In making a TV series about pushing back against the effects of time and age, Chris Hemsworth got some health information that made him confront his own mortality: The "Thor" actor has eight to 10 times the normal risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Hemsworth underwent a number of genetic tests as part of "Limitless With Chris Hemsworth," his new National Geographic show. The idea was that he would get the results live on camera and discuss what they meant and what he could do to make the best of his genetic roadmap.
That plan changed once the show's longevity doctor saw the actor's results. The doctor called showrunner Darren Aronofsky, Hemsworth explained to Vanity Fair, and told him, “'I don't want to tell [Hemsworth] this on camera. We need to have an off-side conversation and see if he even wants this to be in the show.' It was pretty shocking because he called me up and he told me."
What Hemsworth learned in that call was that he had two copies of a gene, APOE4, inherited from both his father and his mother. While a quarter of people have one copy, only 2% to 3% have it from both parents, the magazine said. Hemsworth's maternal grandfather has Alzheimer's.
"I had a bunch of questions, but no one answered them," he said. "I wish I'd had a more intense follow-up with it because I didn't really know what to think. I was like, 'Am I supposed to be worried? Is this concerning?'" His parents found out right after he did, and they had questions as well.
But the 39-year-old Aussie said that learning about his increased Alzheimer's risk has allowed him to assemble "the sort of tools to best prepare myself and prevent things happening in that way," and for that he's thankful.
Immediately, he's wrapping up the things he's contractually obligated to do and then plans to take some time off.
"Doing an episode on death and facing your own mortality made me go, 'Oh God, I'm not ready to go yet,'" he told Vanity Fair. "I want to sit and be in this space with a greater sense of stillness and gratitude." He also realized his kids — daughter India Rose, 10, and twin sons Sasha and Tristan, 8 — won't be kids forever.
"It really triggered something in me to want to take some time off. .... Now when I finish this tour this week, I'm going home and I'm going to have a good chunk of time off and just simplify," he said. "Be with the kids, be with my wife."
As for his Alzheimer's risk, Hemsworth emphasized that while his DNA gives a "strong indication" of what could happen, it's not a predetermination.
"It was confronting initially, but very quickly it became a self-deprecating sort of joke, if you will," he said. "It's just the way I am, my family, there's a sense of humor.
"And such is life."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.