The Playlist: After doing "Speed Racer" and returning to more character-driven movies, what about this project made you want to return to that scale of filmmaking?
Emile Hirsch: What had happened was I saw "Avatar" right when it came out. I saw it in the [Cinerama] Dome at the Arclight and I just loved it so much and it totally fueled my wanting to do a sci-fi 3D movie. And then this script came along, and it was kind of perfect because I was riding the spell of seeing "Avatar" four or five times in the theater – I was super addicted to it. And I love all of James Cameron’s movies, but I grew up on Cameron sci-fi, Spielberg, and I watched a lot that stuff. But even though "Speed Racer" was action and CG, it wasn’t sci-fi, so it was kind of exciting for me to tackle that world...but also the Moscow element – they were like, yeah, it’s going to be this wild adventure in Moscow. That was really a big appeal to me because if it was just set in the middle of this random place in the U.S. it just wouldn’t have been as exciting. And also for an audience, too, I think it’s more interesting. Moscow is weird because it’s one of these major cities that I feel like most people don’t know that much about. Paris and London get a lot of attention, but it’s like Moscow doesn’t quite get as much attention. And it’s huge – I mean, it’s big. It is so big.
Is the kind of acting work you have to do for a movie like this the same as you would do on "Into the Wild" or "Taking Woodstock"?
It’s not as much pure dialogue kind of character work as those other films, but there’s a lot of running around and intensity, and you don’t want to have [the character] over the top when he’s scared. Finding the realism of the fear and the tone of what the character is doing, even if you’re looking around the corner scared, you can play that wrong really easily, so that was tricky trying to get that stuff. And then I also wanted the character to seem as witty as possible. If you’re going to be a young man protagonist in an action movie or something like that and you’re not ripped, you want to have the character be a little witty. That was what was so great about Shia [La Beouf] in the "Transformers" movies, that he’s so witty and he’s so funny. Because the thing is that I don’t usually like watching young men in action movies, but if they bring something different – because they can’t compete with like a big, buff guy with an M-16.
So can we assume that there a lot of humor in the film?
Yeah, there is. They brought on the guys who did "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" [Chris Miller and Phil Lord] just to look at it and just see if there are opportunities for jokes. But [the humor] was something Chris [Gorak] and I would work on with the actors, too. Like we’d be rehearsing and constantly improvising and just trying to come up with jokes and try to make it sharper and sharper. We really wanted -- because there’s not an insane amount of dialogue -- we wanted the dialogue especially pre-invasion to have a fun snap to [it]. That was pretty important to me.
How important was it that these characters are aspiring businessmen, in terms of the role being more grown up than if you were just playing a student?
It kind of fit, because within the business partnership, Max is the more responsible one and I’m the more outside-the-box one. It’s kind of been a problem within their business, but the two qualities that the guys have work very well off of each other in surviving. It’s like a business partnership, surviving, and they’re scheming together, and the innovative ways that my character thinks about his business and stuff comes in very handy.
But do you specifically want to make sure your characters are more adult now?
No, no. It’s just the way it was written. And obviously if it was a high school kid, it wouldn’t be as cool. But I liked the idea of the whole businessperson – they just got out of college and they’re just trying to start their first company. That’s something you don’t see a lot of; usually it’s just high school or college or something like that. It’s kind of fun to explore that stage right after.
"The Darkest Hour" opens on December 23rd. --Todd Gilchrist