‘I was eating chicken breasts in the middle of the night’: Chris Hemsworth’s body double Bobby Holland Hanton recalls gruelling transformation to become ‘strongest’ Thor yet, as he insists Marvel star is ‘so physically gifted’
Chris Hemsworth’s long-term body double Bobby Holland Hanton has revealed the extreme measures it took to ensure he transformed into the ‘strongest’ Thor yet ahead of filming Love and Thunder.
Professional stuntman Bobby shares how he was forced to eat chicken breasts in the middle of the night to match the Marvel star’s insane build, as he recalls the time he had to recreate a stair fall on the set of Extraction 13 times and dishes all on Hemsworth, who he has worked alongside for 11 years now, being ‘one of the lads’.
In the exclusive interview with Ice 36, Bobby praises the actor for ensuring there’s ‘never a dull moment’ on set, as he insists Hemsworth is ‘so physically gifted’ he could easily be ‘one of the best’ stuntmen himself.
Chris Hemsworth said he wanted his latest Thor appearance to be his biggest yet - as his body double, what was your immediate reaction to that?
My reaction when we spoke on the phone was, ‘you have got to be kidding me.’ This is how the conversation went, it was during covid, we were supposed to shoot Thor: Love and Thunder a year before we did but because of covid it obviously pushed things back. He called me and said, ‘Look, I want to be the strongest, healthiest, fittest Thor we’ve ever been.’ And I paused for a second and thought, we’ve done three together and you’ve always been huge. I’ve always had to work double hard to try and get anywhere near his height - he is 6ft 4 and I’m 6ft 1, I have to wear 2 inch lifts in my shoes to get near his height - and I train like a mad man to get anywhere near his physicality. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and he goes, ‘Nope, let’s take it to another level.’ It’s actually inspiring because it made me work harder, it made him work harder and we both got into the best physical shape we’ve ever been in.
What did becoming ‘the strongest Thor ever’ entail?
I was eating up to 10 meals a day, two of those would be protein shakes, we were training twice a day and I never thought in my life that I would be sick of food and not wanting to eat food, because I love food. I hated it. In the end, I was trying to give away food that I was supposed to eat because I just didn’t want to eat it, it would almost make you feel sick because you were never, ever hungry. We had a really great chef that was on set and would look after Chris and me. Every two hours the alarm would go off and it would be, ‘Right boys we need to eat.’ It was fully planned out and the healthiest way we could do it and it was fantastic food. You’d wake up, straight away feel full and go to sleep full. It sounds ridiculous but I would cook two breasts of chicken and leave them on the kitchen side, so when I’d wake up to go to the loo half way through the night, I’d eat the chicken and then go back to sleep. It was horrendous. I never want to have to do it to that level again but the chances are Chris will want to and I will say yes again.
Do you train together with Chris in preparation for a big role like Thor and what’s it like in the gym with you both, is there a bit of friendly competition?
We train a lot together, I go and stay with him in Byron Bay. We push each other a lot, but because of my gymnastics, there’s things that I can do that he can’t and I love to take the mickey out of him about that. I’ll do something and be like, ‘Oh that’s so easy, have a go mate,’ and he can’t do it. But then, there’s things that he can do that I can’t, so there is a really great camaraderie and friendly competition between us. We both, when we’re training and committed, do get into great shape. We push each other and it’s fun. I think that’s helped throughout his career - and mine - to get him into the best shape possible. But you still can’t get as good as him, no matter how hard you work.
You’ve said previously that Chris has become like a brother to you, what’s it like working with him on set?
There’s never a dull moment with him or anyone in his family or crew. The team has been together for a long time, it’s just like one big family. What we love to do on set is prank each other all the time, and Chris is at the heart of it. He’s such a great professional and he’s so good at what he does, but he also is one of the lads and wants to have a great time and enjoy himself. He keeps a close team around him that are his closest friends and would do anything for him and we’re honest. If we don’t think something is very good, we’ll tell him. Chris doesn’t need yes men around him and it does make a difference. It brings out the best in him and it brings out the best in us. You cannot have more fun than what we have on set. At the end of every movie, all of the production team comes up to every one of us and they’re like, ‘we wish we were part of your team,’ we have so much fun and the person that spearheads that is Chris. We’re lucky to be part of his team.
Tom Cruise does his own stunts, Daniel Craig was known for getting involved in stunts for Bond and Chris likes to dabble in them too, as someone who does stunts as their craft, what’s your take on actors who try and take them on themselves?
