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Speed Racer - Emile Hirsch interview

Emile Hirsch plays Speed Racer

Interview by Rob Carnevale

EMILE Hirsch about the appeal of Speed Racer and working with the Wachowski brothers and why he feels it will help him to continue making more independent movies.

He also talks about why his preparation for the film enabled him to hang out with a Nascar legend and why working on green screen wasn’t quite so easy for him as it was for some of his co-stars.

Q. What was the appeal of Speed Racer?
Emile Hirsch: I was a really big fan of the [original Japanese] show. Even when I was six-years-old, I used to watch it every morning. And when I first saw The Matrix in theatres, it was one of the most incredible experiences I ever had watching a movie with the Wachowski brothers. Those two elements were so extraordinary on their own that the idea of putting them together seemed like it would be a fantastic film.

Q. What were the ups and downs of working with so much green screen?
Emile Hirsch: I wish I could agree with my fellow cast members that it was all completely good times but I find it very, very frustrating working on green screen. So, it was great that we had such a wonderful group of actors, cast and crew and we all got along so well. But there were a lot of parts of the process of working on green screen that were just downright maddening.

For me to leave the green screen and join the rest of the cast was actually a vacation because there was this thing called a gimbal, which is what we did all the car scenes in, and you’re basically locked in this chamber by yourself that can shake you really violently and give you almost borderline whiplash. I spent 20 days alone in this thing and so it was kind of like solitary confinement at times. I’d get out and say: “Hey everybody, I’m back!”

Q. Was the finished movie anything like you’d been expecting?
Emile Hirsch: Well, when I first read the script I read it with the idea that it was going to be in the same frame as The Matrix. You just naturally go to what you know. But the tone of the script was quite a bit different from The Matrix, so I wondered how it was going to actually look. But it wasn’t until the brothers actually showed me some of the test footage that they had been creating to get the movie green-lit in the first place that I realised just how different it was. It was only about three or four minutes of footage but when I saw it, it really just blew my mind and made me much, much more excited about the film. It was something new that I’d never seen before. I always find the unknown more exciting.

Q. Did you take part in any training for the race scenes?
Emile Hirsch: I knew we were going to shoot it on green screen and that also the cars were so fantastical that any kind of normal training wouldn’t really apply. So, I went and played a lot of simulators and video games and I got pretty good at those. And then I got hooked up with this Nascar guy in the United States, named Jimmy Johnson, and he invited me out to the Texas Motor Speedway for one of his races and it was great. He showed me the way the cars are put together and we went to the press conference before the race and got to meet some of the drivers and see all the safety rules. We also went in the put [lane] during the race, so it was really wild. Oh, and we also did a little go-karting too [smiles].

Q. You’ve become known for developing your career through independent movies [Alpha Dog/Into The Wild] and in this movie you’re fighting a big corporation. Did you not feel a little bit conflicted?
Emile Hirsch: The irony of it was not lost on me at all. But I weighed the irony versus actually getting the chance to work with the Wachowski brothers and play a character that doesn’t sell out. So, it tipped the scale the other way. I was very, very excited to be a part of such a unique group of people who were doing things the way they’re doing them. But I still hope I can continue to make the films I was making before. And the way the film industry is working right now means that doing films like this also helps the smaller ones and become kind of enablers. So, I think this is a really positive thing.

Read our review of Speed Racer

Read our interview with Susan Sarandon