Boundless director of the moment that put Chris Hemsworth in very real danger
Limitless with Chris Hemsworth is a new documentary series from Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky. It explores humanity’s relationship with mortality and our capacity to hack our bodies to live longer and healthier lives. IGN caught up with Aronofsky ahead of the series’ Nov. 16 premiere on Disney+ to talk about the star, the science behind the exciting new show, and the perils of making it.
Aronofsky is known for directing dark psychological dramas such as the 2010 film Black Swan – for which he received an Oscar nomination – Mother! and Requiem for a Dream. His upcoming film, The Whale starring Brendan Fraser, due in US theaters later this year, has also garnered numerous awards on the film festival circuit and a score of 9 from IGN.
“Chris Hemsworth is not an obvious choice”
In his latest documentary series, Aronofsky collaborated with the God of Thunder and National Geographic to explore the relationship we humans have with mortality, and how we can optimize our bodies to slow the clock on ageing.
“Well, I like the Chris Hemsworth choice because it’s not an obvious choice,” Aaronofsky explained to IGN regarding casting decisions. “He’s incredibly focused in his life on health and fitness, and he seems so far removed from any end-of-life issues or should even wonder and think about longevity. But really, what the show is pointing out is that there’s no time too early to start thinking about these questions.”
Over the course of the six-part series, Hemsworth tries to master various ways to hack his body to slow the aging process and improve his health later in life. This journey often showcases the beauty of the natural world with dramatic cinematography and provides a window into the life of the Hollywood star.
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“I think one of the beautiful things about the show is how open Chris is through it. He was very vulnerable and he really gave a lot of focus to it and a lot of access to it, and it’s rare that you find a movie star who is so willing to to be human.”
Through Limitless with Hemsworth, we are taught the science behind a number of biological processes that govern our health and are shown how to essentially train our bodies to maximize longevity.
Each episode focuses on a different concept – such as how to deal with stress, or how fasting can affect our long-term health – which is accompanied by an extreme challenge that Hemsworth must overcome.
Many of the scientific studies and theories touched on in the series are extremely complex in their raw form. However, Aronofsky and the rest of the team behind Limitless with Hemsworth did an excellent job of making the impenetrable comprehensible, often aided in this task by charming animations styled after old-fashioned pop-up science textbooks.
“That’s what I like to do,” Aronofsky explains. “I think science is really wonderful when taught by a good teacher. I had that experience, and I was blessed with great teachers when I was a kid, and I wanted to try to find similar teachers to help get science out into the world in ways that would excite people and get people super excited for science.”
Each episode featured a series of actionable life hacks – such as the “can breathing technique” used by firefighters to help keep calm in high-pressure situations – that viewers could implement into their everyday lives.
“It’s an interesting show because it’s very entertaining, but there’s also a lot of good knowledge that people can find useful,” comments the director.
However, most of the extreme episodic challenges and experiences that Hemsworth was tasked with overcoming—which viewers aren’t necessarily encouraged to recreate—carried their own very real dangers.
“The Arctic Swim was the real deal”
Arguably the most dangerous of these can be found in the second part of the season, where Hemsworth is challenged to swim in the dangerous, near-frozen waters of an arctic fjord.
“The Arctic swim was the real deal. I was there and… as he pulled it off I was incredibly nervous and I remember when he actually pulled it off I jumped for joy because I felt like he had to swim 200 meters into the wind in real open arctic water. It was a real challenge and anything could have gone wrong there.
Of course, Hemsworth wasn’t just placed on the shoreline pointing in the direction of the wet cold. In each episode, he was coached on how to tackle the modern task at hand, and he was aided in his preparations by a team of experts and friends.
There were also strict security measures in place to protect the Marvel actor. In the case of the Arctic swim, the team had boats ready to pick Hemsworth out of the water should his body succumb to sub-zero temperatures mid-swim, and medical services on standby. But even with measures like these, it remained a very real danger.
“Any time you push yourself really far, something terrible can happen, but we were very careful to try to make sure that Chris was going to be safe, of course. But you know you never know. You never know.”
Amazingly, the icy cliff wasn’t the challenge Hemsworth struggled with the most. At one point in the documentary series, the actor was asked to undertake a grueling four-day fast during which he could consume nothing but water. This was, according to Aronofsky, the task Hemsworth had the most trouble with.
“There are probably very few people out there on the planet who have intentionally fasted for four days. And anyone who has walked a few hours and missed a meal can get an idea of how rough it can be. But those four days were, I think, probably what scared Chris the most.”
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Judging by Aronofsky’s comments in the interview, we may not see Hemsworth return for another series, although the director seems to have some unannounced projects in the works with the actor that they are not yet ready to reveal.
“Well, I hope to do many, many things with Chris in my lifetime. I think Chris is probably Limitless-ed out at this point and we have some ideas about how we can do something in a new and different way, but we haven’t announced it yet, so I can’t really talk about it.”
When I talked about a hypothetical second season of the show, IGN light-heartedly commented on the potential of filming an episode in orbit, to which Aronofsky replied, “I would love to go to space more than anything in the world, so I’m all game.”
While the prohibitive costs of orbital tourism in reality make this an unlikely prospect, the continued democratization of near-Earth space may make such a reality feasible in the coming years and decades.
Limitless with Chris Hemsworth is now available on Disney+
Anthony Wood is a freelance writer at IGN.