by Gill Pringle at the 3rd annual Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

During the third edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, it was the Australians who dominated the festival – not just Luhrmann and Hemsworth, but with Catherine Martin also hosting her own career conversation to a rapt audience.

But first, their mutual appreciation society revolved mainly around their adoration of George Miller, Hemsworth having recently returned from the trailer launch of Furiosa in which he stars as Dementus opposite Anya Taylor-Joy’s Furiosa.

“I remember watching Mad Max and have vivid memories of the messaging and the storytelling, and how it was shot on an iconically Australian set, which was post-apocalyptic and had this universal appeal,” recalls Hemsworth, 40, who of course is too young to have witnessed Miller’s original breakthrough and what it meant to Australia at the time.

“And then later on, when I thought about going into acting – the fact that Mel Gibson was in that film and was as young as 20 or something and was basically the bridge for a lot of Australians then going to America where he also made it.

“But also, with George Miller, as an Australian creating that film franchise, and so to be a part of carrying on this franchise, was kind of a dream come true to be a part of that world. And I was talking to George when we were shooting in Broken Hill where the first film was shot. And we saw Top Gun one night in the same cinema that he had watched the rough cut of the first Mad Max 45 years ago,” says Hemsworth.

Luhrmann agrees, likening his experience of being in Saudi Arabia as similar to what it meant to Australians when they first started to witness their own film industry break through around the world.

“We come from a large land, but it’s a very small country in terms of the population,” says the director. “When I was growing up, it was just Mel Gibson and Judy Davis. They had international profiles, and only maybe a couple of others. And then after that came the wave of Nicole and Russell and then Cate and then there’s you – the new generation,” he says pointing at Hemsworth, who returns the compliment by teasing Luhrmann for having only made six films during his 30-year career.

In turn, Luhrmann will confess how he puts so much into the filmmaking process that he nicknames his time away from cinema as his “methadone program,” where he debriefs from all the industry noise.

However, he did reveal that he has possibly a dozen projects that he wants to make before he dies, so he will start to “get on with it a bit more.”

Discussing the craft of directing, Hemsworth let slip that he’d love to direct at some point while also acknowledging the early influence that watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life had on him.

Since then, there’s more modern actors who have been equally inspiring.

Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival

And while he lists his Australian inspirations – surprisingly it comes down to Tom Cruise.

“When I decided to be an actor… I mean, Cate Blanchett, I ended up being lucky enough to work with her and she is one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever met and also the most incredible artist, and every time she approaches something, there’s an authenticity to it, a truth and there’s a weight of experience and knowledge; the beauty that comes with it,” says the actor, best known for his role as Thor in the MCU.

Acknowledging how he constantly learns from his peers, Hemsworth points to his Thor co-star Anthony Hopkins for helping him overcome certain insecurities.

“He told me how on every film, he feels it’s the last time he’s ever going to do it. And I’m like, ‘you still feel that? Because I do.’ And there’s some relief in that; a sort of safety and comfort in knowing that, in humility, you continue to search and improve. Once you think you have all the answers, you don’t evolve any further and so, I keep telling myself that I know nothing, which keeps me open to new ideas and new experiences.

“Then there’s Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger. And then you have Anthony Hopkins and getting to work with him – and it’s many different people,” he says.

“But with Tom Cruise – what we really appreciate about what he has done is there’s always an entertainment factor to it. And there’s a moral messaging underneath, but I’d call it sort of accidental learning, it’s not right in your face. I’ve spoken to Tom about this – the true attempt to appeal to as many people as possible and effect, and touch emotionally and intellectually, people across the globe. And I don’t think there’s anyone else who’s done it consistently for as long as he has,” Hemsworth concedes.

Not to be outdone, Luhrmann recalls: “I met Tom way back on Moulin Rouge, because he was actually with one of our other great Aussie actors and our dear friend Nicole Kidman who is fearless. But Tom is so interesting because it’s the longevity and also, even now, he works so hard. He’s still got this unbelievable work ethic. And when we did the rounds on the last awards with Elvis and Tom with Top Gun

“And let’s be honest, everyone had said, cinema’s over, no one’s coming. And of all the things – Tom Cruise, like one of these characters, comes flying in on a jet and saves cinema!” says Luhrmann.

“And that’s what it is,” agrees Hemsworth. “It’s the ability to still have the freedom to make creative choices at any point of your life as opposed to – I mean, yes, there’s windows we have of opportunity that are more prominent than others. But if you can stay in the game and continue to make things that you’re interested in and that gather audience and appeal to people across the world, well fantastic.”

Both agree that retirement is not an option for either of them – no matter how rich they are, citing Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood as role models of industry icons who just keep going.

Hemsworth even has the science to back the theory that early retirement is never a good option, having recently studied longevity for his National Geographic TV series, Limitless.

“So much of it is about staying active, and learning new things in something you are passionate about; staying true to your vocation. It keeps the brain and body active,” says Hemsworth who has first hand experience of why he will avoid retirement at all costs.

“We might think retirement is a great idea and say, ‘I’ve made all this money and it’s time to sit at home.’ And recently. I took eight months off and initially it was fantastic. I’ve got three kids and a beautiful wife, and we had a lot of time together. But, after a few months, I started to get really uncomfortable, because I didn’t have something to build or creatively work on. And, I think that’s important. We all have to listen to that inner voice; the thing that drives us and motivates and inspires us – the thing that scares the hell out of you because you’re going to face it anyway. So, I think it’s working and having a solid work ethic that keeps us alive.

“And the moment we sit back and say we’re done, I think we send a message to the body in some way that goes: ‘Cool, let’s check out.’ And there’s many people that, in their 80s, retire and then pass away,” he argues.

Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival

Luhrmann has an even better example of artistic longevity. “I was lucky enough to be at Mick Jagger’s birthday Hey, name-drop!” laughs Luhrmann, 61, who began his career as a child actor.

“And he just turned 80. First of all, the Stones have just put out probably the best music they’ve done in so many years, because they’re going; let’s really work. And then Mick Jagger can dance all night long. He is an inspiration, and he’s still out there performing with all that energy… and then he just recently had a stent put in for a heart problem, and eight weeks later, he’s back!

“So, it’s about cause. Do I have a cause? Does someone need me? Loneliness and not being needed is the first thing to put you into a sleepwalk; put you on the way to the grave,” adds Luhrmann who it emerges is a major Stones fan, having seen them perform in the most far-flung places across the globe.

Main Image: Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival