Known for her modelling and acting careers (spanning Europe, North America and Australia), a series of ventures into health and wellness entrepreneurialism (including the book Strong: How to Eat, Move and Live with Strength and Vitality and fitness app Centr), and of course, for being married to Thor, Elsa Pataky is far more than just the sum of those parts. But there is a depth to her that belies her perfect bone structure and effortlessly tousled hair. In fact, behind Pataky’s pretty, petite facade is a woman who is tough, intelligent and boasts an admirably strong sense of self. Fearless and fiercely protective of her family, Pataky harbours a zest and enthusiasm for life that has allowed her to take its various challenges and use them to propel her forward. And despite being born and raised in Spain, she carries herself with the kind of simple elegance and easy manner that makes her immediately at-home in her antipodean context (her husband, Chris Hemsworth, is Australian and they have settled in Byron Bay). That, coupled with her disarming honesty and particular ability to speak from the heart, makes for a compelling character. Sitting down with Pataky in her beachside hometown, we discussed the dichotomy of having it all, the process of building an independent career, and the importance of loyalty in life and all its most crucial parts.
I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy,” Elsa Pataky admits, her green eyes twinkling. “At school I wanted to do what the boys were doing, and do it better. If they climbed high, I wanted to climb higher,” she continues, with a laugh, while I try to picture Pataky as a scruffy, scrappy teenager. It’s an image that feels a far cry from the perfectly-preened, sun-kissed blonde, adorned in exquisite Bulgari diamonds on the set of our cover shoot. But what I came to understand over the course of our conversation is that, underlying Pataky’s famously photogenic face is the steely determination of a woman who has spent her life making bold choices, embracing tough lessons and remaining steadfastly true to herself. “I have always felt really driven to chase my dreams,” she tells me, “and I do believe that everything is possible, if you are willing to go through the struggle.”
For Pataky, who was born and raised in Madrid and spent her childhood in a densely urban environment, the idea of becoming an actor carried the promise of travel and of immersing herself in other cultures. It speaks to Pataky’s inherent curiosity that her willingness to embrace the various twists and turns of life saw her kick off her film career in first France and then Italy — both places where she had to learn the local languages from scratch. “I didn’t know any French or Italian when I got those jobs,” she tells me, “but I knew I could do it so I threw myself into it and never looked back.” Pataky now speaks five languages, including English, which she reveals was the one she found most difficult to master. “Even now when I do movies in English I have to work twice as hard with a dialect coach to prepare,” she explains, which when you look at her recent work (like last year’s epic action flick Interceptor for Netflix) adds a whole other dimension to what I can imagine is already a gruelling preparation process.
Alongside the language barrier throwing a major spanner in the works for Pataky’s English projects, she explains how her determination to be as physically involved as possible for her roles has led to a number of injuries in the past. Taking up the mantle of ‘action star’ in your 40s will do that. “I always wanted to do action movies when I was young,” she reveals (citing Indiana Jones as an early idol), “but now it’s like, I’m taking all these hits and falling on the floor over and over again and I have a knee injury that I have to get surgery on… but I’m happy to pay the price. If this is my time, it’s my time and I’ll do what it takes.”
“Underlying Pataky’s famously photogenic face is the steely determination of a woman who has spent her life making bold choices, embracing tough lessons and remaining steadfastly true to herself.”
As we talked, I saw more than once Pataky’s steely determination bubble up to the surface. She did Interceptor to show her daughter, India, that it wasn’t just Dad who could be the superhero (proving beyond all doubt that she could more than hold her own in that particular boys club). And while it certainly didn’t sound like a walk in the park, it was a project that thrust her back into the spotlight with a bang (literally) and underlined how her willingness to step outside her comfort zone was a strategy that ultimately paid dividends.
After her time as an actor in Europe, she moved to New York and then Los Angeles, where she won her green card in the lottery and took it as a sign to stay (at least for a while). Her stint in America saw her involved in a slew of major projects, including Snakes on a Plane, and a number of films in the now-iconic franchise, Fast & Furious, as central character Elena.
