I was not warned that Emile Hirsch was so funny. I thought for sure that he was yet another serious, mumbly young actor – I meet them all the time, the kinds of guys who don’t comb their hair and don’t shower to detract from how gorgeous they are, and who don’t like to talk about anything except ‘The Moment’ or ‘The Craft’ – and that’s if you can get them to talk at all.
But Hirsch isn’t like that. He’s genuinely hilarious; when some dumb reporter asked him about ‘Tokyo drifting,’ he came back with a reply that had me cracking up for a long time. And he’s incredibly personable, too, another trait you don’t find it too many of these serious young actors. It seems like he’s found the zone between being a terrific actor and a decent person, and he’s comfortable there.
And if Speed Racer hits he might have to find himself in a new zone, that of the superstar. How great would it be if Hirsch’s career ended up allowing him to do serious work like Milk and Into the Wild in between being a legitimate movie star? It’s kind of what everybody hoped for when Ewan McGregor took a role in the Star Wars prequels.
Jeez, I hope I’m not jinxing this kid.
Hirsch: What’s up guys? How you doin’?
Q: You saw the movie before as well as last night. Like it?
Hirsch: Yeah. I love the movie. I think it’s great. I mean, what the brothers did with it is so wild and imaginative, ya know.
Q: Better than you hoped for?
Hirsch: Yes. You read the script and it’s so descriptive of the whole world. But you have no idea what it’s going to be until you see it. And the way they made the colors pop and all the things they did with the focus, and integrating the photographs, it was really quite beautiful I thought.
Q: Were you loving the green screen experience? John [Goodman] said it was like working in low-budget New York theater.
Hirsch: That’s funny. That’s pretty funny. He’s right. There are no sets or props. It’s like your doing “Waiting for Godot” or something.
Q: Was it disorienting?
Hirsch: Yeah. You’re like, wow!
Q: What are your memories of it?
Hirsch: Just kind of this green wall, talking to it, thinking about it. What was really weird was doing the car scenes because we did it on a hydraulic pump called a gimbal. All of my anger in the film is so authentic because they were just slamming me around in the simulator for hours. It was green and hot and there’s lights on you and you can’t move because you’re strapped in. You get literally frustrated to the point where you want to rip the thing apart with a bat, and… augh! I think I have a drawing of me breaking it. I’m serious. All the scenes where I’m like arrrggh, it’s just me. Imagine if it was comfortable and I was happy, I’d be like, Hey, guys, get out of my way (smiling).
Q: From a technical point of view, what’s the difference between doing a film like this, which is all green screen, and Into the Wild, where you went to as many of the actual locations as possible? Or Milk, where you’re recreating a period?
Hirsch: Well, those movies take place in real life so they’re supernaturalistic. That’s a whole different style as an acting thing. This is way more comic-booky, stylish. I mean, there’s a little bit of naturalism, but it’s way stylized. All the lines are really crisp and specific. It’s different in those kinds of ways. You don’t have any of the background. And the film takes place in a universe, or a time, you don’t know what it. It’s Speed Racer world.
Q: Does it make it harder? Do you wonder if you’re going too big?
Hirsch: You just gotta trust the directors. That was the biggest thing. I was like, are you guys sure? They said, just trust us. Just trust us. They didn’t actually say that but that’s what they were implying by their silence. [laughs] It works. What’s cool about the characters and the acting style in the movie, there’s a lot of different kind of tones to certain characters. Like Racer X and Speed are pretty serious a lot of the time but then Spritle and Chim Chim are like outrageous, and Chim Chim is dangling on the steering wheel and flying around and hitting guys on the head with a monkey wrenches.
Q: When you say lines like ‘Inspector Detector suspected foul play’ are you expecting camp?
Hirsch: I don’t know. He’s talking about his brother’s death and he’s like, ‘Inspector Detector suspected foul play’ [makes a face]. It’s like ‘Inspector Detector suspected foul play but nothing could be proved,’ and then you’re like [disbelief face]. Or like, ‘I was tooling timing pins with Pops.’
Q: Why do you like to play outsider types?
Hirsch: I don’t know. There’s something about the good-hearted guy fighting the system. I just love that. That’s how Speed is. He’s a really focused guy with a heart of gold and the corporations are trying to crush him and use him for his skills to make them more money. And when he doesn’t want to play ball, they want to destroy him.
Q: Did you watch the cartoon in preparation?
Hirsch: I watched it as a kid. I was a big fan of the show. I watched it on Cartoon Network. I also watched all 52 episodes in preparation for the part. Big waste of time. No. No. No. I can’t take that time back.
