Penny Carroll writes.
Her husband might be Thor, but Elsa Pataky wields some impressive superpowers of
her own. The actor opens up about what it takes to cultivate a strong mind, healthy body and happy heart.
Small but mighty: it’s a cliché, yes, but it seems made for Elsa Pataky. The Spanish-born, Byron Bay-based actor is a diminutive 161cm with a larger-than-life presence. Her assured sense of self is no accident – in fact, she reveals it’s the result of a conscious, daily commitment to “thrive, not just survive” in life. And it’s carried her through a remarkable journey so far, from film and TV mega-stardom in Spain to Hollywood success, with coveted roles in action classics Snakes on a Plane and the Fast and Furious franchise.
And then, of course, there’s the matter of her famous husband – Chris Hemsworth, aka the star of Thor, and arguably Australia’s favourite son. The pair met and married in 2010, and then did the unthinkable for a star couple on the rise, leaving the bright lights of LA for the rolling green hills of Byron Bay. Today, the couple have three children – India, seven, and twins Tristan and Sasha, five – and live in a sprawling seaside mansion in the sleepy coastal town.
Far from her homeland where she’s a household name, Elsa could have slipped easily into a supporting role as Mrs Hemsworth, but that’s not this powerhouse’s style.
In the last year Elsa has starred in Netflix series Tidelands, launched health and fitness app Centr with Chris and has now released her first English book Strong: How to Eat, Move and Live with Strength and Vitality. “I wanted to share with people the way I live my life, as well as to try to inspire those who struggle a bit with motivation when it comes to exercise or leading a healthy lifestyle,” Elsa says of her decision to pen the book, which details not only her guide to physical strength, but a steely mindset, too. As Strong makes its way out into the world, we caught up with Elsa to hear more about her unique approach to a life well lived.
Congratulations on the release of your book! Strong is about building strength in your body and mind – why was it important to you to cover both elements?
Thank you! We don’t often realise how important our mind is when it comes to achieving physical goals. There are so many things that keep our minds busy and distracted nowadays. We really need to stop for a moment sometimes to give our brains the chance to focus. Meditation or yoga, or just having a second to breathe, is as healthy and important as physical exercise. Without a healthy and strong mind, we’re not able to maintain a balanced lifestyle. Both elements are deeply connected and one cannot work without the other. That’s why taking care of the two is essential.
What does a strong mind mean to you?
A determined mind. A mind that focuses on our own goals and knows what it wants to change about ourselves. A mind that doesn’t give up, even when things are hard. The first and most important step in achieving this is to be true to ourselves, to forget about what other people say or what we see in the media. And then we need to commit to this self-belief
Has building a strong mindset been something you’ve had to consciously work on?
Definitely. My main goal in life is to live fully – to thrive, not just survive – and I feel the mind plays a really important role in this. I have to consciously make the effort to exercise daily and eat healthy foods, and even though this is now part of my routine, I had to train myself for a long time to make this my lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have my weak moments like everyone, of course! But when I have them I accept them and know that tomorrow I will feel better and stronger.
What has that mental work looked like for you?
I achieved this by having a determined and focused mind. In my case, the best tool is to do daily physical or mental exercise, even if it’s only 20 minutes training at home, a long walk on the beach or meditation, and to have a hobby or passion that makes me forget about everything else. This way I can enjoy and focus on something specific that I really like. For me, it’s riding my horse. Immediately after a ride, I feel energised and positive, and it really motivates me to keep eating healthily. I feel that the effect of taking care of myself inside and out is like a domino: if I exercise, I want to eat healthily, and therefore my mind is also happy and in good shape. This allows me to continue to move forward in the most positive way.
Tell us a little bit about your health and wellness philosophy…
To never give up. I think our thoughts and beliefs are what move us forward and also what hold us back. So if we set a goal, whether it’s eating healthier or getting fitter, not giving up and always believing in these goals will be the key to our willpower.
“We really need to stop for a moment sometimes to give our brains the chance to focus. Meditation or yoga, or just having a second to breathe, is as healthy and important as physical exercise. Without a healthy and strong mind, we’re not able to maintain a balanced lifestyle. Both elements are deeply connected and one cannot work without the other “
Is self-care important too?
Taking care of yourself should be a priority. If you feel good and you are happy with yourself it gives you confidence, energy and the positivity to embrace life and all the challenges that come to you. I try to have some time to myself every now and then, and this is usually by enjoying horse riding. Taking some time for yourself is really important to reset your mind and to give yourself the opportunity to think, or even just to clear your mind to set new goals or to analyse your own life.
