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.
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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.