Listen, I’m all for it. I’ve been fortunate to double some of the best actors that are also physically so gifted. Chris Hemsworth is so physically gifted, if he wasn’t such a great actor, he’d be one of the best stunt guys. He kickboxes, he surfs, he’s physically really really good. When I teach him a fight scene that I’ve learnt with the fight crew, he picks it up so quickly. Many actors are not as good as that, fortunately for me, I’m lucky enough to work with someone that I know his capabilities and I know that he can pull it off, quickly and very well. I doubled Channing Tatum in a movie, obviously very physically gifted, he’s a dancer and acrobat, he’s the same - he picks it up quickly. It makes my job easier. Tom Cruise is an anomaly, Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise - what he’s doing at his age is incredible. If you can do it, go for it. That stunt he did on the bridge, where he jumps off the bike and pulls a parachute, it’s next level, it’s amazing. He’s done that properly with a whole safety team around him and it’s probably taken him a few years to get to that [level]. I guess it’s down to dedication, and if you really want to do it, some actors just don’t want to, they’re like it’s not my bag. Some actors are super keen and they’re capable. Overall, maybe Chris has made my career a lot easier than what it should be.
What was the most dangerous stunt you’ve had to do and what did it involve?
There’s been so many dangerous ones, but the most important thing to get across is that because the industry is so dangerous, we probably start a movie three or four months before they even start shooting. We get the script, we break down the action sequences, we design the action and design it safely, that’s why we build it up in increments. That’s why it takes so much time to make sure it can be done safely, but it’s repeatable. Sometimes you walk onto set and you’ve rehearsed something, we need to take away those safety mats and you’re hitting the hard ground. We’d have to do that three, four, 13 times. On Extraction, I did 13 stairfalls. That’s where it comes down to a specialised skill set that stunt performers have and a collaboration with the whole stunt team, rigging team, working together in unison with full trust to make sure we can do. We’re not just some idiots that come in and say we can do it if we can, we rehearse and we do it properly. That’s probably why it makes it dangerous, but for me, there’s always going to be mistakes, there’s always going to be accidents but that’s just the nature of what we do. The more you do it, it’s simply a numbers game, the more risk that something could go wrong.
You landed your first ever stunt on a James Bond movie, can you remember your first day on set for Quantum of Solace and what that was like?
I’ll be completely honest with you, I was like a deer in headlights. You can imagine working on, not just one of the biggest franchises in the world being James Bond - such a prestige, British movie, but I was James Bond’s stunt double as well. There were a few of us that had specialist skills, Ben Collins who was The Stig on Top Gear who was doing the driving stunts, Lee Morrison was a motorbike specialist, Ben Cooke was a martial artist and I was a freerunning parkour, jumping around, crashing and smashing type stuff. There were about four or five stunt doubles for James Bond that movie, but that goes to show just how action heavy that movie was. Luckily for me, I got given that job, I went through a vigorous audition process to be narrowed down and chosen for the job. It was supposed to be five weeks and I was there for six months, I ended up doing the whole movie. I was working with what was probably the best stunt team at the time and I had to just learn as we went. I hit the ground running. A lot of the time I was like what’s happening, but I was very focused and very safety conscious as you have to be with stunts. That was my first job and because it was such a high profile and high pressure job, you get through that and do a good job, that sets you up and 15 years I haven’t looked back. I’ve been fortunate because my height and build is very much a lead actor height and build and how I can move the way I move is quite unusual because most gymnasts are quite small. I’m 38 now and these jobs feel like they were five years ago, I’ve just been non-stop flatout working.
It’s definitely not your average 9 to 5, what’s your favourite thing about the job?
There’s not just one thing, I guess. I get to travel the world, go to amazing places and get paid to do that. I get to work with so many amazing people and inspirational people, that only by being with them and working with them do they inspire you to be better and be the best person you can be. There’s so many things I take from that, for instance Chris Hemsworth, he’s like a brother to me. His whole family are like family to me - you develop those relationships when you work so closely with someone. I actually wouldn’t be able to narrow it down to one thing - another thing that stands out for me. Once the movie is out and you go to the cinema and you sit down and watch it for the first time with your friends and family, it’s a real proud moment for me. People don’t know you’re in the audience and they’re gasping at some of these crazy stunts and that’s me doing them. Chris has always been one of those guys who pats you on the back and he gives credit where credit is due. There’s not many people like him around. I’m proud that one day when I’ve got grandchildren I can tell them that’s me doing those stunts with that famous actor. My nephew and my godchild watch and they’re like, ‘Is that Uncle Bobby?’ There’s more than just one thing that I think is the best and I feel very lucky for that.
Have you ever refused to carry out a stunt?
