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Q&A with Chris Hemsworth

In a behind-the-scenes video shot during the making of his latest feature, Rush, director Ron Howard quotes a line beloved by racing—and 1970s—sentimentalists: "It was a time when sex was safe and driving was dangerous." The film, which opens nationwide on Sept. 27, depicts Formula One in an era when speed trumped safety, one that saw the rise of the sport's greatest rivalry: English playboy James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth, left) and German mechanical savant Niki Lauda (played by the underappreciated Daniel Br√ºhl).

Twelve guys died racing F1 cars in the '70s, compared with two since 2000. The league didn't even start crash-test research until the mid-1980s. How do you think racers coped with that kind of danger?

They were the gladiators of their time. Those statistics gave them a kind of awareness that led to a "make the most of it while you can" mind-set. Particularly with James; he lived life to the fullest on and off the track, knowing each day could be his last.

Did you know anything about racing?

Not much. Growing up [in Melbourne], I ran track and played Australian rules football until I tore all the ligaments in my shoulder at 15 and started surfing more (which hurt a hell of a lot less). My dad raced motorbikes when I was younger, so that was the closest thing I could relate to [Formula One].

You did most of your own stunts. How did you come out of it in one piece?

We had four weeks of driving boot camp. They built replica cars from the '70s, and with the amount of power those things have, it's like they were on steroids. We had a limited number of shoot days, so whenever we had a chance Ron would mount cameras all over the car and on our helmets and throw us out on the track to get as many shots as we could. [Also,] a lot of guys who worked with Niki and James and are protective of the sport and the story were on set.

Lauda and Hunt's desire to beat one another ultimately benefited them both. Have you ever been part of a rivalry like that?

When I was first auditioning in L.A. I'd hear about great roles, but it was always, If Channing Tatum doesn't want it, then you can audition. I'm thinking, Who is this guy? Then I saw his work and realized, O.K. I've got to pick up my game if I want to be in the mix here. Now I'm a huge fan of his.

POP CULTURE GRID...

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What athletes are thinking

Miley Cyrus makes me want to ...

Season premiere I'm dying to see

Times I tweet per day

First thing I do in the morning

Most expensive shoes bought

Least favorite chore

Matt OvertonColts, LS

Check into rehab

Duck Dynasty

10+

Coffee, lots of it

$183.45 or so

Picking up dog poop

Dustin PennerDucks, LW

Be happy I stopped watching MTV

The Walking Dead

.75, on average

Drop kids at the pool

$150

Shipping anything

Erin HamlinUSA, Luge

Puke

Grey's Anatomy

Two

Straight to the bathroom

Probably $250

Doing and folding laundry

+ Then make plans to overly shelter my future daughters.

+ Unless you count wedding shoes. But I think you write those off if you get divorced.

THEY SAID IT

"He wanted to be a vet."

Christy Helton, recalling her first meeting with husband Todd (above), who last week announced his retirement after 17 major league seasons.

EXTRA MUSTARD ON SI.COM

To get up close with Wilson Ramos, this week's breakout performer presented by Schick, go to SI.com/breakout

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JAAP BUITENDIJK/UNIVERSAL PICTURES (HEMSWORTH)

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CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (HELTON)

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MICHAEL HICKEY/GETTY IMAGES (OVERTON)

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RIC TAPIA/ICON SMI (PENNER)

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ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (HAMLIN)

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LAURA CAVANAUGH/GETTY IMAGES (DUCK DYNASTY)

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TOM AND STEVE/GETTY IMAGES (COFFEE)

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ABC/PHOTOFEST (DEMPSEY)

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EKELY/GETTY IMAGES (BOXES)

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THEO WARGO/WIREIMAGE (CYRUS)

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NITO/FOTOLIA.COM (BRIDE AND GROOM)

ILLUSTRATION