An unabashedly optimistic spirit, Elsa Pataky talks to JONES about family life, the power of positive thinking, and how she and husband Chris stay in the moment.
Elsa Pataky is in slinky Dries Van Noten, a stylist expertly fluffing out the hemline of the dress so it falls just so around her ankles. A hair stylist plays redundantly with perfect waves that wouldn’t know how to fall out of place if they tried, while a make-up artist dabs at nonexistent imperfections (her skin is the colour of dulce de leche and just as smooth and creamy). Standing on the edge of a private jetty, the light hitting right where it’s supposed to, Pataky looks every bit a goddess, perfectly at home as the glamorous movie star being photographed for the cover of a fashion magazine. Famous since starring in a beloved Spanish soap opera at the age of 21, Pataky has been doing this all her adult life. Being on shoots is second nature to her. She enjoys fashion and getting dressed up; the woman knows her angles, which are many. But glamorous movie-star goddess is just one side of her.
Another side – maybe the one she likes best – was revealed a few days before our shoot. In a video posted to her four million Instagram followers, she’s in shorts and a T-shirt as she helps pull a foal from its mother’s body in the dark of night, amniotic fluid gushing around her bare feet, her children watching nearby. They’d got the call after they’d gone to bed and she’d woken the family up to take part in what she calls one of the most incredible experiences of all their lives. “That’s what I love, it’s what I enjoy the most,” she explains. “Birthing a foal, that was a moment for me that I will never forget. And I would do it all the time but my husband would kill me because we have so many horses already!” (Pataky and husband Chris Hemsworth have a stable of around 15 horses at their property in Broken Head in northern NSW.)
As a city child growing up in a Madrid apartment, living on a property surrounded by dogs, chickens and horses is a dream come true – an achievement, like her career as an actress, that Pataky puts down to her nature, a combination of stubborn determination and relentlessly sunny positive thinking. “I’m probably overpositive. I think it’s because my childhood wasn’t the happiest and you can either be sad about it and get stuck in it, like ‘Why did it happen to me?’, or you can try to make the best of it. And I decided in life that I just wanted to get the best of it. In any situation, I’m trying to always turn negative into positive and make things look better. But at the same time, I’m very passionate and I want things to be my way. I’m stubborn and I will make it happen.”
“In any situation, I’m trying to always turn negative into positive and make things look better.”
The proof of the power of her positive thinking might be the fact that Hollywood has recently discovered Australia, specifically Byron Bay, as a relatively restriction-free location for film productions, giving Pataky’s career – which she’d stepped back from in order to stay close to her family – a surprising turn. “Before we had a family I’d had a great life, I’d worked really hard, I did a lot of movies. Then [after the children were born] I decided to focus on them and leave my career on the side, to just do little things here and there and try to be happy with that, even though it was my passion and I loved what I did,” she explains. “It was hard in some moments, because you see the person you love doing what you’re so passionate about, you see them doing movies, and you wish you could too. But because of my family I didn’t want to shoot anywhere else and it was Chris’ moment – I just let him know that he could do what he had to do and we’ll follow.”
Now, though, the opportunities are coming to her. Her latest role, in an unnamed feature film which starts filming in March, plays to yet another side of Pataky: #fitspo icon. She describes the role as “sort of female John McClane [from Die Hard], a cool, strong female role”, and if you were watching on social media through 2020 you would have noticed the impressive Linda Hamilton-esque changes to her body in preparation for the film. “There are so many great movies with strong roles for women now, which is amazing. It’s such a good thing to not only have movies where men are the hero but women too, to inspire little girls,” she says. “I have to be very physically strong, so it will be a good challenge for me.”
Not that she would have embraced a COVID-bod even if the film hadn’t been on the cards; like Chris, she’s “obsessive” about fitness. “I exercise every time I have the opportunity, just for my head and mind. Every time I feel like I’m being lazy I get in some push-ups. When I’m walking with my friends on the beach I’m like ‘Why are we just walking? Why don’t we do lunges while we’re walking? Just a few! Ten!” Having a role to get uber-fit for has just given her passion a purpose, something she loves about her job.
“There are so many great movies with strong roles for women now, which is amazing. It’s such a good thing to not only have movies where men are the hero but women too, to inspire little girls.”
“One of the reasons I wanted to become an actress is because you can do so many things, become so many people. Why should I get just one profession when as an actress I get to be anything and I have to learn about it to get into the role? I can pretend to be a zookeeper, or get super strong for a role. Having a reason makes it that much easier.”
Alongside movie star, wife, mother, equine doula and action hero, she is revelling in a new role at David Jones (see her alongside the rest of the new friends of David Jones here). With this season at David Jones all about being In the Moment, Pataky muses on what being in the moment means for her. “For me, it’s my hobbies like horse riding, because I have to be in focus and I can’t be distracted. For Chris, it’s surfing. I think it’s a form of meditation, focusing on something that’s not the world and its problems. If you find that hobby that can take you from the world, it’s so special, it just nurtures your soul.”
Words by Justine Cullen; Photography by Darren McDonald; Styling by Rachel Wayman