Emile Hirsch on Filming State of Consciousness by ‘A Friggin Volcano’

Emile Hirsch has had one of the more interesting careers of the many talented heartthrobs who arose at the turn of the millennium, and he’s outlasted most of them. It’s been two decades since his very good teen sex comedy, The Girl Next Door, and about 15 years since he won vast acclaim for Into the Wild, which kicked off an run of big films with great directors — Milk (Gus Vant Sant), Speed Racer (the Wachowski sisters), Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee), Killer Joe (William Friedkin), Savages (Oliver Stone), and Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green) among them.

These days, four or five films are released with Emile Hirsch every single year; in fact, two of them came out on the same day: Prey and State of Consciousness. “We shot it almost three years ago. So I’m prolific, but this one did kind of get bottlenecked with another release,” explained Hirsch about State of Consciousness. It’s a psychological thriller with some very morbid humor in which Hirsch plays the archetypal ‘wrong man’ role. A mechanic is wrongly accused of murder after a body is discovered in the trunk of a car he’s working on. From there, things move very fast and get pretty nuts.

Hirsch’s character is sent to a mental institution, but he can’t remember the time he spends there. When he is released, he’s convinced that he’s been operated on or tampered with, as odd events and flashbacks plague him every minute. From forgetting friends to being harassed by bikers, his reality is a mess, but there’s more to it than he thinks. Hirsch spoke with MovieWeb about the film, finding humor in its madness, and the wild production near an active volcano.

Emile Hirsch Gets in a Wild State of Consciousness

State of Consciousness


Release Date
March 15, 2024

Marcus Stokes

Emile Hirsch , Gaia Scodellaro , Tatjana Nardone , Michael E. Rodgers , Kesia Elwin

101 Minutes

Guillaume Tunzini , Dikran Ornekian , Rylend Grant

Hunter 11 Films , Iervolino & Lady Bacardi Entertainment Iervolino Entertainment

Lionsgate Films

Making any film is a kind of schizoid task — you shoot things out of order, acting out endings before beginnings, traveling to strange locations and pretending they’re somewhere else. You go into a character’s headspace for a bit, and then you’re back to your own reality. State of Consciousness takes this to an extreme, and has wild fun with its disorienting imagery and narrative. It’s not afraid to toss subtlety aside. And instead of being disturbed by delving into this, Hirsch had a blast.

“You know, getting into the headspace of where the character is kind of questioning his sanity and who he is, it was a lot of fun, actually,” admitted Hirsch. “I worked with Marcus Stokes, the director, a guy who I really just admire, and he’s such a great guy. And we kind of made a choice early on to where we were like, these movies where people lose their sanity — I think a lot of actors, in a way, don’t really go big enough on those types of things, where I’m like, if I’m gonna see [an actor] have a mental breakdown, I want to see their ass break the f**k down. You know what I mean?”

So we really leaned into it, and just tried to mine the manic, just making choices that were big and going for the most entertaining version of playing every scene we could in way, and just kind of upping the crazy factor. I felt like it just made sense, especially when there’s certain things about the plot that are revealed, about who these people are. It kind of makes his craziness darkly funny in a weird way. There is a little bit of dark humor there at the end.

That dark humor shines through with Hirsch’s fun performance and the feeling of distortion and disbelief that director Stokes creates throughout. As tragic and brutal as insanity or nervous breakdowns can be, there is a morbid humor there in an objective sense. Applying that to the different layers of irony (and karma) in State of Consciousness creates a memorable and wild third act.

Related: Emile Hirsch Deserves Far More Credit for His Work

“That sequence in Mexico, again, is like way funnier than you think it’s going to be. And I think part of that is because, as an audience, we’ve realized something about this character that he doesn’t realize about himself,” explained Hirsch. “He can’t help but kind of do the things he knows, the way that he does them. And the fact that he still thinks he’s this particular way is very funny. I know I’m being vague, but I just don’t want to give any spoilers. There’s some darkly funny moments to that sequence, that I, when I finished, I was like, ‘That’s actually really funny.'”

Hirsch’s character in State of Consciousness frequently knows less than the audience, and can’t remember much about himself, either. That’s a tricky thing to play.

“I definitely wanted to only let him have self-realizations at appropriate places, and I want to have the doubt come in at appropriate times. I wanted him to completely believe his righteous cause in the beginning, and then the cracks in that start to come. And in a weird way, the very last scene, I think it’s the best scene in the movie,” said Hirsch, elaborating with the thesis of the film:

“There’s just something very satisfying about it, like the thesis of the movie is kind of distilled in this one scene.
The idea that, you know, can you use certain medical techniques or tools to completely just brainwash someone? Can someone be truly brainwashed for the better or for the worse?
And the film takes an interesting stance for that in the end, which is kind of weirdly satisfying.”

“Yeah, there’s something kind of amoral about that, you know? So, there’s not a lot of good guys going on in this one,” laughed Hirsch.

‘It Was So Terrifying, Being Around This Friggin’ Volcano That Was Erupting All Day’

As wild as the performance and narrative are, it would be a hoot to see a documentary about the production of State of Consciousness, which seems like a fun film itself. Hirsch broke it down for us:

“This was a very complex, fast-paced shoot. We shot half of it in Italy, half of it in Antigua, Guatemala. And so it was really an adventurous production, and we shot it during COVID,” explained Hirsch. “We were in the wild jungle of Guatemala and, we’re walking to Fuego, which is an active volcano right on the perimeter of the city, like right at the city, you’re entering it, and you’re seeing this massive volcano erupt every day multiple times a day, shaking the ground like an earthquake.”

“I kind of couldn’t believe that people in that town could live there, just
because it was so terrifying just being around this friggin volcano that was erupting all day
. I mean, if you ever want to go to an amazing place, go to Antigua and look at the friggin volcano, and I’m telling you, it is one of the most mind-blowing things I have ever seen. Like seeing a volcano really erupt at night, when you see all the lava flowing on a mountain, it was really an adventure.”

“One of the things that was appealing was, you know, not only was it a challenging role, he’s going crazy and he’s manic and he’s flipping out, but the way that we shot it was also very adventurous in and of itself, we being in all these crazy locations, and Italy was crazy, too. It’s funny, as an actor, you find yourself in different parts of the world doing the most crazy sh*t.

“And the speed in which we shot it, I mean, it was a really fast shoot. There were certain sequences where we would get there, and we would have like a three-page action scene. We would have to shoot at a hospital where, like, I wake up and I’m beating the guy and I run out, and we would have like 20 minutes from getting there to shoot the entire thing.
So it really became a race against the clock in a lot of circumstances

Related: 12 Underrated Performances From Emile Hirsch

“And I was really impressed with Marcus Stokes, the director,” praised Hirsch. “He was wonderful. He was so good under that much pressure. I don’t know another director that would not have had a complete meltdown. He kept the camera rolling, moving right into the positions that he needed, got the moments, and just didn’t stop. He would do everything needed and just go into full beast mode. Honestly, I told him after we would shoot something. ‘I’m so impressed, dude.’ It’s just incredible. So many people would have just folded like a wet rag.”

From Paradox Studios, Iervolino & Lady Bacardi Entertainment, Hunter 11 Films and Grindstone Entertainment Group, Lionsgate released State of Consciousness on March 15th. You can rent or buy it on digital platforms like YouTube, Google Play, Apple TV, and Fandango at Home, and can do so through Prime Video below:

Watch State of Consciousness


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