Eventually, after connecting with an up-and-coming Australian actor by the name of Chris Hemsworth (and getting married in a romantic, spur-of-the-moment ceremony on a family trip to Bali after being together less than a year) Pataky was faced with another major change — moving to Australia to raise a family. “When Chris brought up the idea of moving to Australia, I just said why not?” she tells me with a grin. “And now I feel really connected here… I’ve kind of been adopted,” she says laughing, “I love the people and the culture and I love how there are so many incredible places that I can go and just be by myself to connect with nature… it’s something I’ve always been drawn to.”
Home for Pataky and Hemsworth is a beautiful piece of land just outside Byron Bay, overlooking the ocean. There, they have created a haven for themselves and their children where Pataky has the space to pursue her passion for riding horses (something her daughter shares in too), and she can give her family the kind of barefoot-in-nature childhood that she craved growing up. “It was important for us to move away from LA,” she says. “I wanted to give my kids something different, where they could be around animals and a farm and grow up in a more peaceful, calm energy… living outside all the noise gives you a different perspective.”
The move to Byron Bay also signalled a shift in Pataky’s career as she stepped back from work to focus on her three children. It required her to grapple with the classic dilemma that so many women face as they weigh up successful careers with raising kids — in theory, a simple balance but in reality, often fraught with guilt and complex questions of identity. “Nobody tells you what it is really going to be like once you have kids,” Pataky explains, “and for me, I found it really hard because I thought I could do it all, but when I was working on films I couldn’t be there 100 percent for my family, so Chris and I decided that he would focus on work for a while and I would focus on the kids.” She pauses, “I know that not everyone can have one parent at home, so I really made the most of it, and I did love it… you know, I hope that one day my children will look back and think about how I was always there to get them from school… but now as they grow more independent, I know it is time for me to start exploring other projects.”
“She did Interceptor to show her daughter, India, that it wasn’t just Dad who could be the superhero (proving beyond all doubt that she could more than hold her own in that particular boys club).”
As such, Pataky is once again focused on cultivating her career in the industry she has long been passionate about. And, having already made waves for her aforementioned foray into action, I wondered what was next. Alongside holding a supporting role in the upcoming film adaptation of Carmen, in which she will appear with Paul Mescal and newcomer Melissa Barrera (and will also, apparently, sing and dance), Pataky tells me that there are a number of projects in the works, although she still likes to take her time when choosing which jobs to commit to. “I want to feel that connection the moment I read the story or script,” she explains, “it starts with that… and then I want to be moved by the character.” She pauses, “I also want to do work that my kids will be proud of.”
Touching on her husband’s recent hiatus from acting, she explains that the two of them also want to start focusing on producing their own projects as they return to work, with Pataky hinting at a book she has been writing that she would eventually like to turn into a film.
Beyond the work itself, in anything she does, there is an underlying integrity that seems to inform the way Pataky makes her most important decisions. Her values are steadfast, and she has long sought to instil in her children the same ideals that have kept her grounded in her own life. “Respect is a huge one,” she says, “I want my kids to understand the importance of respect for others, for themselves and for the world around them,” emphasising how, through her advocacy work with various environmental causes, she ensures that her children are clued up about the perils our natural world is facing. She encourages them to take action in their own ways, for the sake of their futures. After all, Pataky isn’t one to sugar-coat the realities of the world, carefully walking the line between protecting her children and teaching them the importance of squaring up to challenges with courage and grace.
“I also think that the idea of loyalty, to me, is so important,” she continues, “being loyal to yourself and to the things you are passionate about, and being loyal to the people you love.” For Pataky, despite having already achieved what many can only dream of, there remains a sense that the best is yet to come. And while we might not know exactly where her path will lead next, what we do know is that she certainly has the passion and determination to get there — whatever it takes.
Styling by Claire Sullivan-Kraus. Makeup by Sarah Tammer. Hair by Brad Mullins.