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Chris Hemsworth goes to ‘nerd school’ for hacking in cyber-terrorism thriller ‘Cyber’

Oct 15, 20135 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityMicrosoft

To prepare for Michael Mann's cyber-terrorism thriller film, Cyber, picture Thor from The Avengers going to 'nerd school' to learn how to hack.

The idea of American and Chinese military forces working together on “a case of high-level computer hacking” may be a bit mind-boggling, being that the two countries are more-or-less sworn cyber-enemies intent on hacking each other for cyber espionage, but it is the premise for the upcoming Michael Mann cyber-thriller dubbed “Cyber.” That’s not the type of thing I normally follow, but the purported cyber-terrorism plotline caught my attention before the film even officially had a name.

Universal Pictures has not given a date yet for when Cyber will be released in 2014; filming began in May 2013, and was shot in Los Angeles, “Hong Kong, Sri Manjung, Perak, Port Klang, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, Indonesia.” Even though it’s currently in “post-production,” it’s been pretty quiet on the front of more details — other than that actor Chris Hemsworth, perhaps best known for Thor and The Avengers, was playing the leading role as a hacker.

After learning a few more specifics, it seemed like a change of pace and a good time to share. Speaking to Details magazine, director Michael Mann said the movie was shot in “four countries, 71 locations, 66 days.” The article was about Chris Hemsworth, and Mann said “that hiring Hemsworth as a computer genius was not casting against type.”

Hemsworth, for his part, wasn’t so sure he could handle one of the things Mann asked him to do to prepare for the role. This time it wasn’t learning a new martial-arts discipline. Or bulking up through overeating and overtraining. Or learning to perform against a green screen. It was worse. Much worse: nerd camp.

“I did two months of computer lessons before we started shooting,” he says. “This computer teacher with a Ph.D. from UCLA would come into this little room and give me lessons in Unix commands and whatnot. It was exciting the first day or two, then I was like, ‘Oh no, this is why I didn’t take a desk job.’ Drank more coffee than I’d ever had in my life, because it was literally putting me to sleep.”

“I think I enjoyed sword fighting more than computer lessons,” he says.

The nerd training eventually paid off. “I learned to type, for one,” Hemsworth says. “I can’t say I can hack into your Swiss bank account, but I can pretend to. There’s an intelligence to this character that’s certainly beyond my intelligence and some of the characters I’ve played before. They can make me smarter in the editing.”

Potential spoiler alert: While at the German premier for the movie Rush, the German site FilmFutter asked Hemsworth about Cyber. The translation sounded a little weird, so here’s a mash-up of Microsoft’s translation and one posted in Latino Review.

“I just finished shooting it. The film is set in the world of cyber-terrorism. Basically, an equivalent of the Chicago Board of trade is hacked into and this triggers a chain reaction in stock markets around the world. The code that was used to hack into the system was written by my character years before, but he happens to be in prison for cybercrime. He is pulled out of prison and offered a deal him if he cooperates with a joint task force of the FBI and the Chinese Government in trying to track this guy (villian) down. The film starts off in Chicago and later leads Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. It is an international cat-and-mouse crime (heist) thriller.”

“It was very fascinating. I knew nothing about that world. Nowadays it is a very prominent subject, because we see what is possible with hacking and cyber terrorism like shutting down power grids in other countries. In our film, he (the villain) shuts down the water pumps to overheat the cooling system in a nuclear power plant and it causes a whole lot of chaos. When you do that research you realize how vulnerable technology makes us.”

If you like movies about hacking and hackers, then Cyber might be a film you want to see. It’s still unknown as to when it might hit theaters in 2014, but it sounds like a potentially decent thriller.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.