Emile Hirsch
Photo by Alex de Brabant

Emile Hirsch: “That’s why I am the way I am”

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Short Profile

Name: Emile Davenport Hirsch
DOB: 13 March 1985
Place of birth: Topanga, California, United States
Occupation: Actor

Emile Hirsch stars in Son, in theaters, and on digital and on-demand on 5 March 2021.

Mr. Hirsch, has the way you choose your film roles changed as you’ve gotten older?

The thing is that, as actors, we have so little control over what we’re offered. If no one offers you movies, then you can't do a movie. So, you get sent these scripts, but you have only so much control over what options you even have. So, to narrow your idea of what you want to do, it's tricky because you can end up setting yourself up to not doing anything. So for me, scripts come in, and I read them, and if I think it’s cool, I’ll do it. It’s whatever I want to do in the moment. One thing I’ve noticed is that I like to work more!

What do you mean?

When I was younger, I would only want to sign onto one movie at a time, and the movies that I did were separated by like big time periods. But I noticed the older I get, I like having a busy schedule a lot more than I used to. Now I'll sign on to two or three movies in a row. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the hectic nature of going back and forth. Sometimes I have just one day off between films. Recently I wrapped on a Saturday, flew on a Sunday, landed, went to fitting that day… 25 year old me would have thought that was absolutely unimaginable — but actually I've grown to like it. And not only do I like it, but I feel like it keeps me more relaxed.

“When the lights go down and you're in a movie theater, is it good or not? I try to keep that as my ultimate test.”

It seems like there’s been a shift in terms of which projects you’re drawn to — you seem to be more interested in smaller independent films these days.

Yeah, I mean, I was always the kid in the video store just running to every section all the time; action, horror, comedy, drama… I like genre movies, too. I like it all. But I feel like some of the smaller films I've worked on, like Prince Avalanche with Paul Rudd, that movie could never be a studio movie, you know? That just would never happen. So if I want to make movies like that, they're going to be a little bit smaller. That's just the way it goes. I just want to make a great film and I’m not necessarily concerned with the size of it. It’s more like: when the lights go down and you're in a movie theater, is it good or not? I try to keep that as my ultimate test. Because you can make a movie with like $100,000, and if it's good, it's really good.

And a $50 million movie isn’t necessarily any good.

Right, and a $50 million movie, if it's bad, it may get you nowhere, so you'll watch Clerks and be like, “That was a hundred times better.” (Laughs)

Do you think these smaller films have been beneficial for you as an actor in terms of developing your skills? Do you get more freedom to experiment?

I don't know. I guess there's as much freedom and experimentation as the director wants. Experimenting is fun, and I’m totally down to do something like that if that’s what the director wants. But I also enjoy being a team player and showing up and having good dialogue, you know? It's still fun to just show up and say the lines as written — as long as they're good lines.

There was a fair bit of improvisation from you during the filming of Into The Wild, right?

That was interesting! Like, Sean gave me so much freedom, I mean, almost every single line in the Alaska sequences is improvised. So much of that movie was about improvising, creating little scenarios or moments… And I really, really enjoyed it. And I feel like I’ve been able to carry some of those little lessons I learned back then with me. I worked on The Comeback Trail recently and DeNiro he was improvising like crazy! It was so much fun to have those one-on-one scenes with him, he’s one of the greatest actors ever, so to be able to improvise with him was so cool.

Apparently your time spent filming Into The Wild changed your perception of Hollywood.

I feel like that film was definitely like a turning point for me in my life. Part of it was just the age, I was like 21 turning 22, and it was sort of a coming of age, I suppose. I'll be 36 soon, so I guess it was a while ago… But it was a really magical time. And if anything, I appreciate Hollywood more because that’s the industry that produced that movie. And so many people over the years have told me it touched them or changed their lives in some way. I'm really grateful to have been a part of that film. So, you know, Hollywood might get ragged on a lot, but that's the industry that made that possible.

But still, I’m sure it can be fulfilling in more ways than one to have a bit of a break from the Hollywood film circuit.

Without a doubt! I mean, take The Autopsy of Jane Doe, for example. Even though it's a smaller movie, Tarantino saw that film, and that was actually why he wanted me for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. People in the industry are still watching these films, even if they’re smaller. It’s kind of a funny thing; making that weird movie, who would have known Tarantino would watch that one? I mean, I had no idea! (Laughs) And that was a riveting experience to work on as an actor as well because Ivan Kavanaugh is very confident about what he likes in terms of performance. He knows how to help actors get there. And when I worked with him again on Son, everyone down to the supporting actors, is really good, even if they have tiny roles. He puts a lot of care into the cast, and I think that that's really important.

Is that something you’ve noticed is lacking in the film industry?

Well, not all filmmakers put that much time and care into getting even the tiniest parts well cast. I notice it sometimes when I watch movies. A perfect example of a director that always gets it right no matter what is David Fincher. Every single part in a Fincher movie is always so well cast and so well done. Even if someone only has one line! I think it sort of speaks to his meticulousness, and Ivan is really the same way.

“I'm always grateful to just be working, period. And I feel like that kind of gratitude is good. It always keeps me showing up and excited.”

Do you prefer that your connection to Hollywood these days is through your work with directors like Quentin Tarantino or Sean Penn?

Do I prefer it? That's a good question. I don't know. It sort of is what it is. It's such a tricky business to consistently work in, that I'm pretty much just always grateful to just be working, period, you know? And I feel like having that kind of gratitude to just be working at all is good. It always keeps me showing up and excited. I think what would be ultimately really toxic for an actor is if they just genuinely didn't want to be working, if they don't want to be there making the movie, or if they're making it for the wrong reasons…

Is it safe to say you’ve never had that experience?

I've been very fortunate. No matter the film I've done, there's always something about it that has grabbed me and kept me excited.

Would you say that the films you’ve worked on in the past few years have well represented the place you’re in in your life?

Well, considering some of the parts that played are a little shady, I hope that's not too representative! (Laughs) But, you know, my son is seven years old now, and I do feel like being a parent definitely changes things. Like the part that I played in Freaks, and I play a father in Midnight in the Switchgrass and I played a father in Never Grow Old. And I feel like that would have been totally different trying to play those roles because it would have been so foreign. I do feel like being with being a parent… It's not just about you anymore. Your kid is always your priority. Maybe that balances things a little bit or something. Maybe that's why I am the way I am now.

Has becoming a dad also changed your energy as an actor?

I think it’s changed my energy in everything. I think in terms of acting, I’m a bit more relaxed, I’m more mellow. That teenage angst that can last well into your twenties… I don't have that anymore. It’s a totally different ballgame, and I’m super grateful for that.