You’re now in your forties. Has it become easier to roll with life’s challenges as you’ve gotten older?
For sure. Learning from previous mistakes and from all the experiences I have lived has made me wiser, and I am therefore more prepared when life throws challenges at me. I still feel I’m learning and, of course, still making mistakes, but I am always growing from them.
Your book is, of course, about all aspects of a healthy life. Tell us about your fitness routine. Do you use your app, Centr?
I do use the app a lot, especially when I don’t want to have to think about what exercise routine to do – it’s so easy to just put it on and follow it. Also, it has so much variety that you can do lots of different kinds of training and never get bored. I try to exercise four to five days a week for no more than 30 minutes each day. I usually combine yoga with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The HIIT sessions combine five or six different exercises, each repeated about five times. Each exercise is done for 30 seconds and then you rest for 20 seconds in between. Repeating this five times is a killer!
What about food and nutrition – do you follow a particular eating philosophy?
Not really. I’ve always loved eating healthily and a little bit of everything. I feel that it’s important to listen to your body and know that what seems good and healthy for you is the best way of eating. What’s good for me might not be as good for another person.
Let’s talk career: you’ve been so successful, both in Spain and Hollywood – what’s the key to long-lasting success in the entertainment industry?
There’s not a key to success. I feel that anything can happen with a combination of hard work and a little bit of luck. So when that moment of luck comes, you have to be ready and prepared for it.
What’s your relationship with work like now? Are you still career-focused, or more relaxed?
I’m definitely more relaxed nowadays. I love working and my job, but at the moment I also really want to enjoy my kids fully as they are growing up too fast!
You realise after having kids that you are not the priority anymore: they are. My priorities have changed massively, and even though I love my job and work as much I can, I’m always keeping my family in mind and I usually put them first.
What do you look for in acting roles?
I’m usually attracted to strong characters, women who make a difference and who fight for what they want. After doing the Netflix series Tidelands, I also realised that creating evil characters is really interesting from an acting perspective. Film is still my passion, however, since working on Tidelands, I’ve found I also really enjoy this kind of work. Working on a series in Australia gave me a nice routine where I could see my family almost every day without having to cross the globe.
You and Chris must have pretty hectic schedules. What does work-life balance look like for you both?
We are both still working a lot, but we also try to have some time to just enjoy being with our kids. If Chris has to work longer than a few months in a different country, we all follow him and live together. Normally, we are both back and forward and never away from each other for longer than two weeks.
Do you have different parenting styles, having grown up on opposite sides of the world?
It’s funny, because even though we come from completely different backgrounds, our values and basis for educating our kids are the same. It has, of course, been a learning curve for both of us, but we have always been on the same page when it comes to parenting.
Tell us a little about your life in Australia. Do you feel at home here?
Yes, I do! I love Australia. I never thought I would end up here, this far from Europe, but as soon as Chris showed me Byron Bay I fell in love and I would never go back to a big city.
Byron is a gorgeous holiday destination. But in essence, it’s also a small regional town – did it take time to adjust to the slower pace?
Not at all. I grew up in Madrid, a big city, and afterwards lived for almost 10 years in LA. I used to enjoy this, but as soon as I started a family, Byron Bay was the perfect town to settle down in. I love the slower life and country lifestyle – it makes me savour and enjoy life in a different way. I always dreamed of living in an open area surrounded by nature and I feel I couldn’t be happier any other way.
” At the moment I also really want to enjoy my kids fully as they are growing up too fast! You realise after having kids that you are not the priority anymore: they are. My priorities have changed massively, and even though I love my job and work as much I can, I’m always keeping my family in mind and I usually put them first.. ”
How did you go about building a new tribe of friends around you?
Byron Bay is quite a small community and people are really friendly. As soon as we moved to the area, they were really welcoming! There are lots of markets, festivals and activities for kids that allow us to meet people from the area.
Finally, we’re heading into a new decade – what does 2020 hold for you?
I’m not sure. I would love to keep everything just like it is now.
Inspire us: what New Year’s resolutions are you making?
I want to make a big effort to help fight climate change, both personally in my day-to-day life and in general, by trying to convince everyone around me that it is a fact, and that we really have to make big changes if we want our kids to enjoy the world we live in.
Strong by Elsa Pataky, Published by Plum, RRP $34.99, Photography by Georges Antoni