It has been quite a run recently for Australian-born and raised actor Chris Hemsworth. The past few years has seen him go from role playing actor to superstar in films like “Thor,” and “The Avengers,” and this past week saw the release of “Snow White and The Huntsman,” with Hemsworth again taking the lead role and lots of the attention.
However his next role will have the former surfer taking to the track at a time when Formula One is making its push into the United States with races in Texas and New Jersey, as the world’s most popular sport looks to spread its appeal back to America.
Hemsworth will play British F1 driver James Hunt in director Ron Howard’s new drama Rush. The film, written by The Queen’s Peter Morgan, is a big-screen re-creation of the 1970s rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, who is played by actor Daniel Bruhl.
“For those in America, they may not know the history of Formula One yet that well, but the guys who raced in the 1970’s were real daredevils, and the threat of death on the race course was very real,” Hemsworth said this past weekend when speaking at a fan forum at Wizard Comic-Con in Philadelphia, one of the largest pop culture gatherings anywhere in the United States (it was also his first ever appearance at such a fan event). “It is amazing the great ability and athleticism of Formula One drivers and the beauty of the sport, it is easily the most popular sport in Europe and it has been a great project to work on.”
The fierce rivalry between Hunt and Lauda went well beyond the track and into their personal lives, aspects which are the stuff of legend amongst the millions who follow the circuit weekly, but the stories and the personalities will be relatively new to an American audience, at a time when F1 is looking to use an IPO to further increase its value as it challenges NASCAR and IZOD Indy car for the market in the United States, at least for a few weeks a year at this point.
Rush could come at a great time for the sport, especially with the legendary Howard leading the charge and understanding what the American film audience will enjoy in such a project when it is completed. “Days of Thunder,” starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Robert Duvall certainly helped lift NASCAR’s boat as it emerged as a massive property, while the less successful “Drive” with Sylvester Stallone stalled at a time when what was CART and what is now Indy Car was trying its popularity push.
One thing is for sure though, having Hemsworth at the wheel will certainly help with casual viewers and branding, a smart move for anyone involved in the global business of F1 as it comes to the States this year.