Chris Hemsworth Tests Himself in Nat Geo's "Limitless" on Disney+

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: Chris Hemsworth Tests Himself in Nat Geo's "Limitless" on Disney+

In the opening shot of Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, National Geographic's six-part documentary streaming on Disney+, the actor stares into the camera, his neon blue eyes arresting against a black background. His first words: "Stress. It definitely affects my sleep, and this is going back a few years. This is not such a big issue these days." He takes a beat, rethinks that, chuckles, and admits, "Actually, that's not true. It is."

The disarming honesty and admission that one of the world's top movie stars is rattled awake by worries make Hemsworth relatable. A lack of relatability could be an issue. After all, Hemsworth, 39, convincingly plays Thor because he looks like a sculpted god. A lifelong athlete -- running hurdles, playing Australian rules football and surfing -- Hemsworth also devotes hours to punishing workouts. He's hyper-aware of what he eats when preparing for a film but happily acknowledges loving pizza, cake and steak.

During an interview with MediaVillage, Hemsworth, who also served as an executive producer of the series, comes off as what he is: a down-to-Earth middle brother who wants to extend his life for as long, and in the best way, possible. Limitless examines the burgeoning field of longevity and how changing diet, attitude and exercise could lengthen lifespan.

"Initially, the opportunity came up, and I'd never done a docuseries," Hemsworth says from his Byron Bay, Australia home. "It was a chance to work with National Geographic and Darren Aronofsky. And then the pitch was on longevity, about how to live a longer, healthier life, and I thought, okay, cool, great. And they laid out each episode and what that entailed."

"We're going to ask a lot of you physically," he was warned. Those challenges included climbing a 100-foot rope while dangling from a tram 1,000 feet over an Australian canyon. As jacked as his arms are, Hemsworth struggled with rope climbing. He also wasn't thrilled when, in an episode about exposing your body to extremes, he plunged into 36-degree waters in a Norwegian fjord. Hemsworth also spent time in saunas.

Emerging science looks at how shocking the body with heat and cold, taking us out of our climate-controlled existences, could help the body repair itself. Hemsworth trained for his swim in the frigid waters with Ross Edgley, a sports scientist, and extreme athlete. Edgley is the only person to swim around the U.K. -- some 1,780 miles in 157 days. Edgley cheered on the actor in the Arctic plunge that left Hemsworth chapped bright red and rather miserable.

Hemsworth seemed unhappiest, though, when fasting for four days. The family dog started to look tempting. He persevered, as he did with each challenge. That stroll on a 2-foot wide construction beam, 900 feet above Sydney Harbor, when a small gust of wind could have been disastrous, naturally unnerved him.

He does that walk in the sky in the first episode to learn how to manage stress by being thrust into fraught situations. He also trained with firefighters in a simulated fire. It can't be discounted how stressful the last few years have been for everyone -- movie superheroes included.

"What was supposed to be a three-week shoot ended up being three years," Hemsworth explains. COVID shutdowns and making movies interrupted shooting the series.

Still, it's not just about watching Hemsworth do stunts no one outside of fraternities might consider. Limitless offers practical takeaways such as box breathing. It has four steps, and with each part, allow four seconds: Breathe deep, hold it, exhale, hold it. The result is immediately feeling calmer.

Another easily instituted suggestion is to make the last 30 seconds of your shower cold. One study found that people who do this call in sick to work less than those who stick with the hot water. (Incidentally, 30 seconds in a freezing shower can feel like an eternity, so build up to this.)

The science, such as why fasting boosts ketones, is explained by animating medical school textbook illustrations. Darren Aronofsky, who devised that idea, and longtime producing partner Ari Handel have been discussing longevity for 20 years. The two also did Welcome to Earth and One Strange Rockfor Nat Geo.

"It was an interesting thing when Chris' name came up," Aronofsky says. "I don't know how it first emerged, but you're talking about, on the surface, one of the healthiest people in the world, a guy who really cares about his health and his physique and living a good life and being happy and a family man. Why would a guy like that, at 36 (as Hemsworth was when the project launched), be interested in longevity? And it turns out when you talk to the leading experts, that's a perfect time to start thinking about how you're going to live for the rest of your life."

Among the lessons Hemsworth gleaned is the importance of accepting reality; the series stresses that mental and emotional health are intrinsic to physical health. Hemsworth is clear on why he wants to live longer -- to spend more time with his wife of 12 years, actress Elsa Pataky, their three children, and his brothers, who show up briefly in the series.

In an episode about facing death and how vital it is to accept that some situations cannot be changed, Hemsworth dons a custom-made suit that was MIT designed to mimic the effects of aging. Hearing muffled, vision blurred, and range of motion limited, he experiences a glimmer of what old age could be like.

"What I'm really proud of is the fact that I believe each episode offers up something unique and fresh, and we continue to expand upon the overarching theme of longevity, but exploring very different spaces within that so it doesn't feel like it's going to be repetitive," Hemsworth says. "I hope people take away the same thing I have, which was a much broader understanding of health and wellness and how to tap into our potential as human beings and be the best versions of ourselves. I was a guinea pig and constantly humbled by it."

Limitless with Chris Hemsworth streams on Disney+ beginning Wednesday, November 16.

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