Chris Hemsworth has discovered he has a significantly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease due to genetic factors, prompting the Thor actor to take some time off from acting.
The 39-year-old Australian actor learned he had two copies of the gene ApoE4, inherited from both his parents, after undergoing tests as part of his Disney+ documentary series Limitless.
Those tests confirmed his “biggest fear”, Hemsworth told Vanity Fair in an interview, showing that he is among just 2-3% of the population who are as much as 10 times more likely to develop the disease than those without both copies of the gene .
“It’s not like I’ve been handed my resignation,” Hemsworth told Vanity Fair – but he said working on the show, in which he tests his body and explores ways to live longer and healthier, “really triggered something in me to want to take some time off”.
“If you look at Alzheimer’s prevention, the benefit of preventive steps is that it affects the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s all about sleep management, stress management, nutrition, movement, fitness. It’s all kind of the same tools that need to be applied in a consistent way.”
He clarified that this was not a diagnosis: “It’s not a pre-deterministic gene, but it is a strong indication. Ten years ago, I think it was more thought of as determinant.”
The actor said the documentary series creator, Darren Aronofsky, and one of the doctors on the show, Peter Attia, discussed how the diagnosis would be covered. It had initially been the plan that the actor receive all his genetic test results live to camera – but Aronofsky told him privately once they got the results.
Hemsworth was subsequently given the option of deleting all references to Alzheimer’s in the show, but he said he thought it was important to include his genetic predisposition for the deteriorating neurological condition. He wanted to help his audience improve awareness and understanding of how to take “preventative steps”.
“My concern was I just didn’t want to manipulate it and overdramatise it, and make it into some sort of hokey grab at empathy or whatever for entertainment,” he told Vanity Fair.
Hemsworth also confirmed to the magazine that his grandfather was currently being treated for Alzheimer’s.
Hemsworth has a role in George Miller’s upcoming Mad Max film Furiosa, which wrapped earlier this month. He said he intended to take a break from acting after finishing the publicity tour for Limitless, along with his other contracted work.
He will be going home to Byron Bay to spend time with his partner, actor Elsa Pataky, and the couple’s three children. “I’m going to have a good chunk of time off and just simplify. Be with the kids, be with my wife.”