"Do you like Jack in the Box?"
It's around noon in the Rancho Park neighborhood of Los Angeles as Liam Hemsworth, the 22-year-old star of The Hunger Games, greets me in the parking lot of a public golf course for a round of par 3. He's filling me in on his morning, which included sleeping late, borrowing Miley Cyrus' black SL550 Mercedes (she's his girlfriend of two and a half years), and taking it to the drive-thru for a hamburger with mayo-onion dressing, this rising actor's breakfast of champions.
"I'm not even hungover, but I was super-super-super-hungry," Liam says, proudly pointing at the crumpled wrapper and bag on the floor of the Disney Queen of Tween's $100,000 convertible.
He is six feet three with Malibu-blond hair, azure-blue eyes, and the laid-back vibe of a 2012 Hollister-clad Jeff Spicoli. In short: the all-American surf look Hollywood now imports from Australia (see: Worthington, Sam; Kwanten, Ryan). Three years ago, Hemsworth was a high-school dropout living with his parents, and his idea of a big Friday night was renting idiot comedies like Drop Dead Fred. He worked for his brother's flooring company, earning $15 an hour, which he points out was more than most of his friends were making. Then, after taping a script reading, he got a call from Sylvester Stallone and headed for L.A., where he landed and then lost parts in a slew of big-budget action flicks. Six months later, he started dating Miley. Soon reps from Oakley were flying him to Sundance just to present him with the latest snowboarding swag ("We didn't see a single movie!" he brags). Next came the inevitable TMZ "gotcha" moment—caught on tape in a fracas outside a nightclub, sticking up for a friend and shouting in a bouncer's face, "I was backing you up! I was backing you up!" Then he scored a coveted part in The Hunger Games, setting off mass fanboy and -girl hysteria and a new rush of Hollywood offers.
Nevertheless, the grizzled, gray-haired clerk at the Rancho Park Golf Club is unimpressed. When I hand over my driver's license—collateral for the clubs we're renting—the old man asks for our names.
"Hemsworth," Liam says, in a lazy Aussie accent, leaning into the cage.
"Can you spell that?"
It's no shock that the clerk is clueless. He likely doesn't surf celeb-gossip blogs like Just Jared Jr. (MILEY CYRUS & LIAM HEMSWORTH RUN TO RALPH'S) or Perez Hilton (MILEY CYRUS AND LIAM HEMSWORTH DECORATE THEIR CHRISTMAS TREE!) or leaf through Us Weekly (LIAM HEMSWORTH, MILEY CYRUS: WHAT'S COOKIN', GOOD-LOOKIN'?). And it's a good bet he didn't see Liam's biggest film to date, Disney's The Last Song. But if the Hype Machine is to be believed, Liam is about to be side-of-a-lunchbox famous thanks to The Hunger Games. The megabudget adaptation of the Suzanne Collins series tells the story of a dystopian society where children fight to the death in a reality show. Some 16 million copies of the books have been sold in the U.S., and with the sun setting on Twilight and Voldemort vanquished, there's a gaping void in the Cineplex for the prepubescent set. The search for the trilogy's three stars was covered with the kind of breathless anticipation not seen since the hunt for Scarlett O'Hara.
Liam got the call from Gary Ross, the director of The Hunger Games, about a year ago. "I was half asleep," he says, using a seven-iron to stretch his back as we amble toward the first tee, "listening to the voice mail. He was like, 'You did a great read. Do you want to come and do the movie?' I was like, 'Oh shit. Shit shit shit.'"
He looks the part of a movie-star-in-waiting, dressed in a white polo that hugs his broad chest and skims the top of his skinny khakis. He stares out at the rolling fairways, his eyes squinting at a hole in the distance. I imagine he's contemplating what the impending release of The Hunger Games will mean for his career and his relationship with Miley. I am wrong.
"How comedic are squirrels?!" Liam says, a goofy smile spreading across his face as he spots a furry thing scampering across the horizon. "We don't have squirrels in Australia. The first time I saw a squirrel was at a meeting at Disney. I was like, 'What the fuck?!'"
"I just had an audition with Miley Cyrus! How funny is that?"
Liam is standing by the first tee recounting what he said to his brother Chris after he got his first break in Hollywood, The Last Song, a weeper about a piano prodigy with Daddy issues who cozies up to a beach-volleyball stud. The moment Liam left the audition room, in 2009, he rushed to meet up with Chris just to laugh about coming face-to-face with the Disney starlet they'd watched on TV—who'd go on to be his onscreen love interest and his offscreen girlfriend—and the absurdity of it all. "We grew up surfing and stuff," Liam says of his family as he reaches for a pitching wedge. "That's why we can laugh. This business is ridiculous."
The Hemsworth clan vacationed at a surf shack on Phillip Island, not far from their modest home on a dirt road in what Aussies call the Bush. It was a 15-minute drive for milk, farther for anything more substantial, and you couldn't see a single neighbor from the house. Liam's father is a social-services counselor, and his mother was an English teacher, which meant the Hemsworth boys—Luke, Chris, and Liam—mostly entertained themselves. Liam, the baby of the family (six years Chris' junior and nine years younger than Luke), was a constant target. His brothers would pile a couple of heavy sweaters on him and give him a head start. "Then we'd stalk him around our backyard with air rifles and shoot him," Chris says with a laugh. "I feel like the worst brother in the world. But he had a great time, okay?" Liam doesn't recall it so fondly. "I'd bend over to feed the guinea pigs and I'd get a pellet in the ass out of nowhere," he says. "It really hurt."