I’m a really big fan of the show. The tone of it is so fun and crazy and it’s the perfect Saturday morning cartoon show when you’re a kid. The movie takes it to a level where it’s a lot more accessible for adults than the show was. For me. For me, I was a lot more engaged by the movie than the show.
Q: When you make a movie like this, are you aware that the Wachowskis are going to bring a unique spin to a blockbuster?
Hirsch: Yes. That was the main thing that made me go crazy about this movie. These guys are just such… I view these guys are more hard core artists than people making smaller, hard core art films. These guys are very very talented and take their work very seriously. The genre and the kind of films they make, by their very nature, require insane budgets to even make … I remember when I saw The Matrix when I was 13, I saw it in the theaters, and I was so blown away by it. It was one of the most memorable experiences I definitely ever had in the theater. That kind of stuff you never forget and it stays with you. Here, you get a chance to work with them and it’s like, ooh, ooh, ooh.
Q: Some people have described them as experimental filmmakers disguised as blockbuster directors. Is that fair?
Hirsch: That’s totally accurate. A lot of the stuff in Speed Racer has never been done before, from it having a multi-tone, to it having a retro-cool family movie, to having the photo-realism with the CG-backgrounds and infinite focus and the way they worked with these digital cameras, to even the color experimentation. It’s definitely one of the most colorful movies ever made. Hands down.
Q: Did you ever geek out with the Wachowskis over The Matrix?
Hirsch: Oh yeah. I’m like a hard core fan. I’d always come with questions like, ‘So with Smith’… I’m a hard core geek. I’ve seen those movies an unhealthy amount of times.
Q: What’s it like having your own action figure now?
Hirsch: I look like Dennis Quaid on my action figure circa ’95, which is kind of an upgrade for me.
Q: What’s next?
Hirsch: I don’t have anything coming up. I did this movie called Milk which comes out in the Fall. I don’t have anything as of now.
Q: How has your career changed since Into the Wild?
Hirsch: It’s cool. There’s probably more awareness of me now which is cool. I’m just flexing my hands.
Q: When you were on the gimbal, did they say, ok, now you’re Tokyo drifting. What did you hear?
Hirsch: Tokyo drifting? That’s Fast and the Furious. Now you’re doing this really shitty movie.
Q: What do they say to you?
Hirsch: ‘Stop Tokyo drifting, you’re ruining our movie!’ No. No. No. I love that movie. [Makes a face] No, they’d be like you’re coming up on the turn, now slide! And I’d be like, errrrrr. Then I’d getting mad because I’d be getting whiplash, and they’d say, Now, backslide. And I’d just wouldn’t go to church.
Q: Did you get knocked around?
Hirsch: Oh yeah. Matthew Fox got it worse though. I don’t know why. I don’t think he paid off the gimbal guy like I did.
Q: What do you want to do in the sequel?
Hirsch: I don’t know. I’m so excited to see if the movie is a hit and stuff and if they decide to make a sequel, what would the Wachowskis do. Where will they take it? The first is about the Grand Prix and the races. I wonder what will happen in the second one.
Q: Sean Penn directed you in Into The Wild; what was it like working with him as a co-star in Milk?
Hirsch: It was crazy. It was weird for me and him because we had such different roles in Into the Wild. He was the director. I started not to think of him as an actor when I first met him but then I didn’t even think of him as a director anymore. Then it changed very quick. We got along really well and had a fun time. It was all good… except for this one time…
No, I’m kidding.
Q: Anything about the physical stuff in this movie that you liked?
Hirsch: The training was fun. Chad and Dave the stunt coordinators are such badasses. And me and Kick would sometimes be standing around-the kid who played Sparky-and we’d be like ‘Hey, Chad and Dave, how many Hollywood actors’ asses do you think you could kick at once? 20? 30?’ And Chad would be like, ‘No, probably more than 30.’ He’d be like dead serious-more than 30. Then Dave would be like, ‘Yeah, like 40.’
Q: Did you learn anything from them?
Hirsch: I learned that when you get punched in the face how to roll with it. When they hit me, how to fall. They tough you up real quick.
Q: Do you have any chimp tales?
Hirsch: Chimpanzees don’t have tails.
Q: Was the chimp cooperative?
Hirsch: Except for this one day, yeah.
Q: What happened?
Hirsch: It bit someone.
Q: Who got bit?
Hirsch: I can’t say! He asked for it though.
Q: Do you have lucky charms like Speed’s red socks?
Hirsch: No. I try not to be too superstitious because if you get superstitious about one thing pretty soon it’s everything.