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Interview: Emile Hirsch for "Speed Racer"

By Paul Fischer Friday May 2nd 2008 12:36AM
Emile Hirsch for "Speed Racer"

It's been quite the career for Emile Hirsch, first working with Sean Penn and now with the iconic but highly reclusive Wachowski Brothers. But the young actor wouldn't have it any other way. Paul Fischer reports.

Question: So is the movie 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.

Question: Were you loving the green screen experience?

Hirsch: There are no sets or props. It's like your doing "Waiting for Godot" or something.

Question: Was it disorienting?

Hirsch: Yeah. You're like, wow!

Question: 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 auggghh. 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).

Question: Acting difference between this and Into the Wild?

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.

Question: 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. 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 Spridel 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.

Question: 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. (scrunches his face). It's like Inspector Detector suspected foul play but nothing could be proved, and then you're like (another look of disbelief). Or like, I was tooling timing pins with Pops. I was tooling timing pins on a temperature of tips.

Question: Why do you like to play outsider types?

I Hirsch: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: Was it your choice to make the Speed Racer sideways move?

Hirsch: No. That was a to the show. It was great. 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.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: Are you a good driver?

Hirsch: Yeah. I try to be pretty good.

Question: Do you like to drive fast?

Hirsch: Not so much.

Question: Ever got a ticket?

Hirsch: No. He's like never? You wuss.

Question: What was your first car? What do you drive now? What do you wish you could drive.

Hirsch: My first car was a blue Ford Festiva. The car I drive now is a black Toyota Pruis. And the car I wish I could drive, I'd like to drive a tricked out Mach 5. (laughter) Let's all get the studio to get me one. Can you imagine driving one of those? Especially if it went 180. It would be so much fun. Vrooom!

Question: Did you go to a real racetrack?

Hirsch: I didn't actually drive racecars but me and my buddy Frankie went to a NASCAR simulator at Universal CityWalk, which was fun and beat a bunch of tourists. Hollywood-2; Idaho-O. Then we went to Texas, me and my buddy. We got in contact with the pro, Jimmie Johnson, and went to the Texas Motor Speedway, and he gave us a whole tour behind the scenes and the races and the pit. We saw everything and met all these drivers. We were driving around Texas. And we went to this huge arena and we got to be right in the pit for this big race and it was awesome. We were RIGHT in there.

Question: What is the must have feature on your tricked out Mach 5?

Hirsch: Jump jacks. I'd be like, Vroom. Forget the traffic.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: What's it like working with Sean Penn as a co-star?

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 (pause) except for this one time... No, I'm kidding.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

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