Back in the 1990s, when Australian actors first started to infiltrate Hollywood en masse, the questions started. How was a nation on the other side of the world, with only 20 million people, providing so much talent? Tom Hanks blamed Vegemite (a salty yeast-based spread, usually smothered on toast, on which Australian children are raised), but he might have been joking.
It still keeps going. Every six months, a new Aussie actor appears (often well-known at home, but "new" everywhere else), who seems to the Next Big Thing. Sam Worthington, Mia Wasikowska, Rebel Wilson.... Whatever Australia's talent scouts were doing right, we still seem to be doing it.
This, of course, leads to the obvious question: "Who is the greatest-ever Australian film actor?" I think I've figured it out, and it's not Russell Crowe or Cate Blanchett or Hugh Jackman, or even Olivia Newton-John (though she probably comes a close second). I worked it out recently, when I saw an obscure arthouse film you might have heard off called Marvel's The Avengers. As you might have read, this extravaganza includes a number of actors who were each paid millions of dollars for their troubles, including one who was given an obscene $50 million.
But were they worth it? Is anyone worth that much? Wondering whether the movie stars of today can compare to the stars of Hollywood's golden years, I took a time machine to the 1950s, packing all the 21st-century visual effects technology I could download, and made The Avengers with my dream cast of classic movie stars.
Well not really. Obviously, I don't have access to time travel technology, so I didn't really go back in time. That would be ridiculous! No, I asked a friend of mine who works at NASA to do it for me. He went back to 1958 and remade (or pre-made) The Avengers before Marvel Comics even existed (at least under that name), so we didn't have to pay for the rights. He also gathered a cast from that era. Clark Gable had the suave good looks and comic timing necessary to play Tony Stark (alias Iron Man). The young Steve McQueen made a great Captain America. Sophia Loren was just right for Black Widow, even if she didn't do a Russian accent (but then again, neither did Scarlett Johansson). For the villainous Loki, nobody could do better than James Mason.
Nick Fury was more of a challenge, as Samuel L. Jackson was still too young. The only major African-American star at the time was Sidney Poitier, and he didn't want to do it because he'd read the script and thought it was dumb. But as a comic book geek, I pointed out that the original Nick Fury in the comics was a dry, cigar-chomping, white guy. With that in mind, my friend from NASA was able to cast Jack Palance.
As for the Hulk: we agreed that nobody had any success playing that character in movies until Mark Ruffalo came along. The only person in 1958 who had perfected mumbling to Rufalo's standard was Marlon Brando. As a bonus, he was happy to play the Hulk both in human form and (after a few months of, er, training) in huge, bulky form, so we didn't need to use special effects. Perfect.
This left one person: Thor, god of thunder. This is where we realized that Chris Hemsworth is (possibly) the greatest Australian actor of all time (which is good, because it means that this story actually has some point). The fifties had no shortage of charismatic musclemen like Bill Pearl, and powerful actors like Laurence Olivier. Sadly, Pearl wasn't an actor, and even someone of Olivier's talent would not have been very convincing as a toughest guy in the universe. Nobody could both act and look muscular like Chris Hemsworth. We had not choice but to give Hemsworth the spare seat in the time machine, so that he could make the movie in 1958.
So we had our 1950s cast, though we cheated by adding Hemsworth. But we decided that we needed to learn even more about the changing nature of movie stardom, so my friend went back in time again to 1926 to make an even earlier version of The Avengers, with Douglas Fairbanks as Iron Man, Roman Novarro as Captain America (because this was a silent film, so nobody would hear his accent), Clive Brook as Loki, Greta Garbo as the Black Widow (Russian, Swedish, it's all exotic, and still silent) and Lon Chaney as the Hulk. Again, we couldn't find anyone who ticked enough boxes to play Thor. Fortunately, Hemsworth was still in the passenger seat, so we decided to cast him once again. He was excellent, of course.
In fact, we might now have had enough proof that he was Australia's greatest actor, except that we'd now changed history twice, causing a rupture in the time-space continuum. To prevent reality from collapsing in on itself, we had to erase the two new histories we'd created. So now, the 1926 and 1958 versions of The Avengers have been wiped from history. You'll never even find them in the Internet Movie Database. You'll just have to take my word for it that Chris Hemsworth (who, in an alternate reality, won three Oscars and was eventually elected president of a small African nation) is Australia's greatest actor ever, simply because no muscleman of his prowess has such great acting ability, and no other fine actor looks so muscular.
OK, maybe he's not quite as good as Olivia Newton-John. But he isn't bad.