Emile Hirsch’s newest movie, Lone Survivor, is filled with lots of long, ponderous voiceovers espousing platitudes about the triumph of the human spirit and the will to fight, and tons of aggro rhetoric that seems ripped right from gym class. There is also a gunfight that lasts for close to a half-hour and is choreographed like a video of someone playing Call of Duty. But talking to Hirsch, who’s starred in thoughtful movies like Into the Wild and engaging movies like Speed Racer, gives the impression that Lone Survivor wasn’t made out of aesthetic advancement. It was made because it needed to be told on the behalf of those who lost their lives during a failed SEAL mission to capture terrorists in Afghanistan.
When I talk to Hirsch in a hotel room at the Mandarin Oriental, his conviction is almost palpable. It’s surely convenient to have a star who can speak so earnestly about the movie’s intentions, but listening to his story, it’s impossible to not feel a little swayed by his righteousness. Hirsch is a new father, which I thought might’ve accounted for some new perspectives about life; surprisingly, he was most reticent to talk about that. Instead, we talked about the movie, the chances of a Speed Racer sequel, his life as a former teen idol, and more.
The first thing I was wondering is that this seems like kind of a departure compared with some of the movies you’ve been in, like Into the Wild and Speed Racer. How did you get involved with this?
Pete [Berg, the director] told me “no,” to my face originally when we talked about it. He flat out told me, “No. Listen man, you aren’t the guy. You’re not right for it physically,” and I felt that he was wrong. I wanted to portray Danny Dietz so much, and so I started calling him and emailing him, and I started eating more and gaining weight and working out. Eventually he put me in a pro-camp that he selected to test me with T.R. Goodman at Gold’s Gym. He still didn’t give me the role, and he still said it probably wasn’t gonna happen, but I started going. I basically had to do whatever he said to even be in contention. He was still meeting other actors. So I went six days a week at 6AM for three and a half months for training, and it wasn’t about the second or third month that—of everyday, six days a week—finally even him giving me the offer on the movie. My agent was like, “This is crazy. This is a bad move. You’re not safe in this move.” I said, “I don’t care. I gotta see what’s gonna happen. I can’t quit this.”
You talked about wanting to play Danny so much. What was it that made you so insistent?
I had read the book Lone Survivor and Danny was so unique. He was an artist and he wasn’t your traditional G.I. Joe guy. This was a guy who drew anime. He originally wanted to be a ninja. He was an atypical guy, and I guess I identified with him. He wasn’t a loud guy. He was kind of a quiet guy, an intense guy, but he had a lot of soul and he had a lot of love. I admired the courage that he had, and I mourned the loss that his death brought.
Since you trained with real SEALS, what was the environment on set like? The movie is very emphatic about all these dudes and all their beards.
We were all dipping, like chewing tobacco and stuff, hanging out, just joking around. And then those switches would just get flipped, and it was like, “Alright. It’s all business. Where’s your gun? Where’s your weapon system? Let’s get into position. Let’s fucking do this.” It was an exhilarating environment to be a part of. But it was also really sad because a lot of these tragic scenes in the battle, these guys had been through all that. So I’d see the toughest, most badass guys tearing up at times, walking off, and having cries by themselves. It brings it back home that this isn’t just a movie.
How many of your own stunts did you do in the movie?
Some of the stuff I did, but I have to give a lot of credit to Kevin Scott, the stunt coordinator and his team of guys. These guys are some of the most incredible stunt guys I have ever seen, and the stunts that they did are—for an actor to try to take credit away from these guys would be a fucking crime. These guys are geniuses and not only are they incredibly physically coordinated and talented, but they sacrifice their bodies a lot for what they did. One guy shattered his ribs and punctured his lung. It’s not CGI, these guys just threw themselves down these cliffs. When you see it, you can tell that it’s not a special effect. I think one of the reasons why Lone Survivor is so powerful is because when those cliff falls happen, we can tell that’s real. You can tell that they are really falling down those cliffs and that those are human beings.
Switching gears for a second, you are a new father now. Congrats.
Have you found yourself lapsing into any sort of dad behaviors—telling bad jokes or falling asleep at inopportune times?
Well I always tell bad jokes anyways, so now I just have an excuse for it. I think it affects everybody differently. Maybe some guys start telling better jokes. It’s not very likely though.
As a former teen heartthrob, did you ever have a crush on another teen heartthrob?
A crush on another teen heartthrob? [long pause] Strangely enough, I think I liked a lot of girls that were doing it, but I don’t know if… I’ve always thought Kristin Stewart was just adorable. I felt that she was really sweet in Into the Wild, and she was really great. Seeing her in all those Twilight movies, she’s just so stunning. I think that’s the closest to a crush on a teen heartthrob that I’ve had. Or did you mean dudes?
What are the odds of a Speed Racer sequel happening?
Zero. That movie lost 200 million dollars.
Damn. That sucks. I really liked that movie.
Thank you. I loved the movie, too. I think it’s fucking hilarious and fun. It’s one of those movies that had visionary filmmakers behind it, but for whatever reason, it lost 200 million dollars. So, we probably won’t make a sequel. I love the Wachowskis though.I’m really looking forward to Jupiter Ascending, their next movie.
I heard that you’re playing John Belushi.
Yeah, I am.
Are you playing fat John Belushi?
It’s gonna be early John Belushi but, you know, yeah.
So what’s your method for gaining weight?
I haven’t really started it yet. So I’ll probably explore a lot of different options.
It’s a different type of gaining weight than getting in shape for Lone Survivor.
Yeah, it’s a whole different ball game.
How did you get involved with that?
They just called me, and I met with the director. I thought it was a great script and we’ll see what happens. It’s sort of one of those things where I realized everyone’s got a fascination with it. But I try to dodge every question when people ask me about Belushi because I don’t wanna say anything before I make it. It’s almost like a magician talking about a magic act before he does it. I wanna wait and then make it. You understand, probably? I understand why people are so interested. It’s John Belushi. The guy is incredible.
Outside of a filming environment, could you beat your Lone Survivor costar Taylor Kitsch in a foot race?
No, well, me and him actually raced. The last part of the race, that last final shot of the two of us running, all the crew was putting money down. It was like a full-blown sprint race. It was probably 100 yards. Pete put a lot of money down on me. Pete lost some money on me. I have never ran faster in my entire life than in that shot in the movie. Never. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was fucking running as hard as I could. Taylor, I gotta give it to him, he’s an incredible fucking athlete. The guy is a physical fucking specimen.
Is there an old haircut you’ve had that you wish could be banished from the Internet’s memory?
Let me think here. Yeah, just the cheesy 80’s hair. Which now I love, like ironically. I had really cheesy 80’s hair in Prince Avalanche, which is just awesome. It’s like Kurt Russell feathered. But there’s a couple of pictures where I’m like, “Man, that’s corny!” But at the same time, if you sit around looking at pictures of your old hairstyles from years ago, you probably need to get your head examined versus your hair.