just a wild, wacky individual, a very complex individual with a huge amount of ego, driven, persistent, highly intelligent, charismatic. But then there's a dark sense of humor there, coupled with a lack of empathy and inability to put himself in other people's shoes. Which is the irony to it because he is studying human behavior yet he's void of a whole lot of essential emotions himself.

Spiderhead
Chris Hemsworth in 'Spiderhead'
| Credit: Netflix

But he tries!

He does. And that's part of his quest in the movie. He's almost trying to reassemble or fill in the blanks of parts of his personality that maybe he's aware, on an intellectual level, are missing, but I think emotionally he's unable to access those places.

As a viewer, Spiderhead keeps you off balance because sometimes it feels like a sci-fi movie, sometimes it feels like a comedy, sometimes it feels like a romance. Did that genre-bouncing attract you to it?

It did, definitely. It's become harder and harder to shock and entertain an audience because they're inundated with so many options. And so this film, as you say, presented an opportunity to have a real mash-up of genres and ideas and [it's] unexpected. The film sort of plays out like a psychological thriller, but there's very dark comedic undertones and some satire thrown in, which makes for something very fresh and unique.

SPIDERHEAD. Chris Hemsworth as Abnesti in Spiderhead
Credit: Netflix

So tell me more about Steve. He's a bit different from other characters you played in the past. What unlocked that character for you?

I wanted to embody an immaturity almost, or a stunted growth with the character. There is this successful, intellectual grown man on one hand, but there is something there that is missing. The sort of lacking of social etiquette and on so on, but there's a strange naivete about the consequences of his actions. Whether he consciously decides to avoid feeling any sense of guilt or whether there's an inability there is up to an audience's interpretation, but I just wanted it to be unexpected. And anytime I thought it was conventional, I wanted to try and do something different. And I think always a sense of humor is so accessible and immediately it's an access point for an audience.

This character didn't get to where he was running this massive company just on his intellectual skills. He obviously has a charisma, an understanding of human behavior enough to manipulate it and manipulate people into getting what he wants. And so he's quite a skillful chess player of the game of life. We see him navigate it all in his favor. He really is playing God in this penitentiary. And you know he believes the means justify the end. You know, you gotta break a couple of eggs to make an omelet. [Laughs] Which can be fairly tragic in this setting.

The movie plays with tone a lot, and one way it does is with the choice of music. A lot of yacht rock, which I enjoyed. Did you have any input into the music selection?

I love the soundtrack too, I think it was incredible. And to be honest, it really set the tone for me for the character and the film early on. I didn't know that that was what Joe had in mind, that it was gonna have this backdrop of yacht rock playing throughout. But there was a quirkiness and a nostalgia to it and I think that was really important because something about the setting of the film, the sets, there's something friendly and hip and cool about the couches and the furniture and the pinball machine, the ping pong. But then there are these sleek, cold, very impersonal walls, there are no windows, it's very closed off. So it's quite unsettling. I think there's a tricky balance that Joe [Kosinski] struck there and I think he did a great job with all those elements: music, backdrop, wardrobe, to create this space.

Chris Hemsworth as Abnesti, Miles Teller as Jeff and Mark Paguio as Verlaine in Spiderhead
Chris Hemsworth as Abnesti, Miles Teller as Jeff and Mark Paguio as Verlaine in 'Spiderhead'
| Credit: Netflix

Spiderhead didn't look much like a prison to me. It looked like a high-end health spa.

[Laughs] Yeah, that was the intention. It was sort of the Google workplace of the prison world. To lure in with a false sense of trust and comfort. It's all about manipulation. Everything he's doing, he's manipulating human behavior, but he's also manipulating the individuals prior to embarking on these experiments because, in order for him to give them these drugs, they need to acknowledge, they need to give permission. It is sort of a chess match. He's constantly playing to their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities, their likes, their dislikes, and so on. He's very aware of who these individuals are and what's needed to get them across the line to "acknowledge".

How was it working with Joseph Kosinski? What kind of director is he?

Amazing, hugely collaborative. I had about three or four weeks in an impossibly short window to shoot this film. And we boarded the story in such a way that I was just back-to-back every day with these scenes. I had a huge amount of dialogue so I had learned the entire script prior to day one of shooting, which I don't normally do. Normally I'd learn the scene as they occur a few days before. But Joe has a real fascination and wonder about human behavior and why we do what we do and who we are and what got us to this point. And so we had endless discussions about that and the backstory of this character and why he is this way and how everyone in there found their way into this space. He really allowed all of us to explore and was constantly open: What is your interpretation of this moment as opposed to, "Here hit this target, this is exactly what I want."

It was a very calming set. You know, a lot of directors work off the idea that chaos somehow is beneficial. It drums up an energy or so on. But [the Spiderhead set] was a very calm, friendly space.

One last question: Was that really you flying that little plane in the movie?

I was, yeah, I was. I don't have a license, so I don't know how much I should admit to that, but... No, I had a co-pilot who let me go for it. We went out and landed on the water as well, and took off and it was pretty incredible. I can't say I'm the Tom Cruise-level of pilot. [Laughs] But I gave it a go and it was really fun.

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