At the Toronto Film Festival, we had the opportunity to interview Emile Hirsch about his new film Into The Wild. Sean Penn’s new film adaptation is is one of the best movies of 2007 so far. If the movie is in your city this week, go see it (it expands nationwide in the coming weeks).
Question: What do you think Christopher McCandless would think of this film?
Emile Hirsch: I think he’d be pretty excited about it and the effect it could have on people in a positive way. He’s a person from everything I’ve learned, was a person of action who wanted change. He’s a person who studied humanitarian things. Even in high school, he was so concerned with apartheids. Anything that he thinks can help change the bigger picture, I think he would think is a good thing. And his sister Carine has verified that.
Question: This movie and the book that it is based on is really relatable to teens, I know I related to it reading it in High School. Is it particularly resonant at your age?
Emile Hirsch: I think it was really relevant in my life, I can’t speak for every young person. It was one of those things that I went into it and it wasn’t like I looked at it from an older person’s perspective, like ‘oh, this is that point in your life.” I looked at it as a very in the moment kind of thing, and I was really excited to go on the adventure of it. And a lot of the kind of hindsight, maybe something that when I’m older I’ll look back on and really be able to evaluate what was going on. But for me it was more of the “YEAH! ROCK AND ROLL!”
Question: So you were thinking of the process of making it? Where you would train and where you would be shooting?
Emile Hirsch: Yeah.
Question: When I was young, that’s what I wanted to do: go out in the wild and leave everything behind. Now that I’m middle aged, I’m looking at it and seeing that he doesn’t have it exactly right. He’s sort of a screw up in a lot of ways. He should have called his parents. So do you think that maybe you will feel different about the character than you do now? Or do you see flaws in his character now from your perspective.
Emile Hirsch: I would probably not be comfortable not talking to my parents and my family. But that was something that he did. And that is something that I probably wouldn’t do.
Question: There are a lot of great performances. One of my favorites was Hal Holbrook.
Emile Hirsch: I just recently saw Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight. It’s his sixth year.
Question: That was like the original one man show.
Emile Hirsch: Seeing him do it was incredible. Working with Hal on this film was great because he’s so such an experienced actor and he makes everything look so easy. He’s just been doing it for so long, and he’s so good at it. I couldn’t even tell when we started and when we stopped. It was that seamless.
Question: Brian Dierker who was just in here, we all thought that he was a character veteran actor because he’s so natural.
Emile Hirsch: It’s amazing. Brian did a great job too. He started out as our river raft guide. He was the guy who was taking me through the rapids on the Grand Canyon and encouraging me “You Can Do it Man!” And the story of what happened with Brian, Me and Sean were sitting on the bank of the Colorado river one day both puffing away on some cigarettes. And we were sitting there, we had thrown around casting ideas about who could play this character Rainy. It would be like, throw out a name, No. Throw another name, no, throw another ridiculous name, no. They had been talking to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s people. It was this whole huge search. It became the running thing where I would come up to Sean and have like four more names. He would go “uh, No.” “Uh, No.” Then I looked over to Brian and he was pulling one of his boats onto the shore and doing it while he was pulling a hit from a hand-rolled cigarette. I was like, “OH SEAN! Do you want to know like, who IS the guy? He’ll be so perfect… Brian.” He takes a hit of a cigarette [Emile does impression of Seans first reaction of disapproval, then looking over to Brian, and the realization that he might be the guy] It was like, ‘It was the one armed man all along!’ He said “I’m gonna read him.” That’s how it came about. We work-shopped some of the scenes and it was like awesome.
Question: Can you talk about your own casting process? It sounds like there was a little back and fourth with you and Sean.
Emile Hirsch: Well, the way the process worked with me and Sean. Sean had seen a film I did called Lords of Dogtown. The director Catherine Hardwicke had actually screened it for him up in San Francisco, in the hopes of getting him involved in a project that she was going to do at the time. But he had just got the rights for Into The Wild, and he was on the lookout for an actor for it. So, he responded to the performance, or parts of it. And he called me directly on my cellphone. He was like “Hey” I was like “Woah.” And we got together, and he was really vague. He was like, “I’ve got all these projects” like multiple things like he didn’t want to commit but he knew the whole time that it was really just this one thing. He told me to read the book and I read the book that night and was just floored by it and loved it and called him and told him that. Then over the period of four and a half months, every three weeks or month he was call me and we’d go out to dinner or go drinking or something. At that point we stopped talking about the movie, and I thought that Sean thought I was cool and just wanted to hang out. I was like, “Oh, wow.” And then all of a sudden he called me and said he had completed the draft of Into The Wild and that the part was yours if you want it. So come up to San Francisco and read it. And I was like, “What?” It really just hit me. I guess though our meetings and hanging out, he decided that I was right for the part and he wanted me to do it. It was a really amazing kind of feeling for me for that to happen. It immediately started what would become a long physical process.
