Published at: May 13, 2008, 6:37 p.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
Emile was at the screening we went to at the Bridge. So was most of the cast. They were just hanging out at the edge of things. My son was with me, and this was a big night out for him. He’d spent the time before the movie charming the Warner publicists who were there. I let him work the crowd for me now... he’s better at it. He talked to Goodman. He talked to Silver. He made sure he got heard. But the one person who stopped him cold... Emile Hirsch.
Toshi saw him and hid behind me. He wasn’t scared so much as he was in awe. He’d just seen Emile win all the races. He knows Speed Racer when he sees him. He wouldn’t go talk to him. He just wanted to stay in the lobby where he could see him for a while, and then finally he let us leave. On the way home, he told us all about seeing Speed Racer there in person. As far as he was concerned, that was a documentary, because the real people were there at the theater where he could see them. So Speed Racer is totally real to him.
The next day, I saw Emile at the same convention center where I interviewed Joel Silver. Between the interviews, I went outside to watch some cars make a lap in the Long Beach Grand Prix, and then I went back inside. I was told just before the interview that Emile was excited. “He’s been reading the site since 1998. He was 12.” And with that rattling around in my head, I walk in, take a seat, and wait no more than two minutes before Emile walks in, all smiles.
Emile: Yo. What’s goin’ on? Did he dig it?
Moriarty: He flipped!
Emile: I read that he loved the trailers though...
Moriarty: He did. He’s been... this is the first time he’s ever been hyped for something. Like aggressively excited for something for like six months before it came out. It’s funny because he, um, talked to Goodman last night...
Emile: He did?
Moriarty: He walked up to him and called him “Pops” and then walked away. He just said “Hi, Pops,” like he was playing a scene in the movie and walked away. But he was intimidated by you.
Moriarty: He saw you and I said, “Who’s that?”
“Wanna say hi?”
(shakes his head)
Emile: Really?! Why?! (laughing)
Moriarty: I think he was just... he was really... he was sooooo into the movie. The racing blew his mind. He had to stand during every race. He would sit during the talking, but he would stand through the races and we couldn’t touch him. He was in his own world. We couldn’t bother him during any races.
Emile: That was so cool. Could you imagine what...
Moriarty: I can’t imagine what it looks like to him because, as an adult, I think it’s really... remarkable. The finished product is remarkable.
Moriarty: ... and drugs are redundant. I would say that to anyone who was like, “Dude, I am gonna get high to see that.”
Dude... you don’t need to!
Emile: It is so trippy that you would do drugs and then you would watch it and be like, “It’s totally normal. I felt like I was sober.” It would be like two negatives.
Moriarty: It is... it’s something else, and I love that so often when you see these kinds of movies, you’ll see in the trailers the really visually aggressive stuff, and then you’ll see that in about 15 minutes of the movie, and the movie is, like, regular. This movie never stops. There is not a single moment of this movie where they haven’t designed the world, the look and the feel...
Emile: ... and the colors pop and everything is like digitally...
Moriarty: How did they talk to you guys about the reality of this? Because you are all playing this certain tone... like I think Matthew... I’ve never seen him do anything like this. He is so funny in this, and so right on, and there is this sincerity...
Emile: When he, when he pops the car and punches the guy... I mean, that is one of the, like, classic moments. He is just like “BWOO,” and he drives off and he is like “HA HA.”
Moriarty: He looks like he is having a blast, which I don’t know if I’ve ever seen from him.
Emile: Yeah, yeah.
Moriarty: What was the... because there is a sincerity to it, the film really means it, and it is not snarky and it is not winking at you and it is not making fun of SPEED RACER. It is sincere.
Emile: For my part... I mean, all the actors got there in different ways. For me, I was just, like... you know, I played in all these serious movies like, y’know, INTO THE WILD and all this stuff. And just because this is a bit of a different film, I’m gonna take it just as seriously as I done everything else and try to be just as good as I have... just as good as I’ve been able to be in anything else. IF anybody thought I was good... if you know what I mean. So it was really just, it was really just putting yourself into the role, into the world, y’know? Taking it seriously and... ‘cause I always feel that if you give that extra something to movies like these... usually they don’t get serious acting or anything like that... it just makes the races that much better, it makes the world that much more real for everyone.
Moriarty: Well, ultimately, it is a really sweet film about family and about the idea... it’s weird because I am getting letters from my dad about stuff of mine that he reads, that he likes and that he reacts to, and at the same time, I am watching my son start to figure out what he likes in the world, and I think there is something very potent about as a parent watching your kid find their place in the world. That’s all this ultimately is, and that is something that, special effects aside, you either buy the family or you don’t buy the family, and I think you guys work well together as a group. It’s a fun group of people.
