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Capone talks breathing life into THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, with actor Emile Hirsch!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

Actor Emile Hirsch has always been someone whose next move is far from predictable. Although the films he’s been in aren’t always great (and many of them are, I hasten to mention), it’s clear from his choices that he is making decision on roles based on his belief that each film has something different to say than most others that are being made. He’s one of the few genuine risk takers in or out of Hollywood, and he has been since I first spotted him nearly 15 years ago in THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS, followed a couple years later with lead roles in LORDS OF DOGTOWN and ALPHA DOG.

But it was as Chris McCandless in INTO THE WILD that changed a lot of audiences perception of Hirsch’s capabilities and depth as an actor. He followed that up with solid performances in visually insane SPEED RACER, MILK, TAKING WOODSTOCK, KILLER JOE, SAVAGES, THE MOTEL LIFE, and as one of my favorite on-screen goofballs in David Gordon Green’s PRINCE AVALANCHE.

Just before 2016 ends, Hirsch returns in the richly textured and truly terrifying THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, which has been impressing festival audiences for months now, and will be in select cities and on VOD platforms beginning December 21. The film comes from director Andre Ovredal, the Norwegian filmmaker who gave us the 2010 cult hit TROLLHUNTER, and it centers on father-son coroners (Brian Cox and Hirsch), who work together in their rather retro-looking morgue on the bodies of the recently deceased, including a Jane Doe, who has apparently been murdered, although there are no signs of trauma. But as the pair begin their morbid work, her body reveals to them a horrifying story that cross over from the world of the dead into the world of the living. If you were afraid that the horror offerings were going to trail off in terms of quality at the end of 2016, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE should set your mind at ease. This is the real deal and is a great, genuinely scary film with which to end an excellent year in horror.

I had the chance to chat with Emile Hirsch via phone recently about JANE DOE, working with a veteran like Cox, and what it was like acting opposite a lifeless corpse for days on end. I’d met Hirsch once before at SXSW Film Festival a few years back for PRINCE AVALANCHE, and it was an interview I’m sure he remembers not one bit, since he was practically falling out of his chair from being ill and running a skyrocketing fever. We joked about that off-mic for a few seconds and then dove into talking about the film. Please enjoy my talk with Emile Hirsch…

Capone: Hi, Emile. How are you?

Emile Hirsch: Hey, how you doing?

Capone: Good, man. I have to wonder, the way THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE unfolds, I would imagine that reading this screenplay for the first time might have actually been quite scary. Was that your experience?

EH: Yeah. Once I got into the script and I read it alone, in a very secluded place, it had a weird, hypnotic, haunting effect on me, and it was very unsettling in my first encounter with it. Later, when I became a crew member in the haunted house, so to speak, it didn’t have the same effect on me that it does for people who haven't seen it, who get to see it for the first time, like when I read the script for the first time.

Capone: One of the most intriguing things about the film too is that at its core is this father/son relationship that’s about to transition into something different because your character is on the verge of making a life-altering decision. There’s a family drama going on in the middle of this supernatural thing. Was that something you dug about it?

EH: Yeah, it certainly made it a little bit more character based, and allowed some things for actors to play around with than maybe a typical, running around through the halls screaming. Now we have running around though the halls screaming, plus a little crying [laughs], so it was good. Essentially, it’s a very limited location, and it’s just Olwen [Catherine Kelly, who plays Jane Doe], Brian Cox, and myself, and it really is a performance piece, which is incredible if you think about it.

It doesn’t really rely on effects or a lot of the typical gimmicks that horror movies might rely on or scary movies in general might rely on. This one is much more about a mystery and creating a burning question in the audience’s mind that they want to have answered. Almost like Sherlock Holmes. I love Sherlock Holmes. I love mysteries and thrillers. If you’re someone that likes that and I’m that type of person, this is a very satisfying horror movie. A lot of horror movies they don’t have that intelligence or that sense of mystery to them or the detective sense where you’re trying to put pieces together or put the clues together, and this has that.

Capone: The more you and Brian get into the autopsy, the more you’re unveiling what’s going on. Acting opposite a corpse, your reactions to her give the corpse life and give it a little personality. Was that a unique experience, to act opposite a lifeless body?