Question: So you lost the weight before the movie?
Emile Hirsch: I weighed about 156 pounds when I got the part, and I weighed 130 pounds throughout most of the film, so I lost the 26 pounds to get in shape for the film. And then I went down to 115 pounds for the weight loss in the Alaska segment. So it was like two stages of weight loss. So it was a lot of running and being very hungry and dreaming of candy all the time. It’s funny because normally, I’m not a big chocolate bar eater. But, that was really what I wanted more than anything when I was at my most hungry. It was like, Steak? No. Like a Take 5 Candy Bar? That was like the Ideal.
Question: You said before how Chris McCandless would have liked any movie that could have changed the way things are. Can you talk a little more about how this film will effect audiences?
Emile Hirsch: I can’t speak for what I think it will do for everybody, but just for me, it was a very inspiring story for me in my own life. That’s the only gauge that I can have. But just living life to the fullest and the message that Chris learns that Happiness is only real when you can share it with someone else. His own epiphany that he was looking for was right under his nose. It was a sign posted throughout the journey and his travels, the people he met along the way. And it took him to be isolated and in the middle of nowhere to realize it.
Question: Did you visit the actual location where the bus was in Alaska?
Emile Hirsch: I did. I took a snowmobile ride out with this guy named BJ. It was a 90 minute snowmobile ride out to the bus, and the bus is still there. The boots are still there. And now there is all this writing on the bus from all the people who have visited the bus and written little notes. It’s great because it’s all so positive and no one goes all the way out there to bitch.
Question: Was it your own handwriting?
Emile Hirsch: Yes.
Question: Did you write anything on the bus?
Emile Hirsch: Maybe.
Question: Was it a real Moose?
Emile Hirsch: Yes. We didn’t actually shoot the moose but the moose was roadkill that they found on the side of the road.
Question: What was that little creature that you were eating in that one scene?
Emile Hirsch: Squirrel.
Question: So did you and Sean stop hanging out now that you’ve made the movie, or do you still hang out?
Emile Hirsch: Occasionally.
Question: Did you guys talk about The Lords of Dogtown since he narrated Z-Boys?
Emile Hirsch: Yeah. He’s from that area. It was good for me in that sense since he was familiar with the character and was probably a better judge of the performance than a lot of people that don’t know about that world. Because I guess he knew the character that I actually played.
Question: One of the things I really liked about this is besides the text on the screen, it doesn’t ever try to put your character in the voice over role and obviously in the last months of his life, he was by himself, and you could speculate but the film doesn’t try to do that. I wondered how you approached that, because there is obviously a lot that isn’t known.
Emile Hirsch: How to fill in the gaps?
Question: Yeah, without overdoing it.
Emile Hirsch: Really just taking the information and the feelings I had accumulated on the way and just trusting my instincts, Sean’s instincts. That’s really it.
Question: Do you have any interesting stories from The Slabs?
Emile Hirsch: Yeah, The Slabs. Insane Wayne! He was the guitar player that introduced us saying “You can kiss my ass!” He was actually in jail when we shot that and Sean got the judge to let him out for those shooing days. So he showed up on that day in full handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit and sherifs with shotguns. They briefly let him put on his costume and sing a song.
Question: What was he in jail for?
Emile Hirsch: I don’t know. Fact Check!
Question: How many days was he permitted to be out of jail for?
Emile Hirsch: Just one day. Just go get it done. Ge’s a fixture of the Slabs. He’s very well known there. He was someone that when Sean originally went out there to learn about the Slabs when he was doing his own scouting and research, he was there and he became aquatinted with.
Question: And the Salvation Mountain guy is a real guy right?
Emile Hirsch: Yeah. Leonard. He’s incredible He had been going around the world or the country in a hot air balloon. And his Balloon crashed and he picked a spot and said this is where it will be. And he built Salvation Mountain.
Question: How’s Speed Racer?
Emile Hirsch: It couldn’t be more different that Into The Wild. Expect Thrills, Chills and a heck of a good time.
Question: What can you tell us about that movie that we don’t already know?
Emile Hirsch: It will be esthetically nothing like The Matrix. If you are expecting any kind of Matrixy thing at all…
Question: No bullet time effects?
Emile Hirsch: It’s completely different.The Wachowskis have reinvented themselves completely. It’s awesome.