Extraction star Chris Hemsworth on reuniting Avengers team for action extravaganza
"I'd never experienced this amount of action before," Hemsworth says of his punishing new Netflix film.
Just like Thor's hammer, the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to follow Chris Hemsworth wherever he goes.
While last year’s Avengers: Endgame marked the end of an era for the mega-franchise, some key contributors have reunited for Netflix’s Extraction. Written by Endgame filmmaker Joe Russo and directed by Chris Evans’ former Captain America stunt double Sam Hargrave (who was also Endgame’s second-unit director), the action extravaganza stars Hemsworth as Tyler Rake, a mercenary with emotional and physical scars who is sent to India to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned crime lord.
Ahead of Extraction's release on April 24, EW chatted with Hemsworth and Hargrave about getting the Avengers band back together, taking on the punishing action, and delivering some much-needed entertainment.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did Extraction come together as you were filming the Avengers films?
SAM HARGRAVE: I had read Joe's script probably six or seven years ago, when it was under a different title. Then, once we were working on Infinity War and Joe and Anthony [Russo] were giving me more responsibility, Joe mentioned he had a script. He had changed it around a little bit, but I recognized it; I still loved it and I gave a few ideas to him. Once he saw my interest, we were actually looking at different actors when Hemsworth got wind of this. I’m sure Joe dropped a little breadcrumb.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: Joe gave me the script during filming on the last Avengers, and the idea of working with Sam and Joe again was exciting. I had seen Sam shoot stunt sequences, and he always wanted to know why the action was taking place. A lot of stunt guys shoot impressive action without a purpose — outside of looking cool — whereas Sam was a storyteller, and I knew that would translate.
How would you describe your relationship before this?
HARGRAVE: Our relationship began when I met Chris on the first Avengers movie, where I was doubling Chris Evans as Captain America, and he and I had some action scenes together and we got on well. He was always really getting in there, and I got to direct him on a number of those in Infinity War and Endgame, so we discussed the [Extraction] script a lot in between takes. Prior to me directing this movie, we were very close, but we knew each other in different ways. He was never my lead actor; like, he was part of a big ensemble piece and I’d get him for little bits here and there, and I was an action director, not the director. So it was a feeling-out process, but that only took, for me, a couple rehearsals and I knew he was fully committed. He came in early and we did a rehearsal day, and he requested to stay late and work on some of the fight choreography, and he just immediately showed his work ethic and collaborative nature. It was one of the smoothest, most wonderful and personal relationships that I’ve ever had on a film set.
Other than each other, what was the appeal of this opportunity?
HARGRAVE: I think the reason Extraction became my first feature film and "the one" was the nature of the script and the content. As fantastic as it can get with the crazy action and locations, at its foundation it’s about someone who has made mistakes and is trying to make up for that. Wrapped up in this muscular action film was a very tender, emotionally charged story, and those are few and far between. When you find those, I think they're really important to the cinematic space.
HEMSWORTH: There was a relatable, authentic character that I hadn’t embarked on before. It was a tortured soul, with this lack of courage to face his previous experiences, and yet as far as his job went, there was a kamikaze approach; he did not care for his own safety, and that makes for a dangerous individual. A lot of my films have largely been fantasy- or special-effects-based, so it was nice to have a grounded story, but there was a physicality to it that was equally as impressive as [my] superheroes.
You shot in India, a country with its own booming film industry. Not many American productions shoot there. What did that experience add?
HARGRAVE: It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Part of Joe’s genius was setting a big Western action film in a location that most people haven’t seen or been to, so it immediately has this beautiful, intriguing, and mysterious quality to it.
HEMSWORTH: It was certainly new to me — and incredibly immersive. It gave a grit and reality that we couldn’t have reproduced. And there was no acting needed with the exhaustion and discomfort that the characters were feeling, because it was as hot as it gets, and there was no luxury available. We were in the thick of it.
HARGRAVE: And I think that speaks to Hemsworth's commitment. A lot of people would not have done what he did, and he did it with a smile.
HEMSWORTH: [Laughs] A gritted-teeth smile.
The stunts and combat scenes are next-level here. What was that process like?
HEMSWORTH: That was a big reason for doing the film. The way Sam wanted to shoot, with a lot of continuous takes and minimal editing, meant there weren’t moments where a stunt guy could jump in, so it was nice to step up to that challenge. I'd never experienced this amount of action before. It was exhausting, but one of the most rewarding things I've been a part of, because at the end of it I felt like we'd run a marathon.
HARGRAVE: In my opinion, Chris has never been pushed. He has a lot of physical ability, and I’ve seen flashes of brilliance in the Thor movies, so I wanted to test him. I still don’t think we got to his full potential, but we pushed him further than he’s ever been — and it really shows on screen.
HEMSWORTH: It’s hard not to show up when the director is strapped to the front of a car with a helmet on.
HARGRAVE: I feel very comfortable in understanding my body and how much I can take and how much I can push, so I put myself in some very precarious positions. Part of what my background allows me to bring to a film like this is a unique perspective on action that comes from years of experience, intuitively feeling where to put the camera, knowing how far to push actors and the stunt performers, because you’ve been there. I never asked Chris to do anything I hadn’t done. So we’re really riding a line and able to push action further than maybe on a conventional set with a director without that kind of background. Because people hear my name and they think of action, my focus on the movie was to try and make sure to deliver a compelling narrative and an emotional arc that made sense. But then I remember Hemsworth pulling me aside and being like, “Hey, let’s remember why it is that people know your name. Don’t forget about the action.” Not that I had forgotten about it, but I was like, “Oh, good point.”
HEMSWORTH: It’s true. I’ve worked with directors who come from visual effects or stunt backgrounds and I always notice that they’re like, “Yeah, I’ve already proven myself in that field, I now have to prove it in the other field.” And I said something to Sam like, “Yeah, you’ve got to prove that as well, but also let’s not forget where your bread is buttered, what your initial skill set was. Don’t put that aside.”
Non-IP movies like these seem harder to get made now through a traditional studio system, while Netflix has really embraced this genre. What were some advantages of making a big-budget action movie for Netflix?
HEMSWORTH: I found that there was a lot of trust involved in allowing us to run with what we thought the story was. I didn’t feel the insertion of too many voices and opinions, and if there were, it was collaborative. And I also agree that you don’t see many films like this anymore, where there’s an insane amount of hardcore, impressive action — but with a heartbeat at the center of it, too, and a nuance to the performances and characters.
HARGRAVE: I definitely think making this film at Netflix was the only way this movie gets made at this time for this price. They want a variety of types of films on their roster, so, if you want to make these kinds of midrange movies that audiences are desiring, Netflix is the place to do it. We were allowed a lot more freedom than you might normally have in a traditional studio system, because, at least in my experience, Netflix is all about the filmmakers and the end product. The support that we got from Netflix to shoot a movie of this size and nature and content was incredible. I'm very thankful that Netflix took a chance on me and this movie.
While theaters are closed and most films are delayed, Extraction’s audience pool is bigger than ever with so many people at home. Do you think this offers escape?
HARGRAVE: We are facing a very unique challenge in the world, and hopefully the film will serve the purpose that it was meant to serve before any of this started, which is to take audiences on a compelling and satisfying action-packed journey. Because a lot of people are spending more time indoors, as an entertainment consumer myself, I think it would be nice to lose yourself in the beauty of cinema for a couple hours.
HEMSWORTH: That is always the hope with any film: entertainment and escape. I feel very thankful that the film is at Netflix, and I believe we’ve made something pretty special. I’m so proud of this film, more so than a lot of films I’ve made.
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