There's not a shred of rhetoric in his voice. Emile speaks in a monotone, without emphasis, in short, brief phrases. Here's how he recalls his childhood. "I spent a lot of time in New Mexico when I was a kid. I used to climb the mountains and we would camp in remote, rugged places".
-"The talent of Emile" by ALESSANDRA VENEZIA.
L'UOMO VOGUE ITALIAN EDITION PHOTOSHOOT, 2009 MARCH:
After a number of well-regarded but barely seen films including Lords of Dogtown and Alpha Dog, he won raves for his riveting, emaciated work in director Sean Penn's Into the Wild. (Into the Wild) was the first time I did something people were aware of on a larger scale," says Hirsch, who remains close to Penn. The two recently worked on the biopic Milk, which stars Penn as assassinated gay rights activist and San Francisco mayor Harvey Milk. It's a world or two removed from the eye-popping cityscapes of Cosmopolis, where Speed Racer unfolds. What does Penn think about his protege headlining such a commercial, mass-market property? "I think he's probably pretty excited about it," Hirsch says.
"That was what totally changed the equation. One of my favourite movie-going experiences was when I was 13 and I saw The Matrix. I love that movie so much; I was so blown away. They're more artistic and independent than a lot of people who call themselves independent artists," he says, adding, "And I wanted to sell out."
Remembers producer Joel Silver of finding their Speed, "We saw all the young hot guys in town, but we hadn't seen Into the Wild yet -- it hadn't come out. But (the Wachowskis) felt he had all the qualities Speed had -- he was handsome, genuine, ambitious, forthright ... They thought he was Speed."
Once Hirsch was in place, the cast quickly filled out: Christina Ricci as Speed's girlfriend Trixie, Susan Sarandon and Goodman as his racing-in-their-veins parents, and Matthew Fox as Racer X, an enigmatic rival who may be Speed's presumed-dead brother, Rex Racer.
Altogether, they shot for 60 days outside of Berlin on green-screen soundstages. The film's trippy, colour-drenched vistas were then added digitally in post-production.
Coming off his intensely visceral experience making Into the Wild, Hirsch recalls, "There's no real way to make the transition. You're thrown into this other world. Green screen kind of sucks the life out of you a little bit, so you've got to be constantly battling that and trying to rejuvenate yourself. It can be a really soul-sucking activity. It's known for that. But that's part of the deal. 'You know you're shooting on green screen, right? Prepare yourself for Hell.' For Into the Wild, shooting in nature is so much fun and so giving and you're rejuvenated at the end of every day. (Working with green screen) you're constantly going outside when you can and becoming really tight with all the people on the crew and having that sense of camaraderie -- that's what can give you your energy back."
He is similarly circumspect about fame and celebrity. "I don't try to keep my distance. It's a world you're involved. If you live here, you're in the town. You don't want to be some weird loner in a trailer 100 miles out of town, damning Hollywood -- that's too much."
Emile Hirsch between Susan Sarandon and Christina Ricci.
And unnecessary, says Sarandon, who believes Young Hollywood's predilection for bad behaviour has been exaggerated thanks to a few repeat rehabbers.
"I worked with Natalie Portman (when she was young), with Jake Gyllenhaal on one of his first movies, my daughter's starting out (acting). There's a certain group of people who have gotten into a certain lifestyle because they don't have enough to do or they're not talented enough. But there's a whole cadre of young actors who are working really hard and really well and they show up and they're pros."
Says Hirsch, "You just want to keep your head and not be a jerk. It's simple. There's no complex formula. You just want to be someone who, if you met them, you would not dislike."
That extends, appropriately enough, to his behaviour on the road. "I'm a safe driver," he says. "Conservative and safe."