Emile: Yeah and it’s, it’s interesting because it’s all... that is all real, y’know? Like we all hang out as... like last night, we were all in the hotel across the street getting ready, and it was literally the whole family except for Spritle and Chim Chim because Paulie isn’t here and Chim-Chim is somewhere probably working right now. But it was like the Racer family with Sparky and we were just hanging out and that’s like kind of the bonds that have grown and hopefully if we’re gonna make some sequels, y’know, that’ll continue.
Moriarty: I like that they didn’t quite resolve the Rex story. We know as an audience, but you guys don’t know, so there are a lot of threads still left in the air. I think there is room for to come back to it. How was it for you, because you walked off of INTO THE WILD onto this. That was the other extreme of film making.
Moriarty: Was that good for you? Are you glad you did that before so that you had all that reality to hold onto while shooting green screen, or is it just..?
Emile: I’ve thought about this before, and I think what it was... I don’t think I could’ve ever made SPEED RACER if I hadn’t made INTO THE WILD, because I don’t think I would’ve been strong enough to handle... not just the pressure but the mental exertion working with the Wachowskis... was really gonna take. Now Sean really gave me the experience of a lifetime and gave me a huge learning curve and everything and, um, made me a lot tougher, and I needed that going into a movie like this where it was every day, all day, the grind of the green screen, because green screen might seem easy because you aren’t climbing a mountain...
Moriarty: I think this is real theater. I think it is taking you back to the absolute core of what you do as an actor, which is you INVENT.
Emile: Yes! But there is something about not being outside or on a set... it can just suck the life out of you, y’know, so it’s really firing up your imagination. And I got a little bit spoiled by INTO THE WILD because it was like the mountain was right there, and I was lookin’ at it and smiling. This is like... you look at that green screen and you make it real...
Moriarty: That river was really cold, I am sure, and those...
Emile: See, there was no fakin’ anything.
Moriarty: I think what Sean said when I talked to him about INTO THE WILD was that Alaska humbles you...
Moriarty: ... and to have that kind of experience before you go into this kind of green screen created environment, it has to be something you carry...
Emile: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I would think about it all the time. Sometimes I would actually, I would just be stuck on the green screens somewhere, and I would just close my eyes and remember certain memories of just like, “Oh man, I remember when I was in the bus, looking outside, and there was a hummingbird, bushes, and the snow, and mountains... awesome...”
And then I would open my eyes and look in the mirror and I’d have like, Elvis’s hair and I was in, like, a tight leather jumpsuit caught on a gimbal, and it was just like... (unintelligible car sounds)... and thrashing me around and I was like, “Hoooo Doggy.”
Moriarty: When did you just... I understand that before the Wachowskis got the greenlight on this, they had to do a five or a six minute short to test the world out. Did you see that before you signed on?
Emile: Uh, yes... yes, I did.
Moriarty: And was that enough? Were you like...
Emile: I was like, “Oh My GOD, that is insane!” Um, and I had been a fan of the show growing up. I watched it when I was about 6 years old, and I was, like, super into it. I remember I used to have cereal, and I used to pour soda into the cereal because I never had milk. My dad was a lazy fucker, he never had any milk, so I would just eat it with soda every day and watch Speed Racer. Um... and then THE MATRIX, I saw THE MATRIX when I was about 13, and that was like...
Moriarty: I feel so old.
Emile: Hey! You’re a dad! You are allowed to feel old.
Moriarty: There you go.
Emile: ... and I literally was, like, gripping the sides of the theater, my mind was so blown, and as soon as I found out that not only they were making SPEED RACER, which I thought was cool, but the Wachowski brothers were making it?
Moriarty: You are in the position now where you are getting to work with... I mean, for me, just talking to Sean about INTO THE WILD was such a huge thing... to sit down and pick his brain for a half an hour, because I have... that guy has been an icon as long as I’ve been watching movies, and I am blown away by him and by the way he’s survived in this business. So, you know, to kind of be picked by him, ‘cause this is the kind of role that I imagine he would’ve played at a certain age...
Moriarty: ... and to be the guy who gets to carry the torch for him, who he puts through that experience, you are working with some guys now... you’re on a new level, I think, as an actor in terms of who you get to learn from and pick things up from and work with...
Emile: I mean, the people who I’ve been able to work with in the last two years alone... it’s just been unbelievable, y’know, the process of the whole kind of epic adventure with Sean in INTO THE WILD and then moving on with the Wachowski brothers and the wonderful cast of SPEED RACER and the technology involved was such a... it was something different. It was the other side of the spectrum. It was like, “Wow I knew so much about nature, and now I know how work with is a green screen. This is so weird.” And to go from that onto MILK with, like, Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn and ACTING with Sean is like... Sean: The Sequel, you know what I mean? It was so much different working with him as an actor, and it’s just, like, he is unbelievably talented...
