Darren Aronofsky on Going to Extremes With Chris Hemsworth for Limitless

Two people swim behind a large sea turtle

Professional freediver Tanya Streeter and Marvel star Chris Hemsworth swim with a turtle.
Image: National Geographic for Disney+/Craig Perry

We already know Chris Hemsworth can convincingly play a god on the big screen—but the Marvel star also has some superhuman qualities in real life, too. In Limitless With Chris Hemsworth, a new Disney+ series created by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), we see Hemsworth engage in extreme challenges designed to help the human body push back against the aging process.

The six episodes include “Shock,” in which Hemsworth swims through an Arctic sea; “Strength,” involving a perilous climb; “Stress-Proof,” involving an even more perilous climb; “Memory,” an episode about wilderness survival; “Fasting,” which sees Hemsworth on a supervised fast (while, perhaps most impressively, continuing to cook for his kids and tolerate his pizza-eating friends); and “Acceptance,” which uses technology and an immersive setting to help the 30-something Hemsworth experience what it feels like to be 80-something.

io9 spoke to Aronofsky about creating Limitless and working with Hemsworth ahead of the series’ arrival on Disney+ today.


Cheryl Eddy, io9: We know you mostly from features like Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream and your new film, The Whale. What made you want to shift gears and work on this documentary series? 

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Darren Aronofsky: Well, I’ve been kind of playing around in the [science-documentary genre] for, I don’t know, seven, eight years or so. My dad was a science teacher. I was trained as a field biologist. And I’ve just been focused on science my whole life. When Nat Geo called me quite a while ago to work on [2018 series] One Strange Rock, it was a dream come true. And I’ve been excited to keep working on that part of my career since that.

io9: How did you decide which challenges to include in Limitless With Chris Hemsworth?

Aronofsky: We knew we were doing six episodes, [so we centered them around] the six pillars of longevity—the kind of lowest-hanging fruit of things that people could do to help themselves live better, longer. That’s where we started. And then, out of the different themes of those different episodes, we tried to figure out an exciting adventure to the core of the science that would help explain it to the audience.

io9: Which episode do you think was the toughest for Chris Hemsworth to film? Did you ever worry that he would fail any of the challenges?

Aronofsky: Oh, yeah. I mean, Chris Hemsworth fasting for four days. I knew that was going to be tough because the amount of calories he takes in to play Thor. I knew it was going to be a challenge for him. The Arctic swim was truly a monumental feat. I was there when that happened, and it was terrifying to swim into a headwind 200 yards in ice cold water [wearing] basically a pair of boardshorts—I couldn’t even imagine making [it] 15, 20 feet if it was me. So it was really an impressive feat. All of the challenges were really designed well, to push him in ways he wasn’t sure he would be able to pull off.

Chris Hemsworth and longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia prepare a meager meal in the “Fasting” episode.

Chris Hemsworth and longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia prepare a meager meal in the “Fasting” episode.
Image: National Geographic for Disney+/Craig Perry

io9: Chris Hemsworth is obviously a super fit movie star with access to resources not available to the average person. What do you hope audiences who watch Limitless—regular folks, in other words—take away from watching him complete these challenges?

Aronofsky: We were really careful and thoughtful in making sure that there were takeaways that everyone, no matter where you are on the planet, could use in everyday life. The examples that were used for the show were extreme examples, to make them entertaining. But every single show has something that everyone in the world can take away and use in their everyday lives.

io9: Did working on Limitless inspire you to make any changes in your life?

Aronofsky: I was already sort of following a lot of these things because I’m old friends with [longevity expert] Dr. Peter Attia. I’ve been thinking about this stuff since I did The Fountain in 2006.

io9: Most of the episodes focus on these sort of superhuman acts of strength and daring. But to me, the “Acceptance” episode was the most profound. Why was it important for you to include a look at end-of-life issues in a show about trying to live longer?

Aronofsky: Because actually, the science shows that having a peace and acceptance with your end of life will actually allow you to live longer. It was actually from the beginning the main reason I did the show—I always knew that doing a show on longevity, you have to talk about death. It wasn’t always obvious to the studio that that was a good idea, but as I kept pushing it and telling Nat Geo, “Hey, we really need to do this show,” they got more and more excited when they started to see it come to life.

io9: How did you design the room that he stays in for that episode? Some aspects of it were amusing, but some very poignant, too.

Aronofsky: We wanted to recreate a a senior living facility, put him in, and then, of course, we wanted to make it personalized. I don’t want to give away too [much] of what happens in that room. There were just a lot of conversations and discussions about how we how we how we would pull it off.

io9: There are some, we’ll call them Easter eggs hidden in there.

Aronofsky: Exactly.

Chris Hemsworth wears a contraption that makes him experience the effects of old age in the “Acceptance” episode.

Chris Hemsworth wears a contraption that makes him experience the effects of old age in the “Acceptance” episode.
Image: National Geographic for Disney+/Craig Perry

io9: Why was Disney+ the right outlet for this series? Was there a reason beyond Chris Hemsworth being a Marvel star?

Aronofsky: Well, my relationship starts with Nat Geo. It’s really an incredible personal thing for me. I’ve been a huge fan of Nat Geo since I was a little boy, and so I’ve had a long relationship with them. And I love what’s happened to Nat Geo in that that has the support of Disney and Disney+ to reach large audiences. That’s just exciting as as a content creator to have access to that size of audience.

io9: How do you balance your schedule between feature film directing and working on projects like Limitless?

Aronofsky: It’s all simultaneous. Limitless took us three years to make. And in that time I also made The Whale. Also, we produced [Netflix film] The Good Nurse. We have [FX series] Kindred coming out next month. So I work with a bunch of great young producers at Protozoa, my company, and we’re just constantly pushing forward lots of different projects.


Here’s an exclusive clip from the “Shock” episode of Limitless, in which you see Chris Hemsworth emerging from the freezing water and jokingly (but not really) calling to his first Arctic plunge “the most awful thing” he’s ever done.

All six episodes of Limitless With Chris Hemsworth are now streaming on Disney+.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.