I’m actually proud to tell you that no, I haven’t. There’s never been a stunt that I’ve been asked to do that I haven’t done. I would also put that down to the rehearsal time we have to do that, by the time they ask us to a stunt in the script - we break it down, say there’s a 50ft high fall, land on a roof, then roll down the roof that’s on a 40 degree angle and that’s now 40ft high and smash onto another one, it sounds like a big stunt and it is, but we break it down and work around it to make it work. We as a collective stunt team will build something so it’s ready to go for the directors, producers and the actors. I’ve never said no, but I’ve always been confident that we can pull it off. I would never say yes to something that I couldn’t do because that’s when it becomes dangerous. Be honest. I could potentially get injured or someone else might get injured in the process. It just shows the level of skill that the stunt community has that I’ve never had to turn down something. Chances are, we actually make it even better than we first think it’s going to be.
It’s safe to say you’ve rubbed shoulders with plenty of celebrities while working on movie sets, is there anyone that has surprised you in any way?
Most of the actors that I’ve worked with are so confident and that’s probably why they’re so successful. I’ve just done a film with Matthew Vaughn, who directed and produced it called Argyle which is coming out later this year. I was acting and playing a part in it - a very small part - but it was with Sam Rockwell. He’s already one of my heroes and one of the greatest actors of our generation. I have to do a scene with him and another friend of mine and I’m trying not to be freaked out that it’s Sam Rockwell and try to be as professional as I can. The thing that surprised me with that was how down to earth he was and just funny. He’s one of the lads, we’d mess around on set and then they’d call action and you’d see him perform a masterpiece. He’s one of a kind. I think I’ve been surprised with how lovely the actors/actresses are that I’ve worked with. I did Thor with Cate Blanchett and she’s so lovely, an absolute legend. Emma Thompson on Harry Potter. I doubled Christian Bale in two movies, another legend and such a nice guy. I guess people on the outside don’t realise just how normal and genuine these people actually are. Going back to Chris [Hemsworth], I’m welcomed into that family like a son. His mum always says you’re my fourth son, it’s just really nice to work with people who have got to that level in their career and are still so humble. I think that would surprise other people who think, ‘oh, it’s a movie star wow,’ but actually they are just the same as everyone else.
Such risks can lead to injuries and I know you’ve spoken about injuries you’ve had in the past, are you ever fearful of getting hurt when filming? Have you ever had to turn down a movie appearance due to injury?
This is my 15th year of stunts, I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to achieve what I have in that time, but because I’ve been a lead double for so many actors, it’s been an intense 15 years. Overall, I’ve been pretty lucky with my injury count and when I tell you this next, you’ll be like it doesn’t sound lucky. I had major back surgery early 2019 and I have two titanium discs in my lower back and last year I had neck surgery with a titanium disc put in my neck here… I think I should be auditioning for the next Iron Man. Those are major injuries, but I’ve come back from them and a part of that is also mental, how powerful the mind can be. This is what I do, I don’t want to give it up and I love it. It took me nine months to get back fully fit from my back, luckily the neck wasn’t so bad, it was a couple of months. I’ve busted my knee, I’ve busted my ankle, my shoulder, I’ve had broken toes and broken fingers - but those in the grand scheme of things aren’t that crazy.
Actually, I did snap my groin off the bone on Thor: Ragnarok in Australia and you could actually hear that snap. That put me out of action for 11 weeks, but because that was during and right at the beginning of a nine-week rehearsal period, so I only missed a few weeks of shooting. It comes with the territory, right? There are going to be injuries, I’m not getting any younger so I have to warm up a bit more than I used to maybe, but none of my injuries have stopped me from doing what I do to the highest level. I say that with the greatest respect because I’ve had some friends of mine who’ve had very serious injuries and they can never work again. It’s a very serious thing and everyone takes it very seriously, making sure we do everything as safely as possible to prevent [injury] as much as we possibly can. But I hope and I believe I’ve still got enough fuel in the tank to do more, we’ve got some major things planned and exciting things coming up this year.
You’ve worked on some incredible movies, but do you have one that’s on the bucket list or a certain star you’d like to work with next in your career?
There was always one on the bucket list and I was so close to it happening, I’d stunt doubled for James Bond, Captain America, Thor, Batman - like, the holy grail, the massive four. The only one I hadn’t done was Superman. A good friend of mine used to be Angelina Jolie’s stunt double and she’s now a successful stunt coordinator and second director, she got the job to stunt coordinate Justice League. She called me and said she wanted me to be part of the team and I said, ‘Look, is there any chance I can be one of Superman’s stunt doubles?’ She said we’ll figure it out and I was like yes, I can complete the magic five. Unfortunately, because of the dates changing for filming of Thor: Ragnarok, I had to fly to Australia and I couldn’t do the job. That would still be the one that stands out for me, it’s the one I’d love to be able to do one day. As an actor, I’ve always wanted to stunt double for Brad Pitt, he’s one of my heroes. I was so close to having that opportunity as well. My name was thrown into the mix but it didn’t quite work out. I’ve been so lucky to do what I have already done, though, so there’s no complaints!