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Interview: Emile Hirsch on Into the Wild

For the most part, any faults I found with Into the Wild, Sean Penn's upcoming film adaptation of Jon Krakauer's bestselling book, didn't have to do with Emile Hirsch's performance in the lead role, which I found to be rather arresting.

It was a difficult role and — as I learned straight from Hirsch himself — it was often very physically demanding. Yet for Hirsch, with Penn's guidance (er, "kick in the ass," as Hirsch puts it), it was all a part of getting the job done.

Young Emile is not one to ramble on (or even sit upright while you're talking to him, really), but I did manage to squeeze some information out of him regarding the making of the film, his connection to the story, and what's up next for his career.

Had you read Jon Krakauer's book before you heard about the film project?
I’d seen the "20/20" episode [on it] when I was 8 years old, and it really had a big impact on me. It’s pretty haunting, especially as a kid to see a story like that… a young man, ten years older than you, or more, twelve, thirteen years older than you. It’s like, "Oh my God," you know? And then Sean called me out of the blue after he’d seen a film of mine called Lords of Dogtown and he told me to read the book. And I read it that night, of course, and loved it and stayed up all night reading it in one of those kickass reading experiences that don’t come around too too often for ya. Then from there, I remembered the "20/20" episode about a third of the way into the book I went, "You know, I know this, I’ve seen this."

So, Sean Penn had you in mind the whole time?
Yeah, so he says, you know? I mean, when he called me, he had just-just-just gotten the rights to the book. So I just lucked out that he just happened to see Lords of Dogtown.

What is he like as a director?
He’s great. He’s really a man of immense creativity and intelligence, but also a really fierce courage and will that are really powerful.

For more of the interview,

This is a pretty heavy film, obviously. What was your emotional experience working on the film?
You know, it was joy, sadness, happiness, I mean we really covered so many different bases of where Chris was. We wanted it to feel like a real journey of someone’s soul. I mean, you know, when I jump off the cliff into the Colorado River, and I land and come up smiling, I mean, that’s pretty much — that’s the real joy right there! I was pretty excited after I jumped off that, I mean that was probably the highest thing I’ve ever jumped off in my whole life. I remember jumping off that and halfway through the air thinking "I can’t believe they got me to do this. This is so high."

So you did the paddling in the rapids and all that stuff yourself, right?

That seemed really dangerous! Was it scary? Or was it cool and exhilarating?
You know, it was pretty exhilarating — terrifyingly exhilarating. I mean, you get there and it looks so big. It’s like, "Oh my God I have to do this, there’s like millions of dollars here on the line, you know, Sean Penn… I have to." You just gotta psych yourself up and man up and charge that f*cker. And so I did.

When you were reading the book did you identify with Chris McCandless?
I did. You know, there was so much wanderlust in Chris McCandless and it just, you know when you see that kind of wanderlust, just like when people first read On the Road it just kind of sparks their own wanderlust that they have. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if so many people after they go see this movie will just want to go on some adventures, and get out there. You know? Don’t you think?

Defintely. It’s really attractive. The movie makes those adventures look really appealing.
And it really is appealing. I mean, it’s really great experiences, if you do it the right way.

Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere, necessarily…
Alone, with no axe and no map?

But definitely the traveling around, and the freewheeling lifestyle... from the movie it looks very attractive.
And that was really the lifestyle that we had when we shot it, and it was, it was a totally fun adventure. We had so many experiences that we were able to all kind of share together.

What’s next for you after this?
I just finished shooting Speed Racer in Berlin, actually. So I went right from the mountains into the green screen room.

That’s going to be a cool film, it seems.
Oh yeah, I think it should be pretty kooky. Pretty groovy. Very psychadelic. Very psychadelic.

Yeah. It’s nothing like The Matrix at all. [The Wachowski brothers] totally reinvented their visual style, it’s really crazy.

Huh. Did you watch the "Speed Racer" cartoon as a kid?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Cool. Go Speed Racer.


girlabouttown girlabouttown 9 years
That movie is great! I cried my eyes out.
nomerz nomerz 10 years
I've had a teeny crush on Emile since The Girl Next Door.
holysnap holysnap 10 years
He got major ugo!
desodaro desodaro 10 years
I love Emile and Penn, can't wait to see this, been counting on it for a while!
lorenashley lorenashley 10 years
i love this kid! he was awesome in "the mudge boy"
Phasekitty Phasekitty 10 years
Great interview- I'm really looking forward to this movie!
JackaRoe JackaRoe 10 years
psychadelic i meant
JackaRoe JackaRoe 10 years
Ya, real physchedlic maaaaan. He kinda sounds like a douche. I like to groove around the streets you know, Keroauc in my pocket, change in the front, and the dead on my IPod. He sounds so intelligent, i thought he was just an actor.
Angelica Angelica 10 years
Cool interview Buzz. I love that he's not really sitting up in the photo either. I've been a fan since he was in Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys and was totally shocked to learn he's 22. For some reason I had him pegged as an older guy with a cute baby face. Also, I can't believe he can remember a 20/20 episode he saw when he was 8...
Linda-McP Linda-McP 10 years
Wonderful interview, Buzz. I'm really anxious to see this film.
Jinx Jinx 10 years
Gosh, I love Emile, I've loved him since The Secret Lives of Alter Boys. I loved him in Girl Next Door, Dogtown, and even in the Mudge Boy. Thanks for the interview Buzz. He's gorgeous, talented, and under rated, imo.
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