Moriarty: And all three of those pictures were in development forever. There has been... I mean, as long as I have been in LA, they have been talking about doing a Harvey Milk film, and Joel was telling me it has been 20 years now that SPEED RACER has been in development, and INTO THE WILD... since the book was published, people have been trying to solve that, how to make it a film. The timing is very interesting, how they are all coming together now...
Emile: Absolutely, I lucked out so hard. I lucked out! I mean, y’know, I am very lucky that these kinds of projects are coming along. It’s a very narrow window. I mean, they have been trying to make SPEED RACER for 20 YEARS, and I just happened to be the right age, have the right look, and they wrote the part right now for this age... and the technology exists now...
Moriarty: I am curious to see how they will do these to keep Paulie Litt the right age for Spritle...
Emile: Yeah. To keep Paulie LITT-le.
Moriarty: Yeah. (laughs)
Emile: Although, honestly, I thought it would be cool to, you know, to have a grown up Spritle and Chim Chim. It would be hilarious. It would be amazing.
Moriarty: Well, it’s, it’s interesting that this is... a lot of times when they say “family films,” they mean “kid’s films.”
Emile: YEAH! YEAH!
Moriarty: I think this is a family film. I can picture... one of the big SPEED RACER fans I know is a guy who is older than me, who is like 45 now, and he grew up first generation with the show. When I told him that they had a toy at Toys’R’Us where you can open the Mach 5 and put Spritle and Chim Chim in the trunk, he was like, “ Get the fuck out. I’m buying one. I’m going tomorrow.” And my son is crazy about it as well, so it really is the kind of thing that I think speaks to a pretty wide age range. Cars are pretty universal; you don’t get over that...
Emile: Cars are just awesome. I’m someone who, when I was growing up, all I was into video game-wise was racing games. So there is just something about the race, and when you watch the races in movies, like, I wasn’t too crazy about some of those new STAR WARS FILMS, but the pod racing scene is kick-ass.
Emile: That’s amazing. I mean, that’s so dope.
Moriarty: What I think about this... what is really amazing about this is that they pulled off the “Car-fu.” Like I get what the moves are, and how you do this kind of driving, and by the end of it, you really understand the style of it. It’s not just random chaos. There are some very aggressive choices made in the flipping of cars, and it’s really groovy to see them pull that together.
Emile: I know. When they are in the archways and stuff... oh, and they are... and he is just doing the flips over the cars and jumping over the other cars... it’s just crazy, and the cars are like... sometimes they just seem so, so real.
Moriarty: There is stuff in this that you stop thinking of as effects work. I think that’s, uh, maybe the ultimate compliment you can pay John Gaeta and that team. You stop thinking about how they did it, and you just start buying it.
Emile: It’s so trippy. So trippy. You are just like... yeah... but the finale for me, The Grand Prix, was where I was, like, flipping out. I was just like... I can’t believe they did that.
Moriarty: Because we buy you guys as a family, it becomes... it’s genuinely emotional. The movie is genuinely emotional. What I loved in the first race, the visual way they sell that he is racing Rex, he’s chasing his memory. It carries a suprising punch. It’s not just an effect. There is something you are getting about the character, about the story there, and it’s a great visual, but...
Emile: It’s a hard visual to, to let people understand. A lot of people... it is something that they pulled off in just the right way, the ghost car.
Moriarty: Now, how are they? Because obviously they don’t talk to the press anymore and they build the Willy Wonka air of mystery around them, but once they invited you into the process, did you find them really approachable in terms of how they communicated what they wanted to you?
Emile: Yeah, I mean, the Wachowskis are super, super nice guys. So approachable, y’know? So friendly. We were just hanging out on set every day, just laughin’ it up. Constant jokes, constant fun stories, constant great intellectual conversation, you know... everything you would hope the Wachowskis are in your wildest dreams, they kind of are... in the best ways.
Moriarty: Very specific?
Emile: Very, very specific. Sometimes we would do quite a few takes, y’know. They really know what they want, every little nuance. They never let any little detail that they are not happy with slide, and that’s one of the ways they construct such precise movements. They are both very engaged in all parts of the process. Sometimes you think, “Well, he is just the writer and he’s the director.” It’s not like that, though. They are both into everything. A lot of times, one of them would just come up, like Andy would come up and give me a direction and go back, and on the next take Larry would come up and come back, and in the next take they BOTH come up and go back. They are playful and they run a really great ship and everyone loves them, y’know? And I think within the crew they are known as super, super nice.