EH: It was. It was unsettling and very creepy. It’s one thing to go about your day and occasionally every now and then, you think about your impending mortality and you contemplate it. But to go to work every day and be staring at it, it’s unsettling, and it can put you in almost an existential limbo. And Owen Kelly, the actress who played Jane Doe, was really committed to the part. She didn’t really talk to Brian or I at all. She didn’t really talk at all. She just came in, disrobed, and was totally still. She really was serious about what she was doing. It was really fascinating seeing it, because she could have easily been super chatty and talkative, but she wasn’t. I think she really wanted to capture that dead quality.

Capone: What did you just learn from working with Brain Cox, observing him, and getting to know him a little bit. He certainly makes everything he does look easy.

EH: I think you said it really well just now when you said he makes everything look easy, because I would always observe him, and it was like he couldn’t make a false move. It was really interesting. Sometimes when I’ll do scenes, I’ll do something and be like, “That really doesn’t work for me.” But Brian, it was like any choice he can make was good. It’s an amazing talent that he has. He just makes everything look natural and effortless. He’s very funny as well. He’s got a very wide breadth of experience that he brings to the table, and a good sense of humor along with it. We just had a good time.

Capone: When you two are doing the first autopsy that we see, you work really well together. You’re really smooth, working around each other. How much training and rehearsal did you do to make that look like something you both had been doing for years?

EH: We had a fair amount of generalized rehearsal before the shoot, but not a lot, because the scenes were so long and they’re so technical, it’s not really something that would be very fun to come in and rehearse. So we would really block it out in the morning and go over it and over it, and the blocking would solidify, and we would work with this medical examiner steward and really be getting down exactly what the proper medical procedures would be. So it would just be about refining and refining. The director Andre is a really particular, detail-oriented director, so that really helped, because he was just hyper aware of every little detail.

Capone: Andre has made a couple of films before, but the one he’s probably best known for is more of the found-footage film TROLLHUNTER, whereas your film is this beautiful, atmospheric work that is he complete opposite in terms of the aesthetic. Were you familiar with his earlier work?

EH: TROLLHUNTER was something I hadn’t seen until I read the script, and they said Andre was directing it, and they were like “He’s this really talented, up-and-coming director. So I contacted a friend of mine who was a journalist and a film reviewer, and I asked him, “What’s the deal with this guy?” And he goes, “You have to see TROLLHUNTER. It’s fantastic.” So I watched it and I really, really liked it. It’s got a really creative, innovative, scrappy sensibility to it, but it also felt like it was directed by the next Peter Jackson. It felt like it had a grand vision, even though it was on a smaller scale, and it felt like it had a real feeling of a ride, which is something that on a genre film is really key, because nobody wants to see a horror movie drama where it’s very heavy and there’s no ride, At least I don’t.

Capone: I know it’s played a few festivals. Have you had a chance to watch it with an audience? Because that’s really where a movie like this comes to life.

EH: It was a really wild time watching it at Fantastic Fest, and it won Best Horror Film there, which was really cool. Seeing it in the audience, and just hearing everyone’s reactions…what was interesting about Fantastic Fest is at the Alamo Drafthouse theater which is so fantastic. You can order food…

Capone: Oh I’m familiar with the Alamo. I’m actually flying down to Austin tomorrow to watch movies there.

EH: It’s so good. People are ordering food, and you can hear the forks clinking, and the forks just stop clinking so quickly into the movie. And then you hear the barf bags in teh room filling of air [laughs]. I’m exaggerating there, but the audience was pretty traumatized by the end, but they loved it, and it ended up winning, so that was a really cool screening to go to.

Capone: Fantastic Fest is actually where I saw TROLLHUNTER for the first time. It was a secret screening years ago.

EH: The other thing that was also really crazy is right after this trailer came out online, it went totally viral; it got like 10 million or more views. It was a pretty cool testament to how scary the trailer is that it caught on so quickly. A movie as small as this one getting 10 million hits out of nowhere is pretty incredible.

Capone: People are hungry for good horror. Emile, thank you so much. It was great to talk to you, and best of luck with this.

EH: Thank you, thank you. And next time, I’ll be even less sick.

-- Steve Prokopy
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