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U offers ‘Huntsman’ to Hemsworth

'Thor' star would be a prize for 'Snow White'

Though Chris Hemsworth just opened a $65-million summer tentpole, the virtual unknown had nothing on his upcoming schedule other than reprising his role in Marvel’s “The Avengers.”

But behind the scenes, prior to “Thor’s” big weekend opening, Universal Pictures had been quietly courting the Aussie for his next big part.

That foresight appears to have paid off: U is now in talks with Hems-worth to play the male lead in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a rolethat for months has cycled through a revolving door of top leading men, including Viggo Mortensen, Hugh Jackman and Joel Edgerton. In Hemsworth, however, “Huntsman” gets a fresh face, hot off a starmaking turn, to play opposite “Twilight” thesp Kristen Stewart.

His casting gives the project a boost in the face of competing “Snow White” pics from Relativity (which comes six months earlier) and Disney (undated). Universal declined to comment.

Hemsworth began his career in the Australian TV soap “Home and Away” (where Heath Ledger was an alum), and was introduced to U.S. audiences in a brief but memorable cameo as Captain Kirk’s father in “Star Trek.”

His chance to play “Thor” didn’t come easy: Director Kenneth Branagh looked at a range of actors, including Hemsworth and his brother Liam. Each was rejected early on. When Branagh went back to the drawing board, Marvel brass were convinced to give Chris Hemsworth — who concentrated on bulking up for the role in the interim — another shot.

On his second try, he nailed it.

Though buzz around Hemsworth built over weeks leading up to “Thor,” no studio had taken advantage of his empty slate — until Universal came calling. The studio had no trouble nailing down stars Stewart and Charlize Theron since winning the bidding war on the “Huntsman” spec last fall, but has struggled to hook a male lead.

The 52-year-old Mortensen was the first to get an offer, but protracted negotations fizzled. Jackman (42) also passed, and the studio also showed interest in Joel Edgerton (37) while he was vying for “The Bourne Legacy.” At 27, Hemsworth is considerably younger than previous candidates, but sources tell Variety that he can play much older, while Sam Clafin, who plays the prince and Snow White’s love interest, plays much younger.

The story revolves around the relationship between the title character and the huntsman, who’s ordered to kill the heroine by the evil queen (Theron). In this version, the huntsman decides intstead to help the girl escape, becoming her protector and mentor.

With only the role of the queen’s henchman, Finn, yet to be cast, it looks as if project is on schedule to hits its September start date, with an eye toward a December 2012 bow.

Meanwhile, Hemsworth is about to start filming “Avengers,” which looked at one point like it could present a scheduling conflict with “Huntsman” — though now that the offer’s on the table, it appears they’ve worked out timing issues.

Hemsworth has two films in the can seeking distribution in “Red Dawn” and “Cabin in the Woods.” He is repped by IFA Talent Agency and ROAR.

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