Moriarty: I think it speaks well when you see the same guys want to come back and work with them over and over. There is a sort of a rolling community that comes along with them when they are working on their pictures.
Emile: Yeah, they keep a verrry tight crew.
Moriarty: Who knew they were funny?
Emile: They are hilarious.
Moriarty: The MATRIX movies are very serious movies and you don’t get any of that. They are really funny, and this time out, it’s... y’know, I think Spritle and Chim-Chim could be deadly in the wrong filmmaker’s hands...
Emile: Oh, yeah... awww...
Moriarty: They would just stop the movie cold, and you’d hate it. But they are actually really funny, and they got how to do it right.
Emile: Yeah, the monkey... Chim-Chim... yeah.
Moriarty: It is amazing that such visual film makers, such precise guys as that, would work with an animal as unpredictable as a...
Emile: That actually ended up as one of the really big catalysts for humor on that set... the Wachowskis, as precise as they are, working with, y’know, KIDS and a chimpanzee. Two of the hardest to control things on the planet. I mean, it was literally... they set themselves up. Like every day it was (weird voice) “Uhhh, the chimp’s not doing what they want it to do. We have to do another 40 takes. Ohhhh nooo.” I mean, it was truly hilarious watching the Wachowskis trying to work with this chimpanzee because it was so difficult for them, and the chimp would just jump up in the middle of the take and run around and, like, drink water. Dude, the fucking chimp in one of the takes... jumped up, jumped on Christina Ricci’s lap, felt her boob, jumped up on the other chair by me, picked up my glass of Diet Coke that I hadn’t sipped yet... and I was looking forward to sipping it... drank it while looking me in the eye, put it down, then ran over and jumped onto Royalton’s lap, reverse cowgirl style, and started humping his stomach. And Royalton was so freaked out but such a pro that he kept on saying his lines. He was like, “Oh, given the right opportunity, I have no doubt whatsoever,” and the chimp is like “Ehh, ehh, ehhhhhhhhhh.”
Moriarty: What do you say at that point?
Emile: You just go, “Wow, what a ridiculous job I have. I am pretending shit is here with a monkey and this craziness...”
Moriarty: Now, how much of the car...
Emile: I mean, it felt like a BONA FIDE circus some days on that set. It was like, “Wow, we are in the circus.” I am looking down, and I look like Elvis with leathers on and almost assless chaps, because it was so hot in the cock pit I just took the pants off, and I was just like... (whistles)... lookin’ around, nothin’s there except this huge robotic machine. I look over, there’s this quadrant of geeks who are like “Ehhh, buddy, we’re about to kick your ass in this video game.” Literally, Larry would come in, pick up the joystick, look at the controller like he was playing a video game, and I’m in the gimbal, and he controls it with the joystick...
Moriarty: That’s awesome
Emile: ... and he’d be like “Fire it up,” and it’d be like “Mmm mm mmm,” and I would be like... (unintelligible boy sounds signifying fast mechanical movement)
Moriarty: That’s kind of cool that a director can have that much hands-on control over the technical...
Emile: Yeah, he loved to take that thing hard, though. It was so funny.
Moriarty: Yeah, I bet that would be part of the fun. So what’s next, man? What are you doing after this?
Emile: After the Harvey Milk movie, I have no idea.
Emile: Yeah, well, I only finished recently. Finished about a month and a half ago, so right now I’m just chillin’.
Moriarty: Well, I really hope this takes off for you. I really hope to see more of these. I hope you guys come back and do it again.
Emile: Yeah, it’s wild.
Moriarty: It’s pretty special.
Emile: Well, I am so happy that you liked it, y’know? And it’s cool, too, because I love Ain’t It Cool News.Com.
* * * *
Short but fun. Hirsch strikes me as a guy who is really starting to figure out his place in this business, and who is smart enough to learn from these people he’s working with, and I think he’s in it for the long haul.
And if you have to ask me why I’m talking about my kid in terms of my experience with this film, then you probably haven’t seen the movie. The family stuff in the film, the father-son stuff, it suckerpunches me every time, and it’s one of the reasons I really like the movie. Sharing it with my son just makes it that much more special. I don’t fault a non-parent for not giving a shit about that, so I hope you don’t fault me for including it as part of my reaction to the film overall.
Thanks again to Anne and Warner Bros for putting me together with Emile and Joel, and to my new transcription elf Saffy for prepping the interview.
I’ve got a review of PRINCE CASPIAN and a few catch-up pieces to get to now, so let’s get that talkback started...