Chris Hemsworth swings back into action with The Huntsman: Winter’s War – but he’s not alone

Charlize Theron and newcomers Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain give life to the film in powerful female roles.
Giles Keyte / Universal Pictures
Giles Keyte / Universal Pictures

James Mottram

When Chris Hemsworth was approached to reprise his role from Snow White and the Huntsman for a sequel, he had just one question: “Do people want to see it?”

After all, the first film – in which the Aussie actor starred as Eric the Huntsman alongside Kristen Stewart as iconic fairy-tale character Snow White – finished with an apparently happily-ever-after finale – evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) left was for dead and Snow declared the fairest of them all.

Stewart is absent from the followup, as is the first film’s director, Rupert Sanders. Some have speculated that they were excluded as a result of the embarassment caused when it emerged that the star and her director, who was married at the time, were having an affair. Stewart’s absence means The Huntsman: Winter’s War had free rein to explore Eric’s backstory – and change gears from its predecessor.

“The first one, I’m proud of – but it was very heavy, serious and dark,” says Hemsworth. “We’re getting away from that. The script is funnier and lighter. It’s more fun. It has an Indiana Jones feel to it.”

This latest instalment, directed by French-born Cedric Nicholas-Troyan, finds Eric reunited with his lost love, Sara (Jessica Chastain), a fellow hunter who was trained by Freya (Emily Blunt), the cold-hearted Ice Queen and Ravenna’s sister.

“Like any sisterly relationship, it’s a complicated one,” says British actress Blunt. “I think it’s quite accurate, in a way, to reality. Take away the crazy gowns we’re wearing and you’ve got, fundamentally, a relationship that is fairly conflicted and riddled with everything from love to heartbreak. They have a very strong sisterly bond – but it’s a corrupted one.”

Hemsworth was delighted to have such heavyweight co-star support.

“When Jessica was first in conversations [to join], when Emily Blunt was in conversations, when Charlize was in conversations to come back, I thought, God, if we pull this off, that’s hugely exciting,” he says. “If I was just fronting it on my own I’d be a lot more nervous and apprehensive about it but once they all signed on, it was game on.”

Chastain was approached by Hemsworth at the Critics’ Choice Awards in Los Angeles about joining the franchise.

“They sent me a picture of the character first – a sketch – and I’d never had that before,” she says. “And she looked awesome.”

The bow-wielding Sara reminded Chastain of the 1988 fantasy film, Willow.

“I remember that red-haired badass warrior, Sorsha [played by British actor Joanne Whalley],” says Chastain. “When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be Sorsha. So I was like, ‘this is my chance’.”

Chastain – who trained in the martial art of Krav Maga for director John Madden’s film, The Debt – practised her fighting skills for two weeks in New York before arriving on the set in England. So what was the appeal of the role, aside from the fight scenes?

“There are more women,” she says, with a shrug. “I know the first one had great female characters but now we’ve got my character, Emily, Charlize … who are all completely different. There’s not the trope of ‘the girlfriend’.”

After a recent run of strong female characters in Hollywood films – including Brie Larson’s Oscar-winning mum Joy Newsome in Room, Theron’s role as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury road and Daisy Ridley’s Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Huntsman: Winter’s War offers three for the price of one. But is this a fad or something more?

“We’re seeing women in more empowered roles, in roles that would be considered more masculine,” says Blunt. “I feel quite positive about the shift that’s going on. I do feel the tide is turning a little bit.”

Having played the female saviour in Fury Road, Theron agrees.

“I feel like women are finally being utilised properly,” she says. “We’ve been misused in a very sad and inappropriate way, and I think it’s in the last couple of years that filmmakers, writers and studios have realised that … audiences are loving women stepping up and doing what they’re supposed to do.

“They’re doing it in society, so why is it not reflected in film?”

Whether this welcome trend will continue in Hollywood remains to be seen. Characters like The Scarlett Witch, Black Widow and Wonder Woman aside, the superhero/comic book movies that dominate the box-office are still very male-orientated.

“This is the opposite,” says Hemsworth, himself part of the hugely successful Marvel movie juggernaut, as Thor. “It’s exciting to be a part of something like [The Huntsman: Winter’s War]. I don’t think we’ve quite seen it to this level before.”

Female empowerment on screen – it is finally more than only a fairy tale.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is in cinemas now

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: April 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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