Emile Hirsch on Playing Tough in Prey and Why Speed Racer Flopped

All these years later, Emile Hirsch still resembles the young lad that led the charge in a certain raunchy comedy known as The Girl Next Door. Two decades later, in his most recent movie Prey, Hirsch plays an entirely different character, a sort of hotheaded wildcard of a pilot trying to escort hopeless Americans away from Africa after a local village is threatened. Leading the group of passengers aboard the doomed plane is a doctor played by Ryan Phillippe, who Hirsch has known personally. It may come as a shock to know they hadn’t worked together before Prey.

That’s just one of the fun facts we learned in our latest interview with Hirsch, who also opened up about a memorable experience with Spielberg and why Speed Racer (2008) has become a cult classic.

Emile Hirsch Is Surprised by Playing ‘Rough Characters’

Prey (2024)

Release Date
March 15, 2024

Mukunda Michael Dewil

Dylan Flashner , mohamed Hakeemshady , Emile Hirsch , Matondo Kiantandu , Alpha Miknas

86 Minutes

Green Light Pictures , The Barnum Picture Company , Vertical Entertainment

Vertical Entertainment

Both Hirsch and Phillippe’s careers seem to have stood the test of time, and it’s inspiring to see these once-young guns still leading the charge in high-profile projects. “We have known each other for years and years and years, just through both living in Los Angeles, and we always got along and wanted to work together,” Hirsch told MovieWeb. “So when this opportunity came up, it was kind of perfect. And I felt like we were both really well suited to each of our parts. And we just had a really easy rapport. He has so much experience, and he’s so talented. And we were able to kind of just have a very quick rapport and easygoing nature on set.”

Related: Ryan Phillippe Discusses Prey and Creating ‘Something That Lasts’

While Hirsch’s role as a pilot in Prey may seem like new terrain for the veteran performer, think again. “I had played a pilot in this film called In Harm’s Way that Bille August directed, that we shot in China about nine years ago,” he told us. “So I had done a little bit of research on pilots in these little planes and things, and the mentality of the pilots. And I know a few pilots as well.”

And in terms of thinking about how he’s landed these kinds of roles — even playing a Navy SEAL in Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor — Hirsch continued:

“When I was in movies like The Girl Next Door or little indie movies where I’m the local, strange kid,
I never thought that I would get offered all these tough guy kind of roles
, like, you’re the pilot with the big knife on your belt, or you’re the Navy SEAL, or you’re the cop, or you’re Clyde Barrow in
Bonnie and Clyde
. I’ve played a lot of kind of rough characters, in a certain sense, or tough characters.
I never really saw that for myself, partially because I just never really saw myself in that way

On that note, millennials might know Hirsch best not from these tough-guy roles, but rather as the baby-faced high schooler who falls in love with an adult film actress in The Girl Next Door. In comparison to the plethora of other sex comedies out there, it seems Hirsch’s project better stands the test of time. And we had to ask his thoughts on why. “Director Luke Greenfield was really enthusiastic and working with all of his creativity and energy, and really dedicated to making the film good,” said Hirsch, who added:

“One of the one of the reasons, other than the script and Luke’s direction, is the actors that Luke cast. He cast Chris Marquette, Paul Dano, and Elisha Cuthbert, Timothy Olyphant and James Remar, and a lot of really other great actors as well. And the thing that was really unique about
The Girl Next Door
… you get actors that are actually the age of being in high school… We’re all 17 or 18 in that movie… So that’s pretty rare for your high school movie.”

Remembering Speed Racer: ‘It Was Unanimously Dogged’

Another throwback Hirsch project that might come to mind is the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, which has had an interesting journey if you trace back to its headline-making release back in 2008. “What’s interesting about Speed Racer is that the trajectory that it took, weirdly, is similar to the cartoon,” said Hirsch. “The cartoon only had like two seasons, maybe three. And that’s not very much for a huge children’s show; these cartoons go forever. So it had kind of a relatively short run. But over the years, it just gained this cult following.”

Similarly, as Hirsch explained, the film adaptation has since gained a cult following, so perhaps it was ahead of its time. “When it came out, it was unanimously dogged,” Hirsch told us. “I remember we were all like, ‘Man, this movie so good. How come nobody gets it?‘ That was sort of our perspective. But then we were also like, ‘Are we the crazy ones?’ Because it’s the public and the critics… So it’s really validating to have everybody come around all these years later.”

Related: Emile Hirsch on Going Big in State of Consciousness and Working Near ‘A Friggin Volcano’

“There was something, too, about the visuals,” said Hirsch. “It was motion-captured a lot. And they did really unique stuff with the environments where they got these 3D cameras, and they photographed all these famous landmarks around the world. So when you’re watching a lot of these race sequences, you’re not watching CGI-created things. You’re watching actual, photographic, 3D, real things that have been scanned into computers from photographs, and then collaged together.” Hirsch continued to discuss why the general public wasn’t necessarily grabbing onto the film 15 years ago:

“They’d never really done that before in a movie. And kind of the really unique editing that they did on the film, to have all these different techniques and shifting things, it had a lot of aesthetic elements that audiences just at the time were totally not used to in any way. But since the years have gone on, those techniques have been used and employed in many, many other different films now.”

Hangin’ with Spielberg

War of the Worlds is Steven Spielberg's Most Underrated Movie

Between the Wachowskis, Peter Berg, Sean Penn (Into the Wild), William Friedkin (Killer Joe), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and more, we were curious if there were any high-profile filmmakers left in Hollywood that Hirsch would like to team up with. “I’ve always wanted to work with Steven Spielberg,” he said. “I just rewatched Jurassic Park… and it was just so good. Every frame of that movie is just so iconic and classic. And he’s so brilliant.”

Hirsch went on to describe a monumental moment in his career that actually involved a face-to-face with the Oscar-winning legend:

“I visited a friend, Jamie Bell, on the set of Tintin, and I saw Spielberg. And Spielberg really liked The Girl Next Door. And so I had met him one other time before, and he was very cool. And he gave me a tour of the Tintin set. And it was honestly, maybe, the most impressive experience hanging out with a director ever,” said Hirsch. “He took me around the entire set, and he showed me what they were doing. And he literally picked up these video-game cameras and started to literally shoot a shot, but using the video game controller as the camera, holding it in a 3D environment.” He went on:

And we sit down, and we’re looking at these monitors, and on these monitors is a live feed with Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, who at the time were making
The Hobbit
together in New Zealand… They’re all buddies. It’s a small kind of club in a way.

“And then it was funny because Spielberg was telling me that next door, they were shooting Avatar... and he was talking about how James Cameron was a scientist who would just like obsess and calculate forever and ever, and he had just an incredible amount of patience,” continued Hirsch. “And it was cool and fun to see the wizard at work in a way.”

You can watch the wizard Hirsch at work in Prey from Vertical, now playing in select theaters and available to rent or buy on demand through platforms like YouTube, Apple TV, Google Play, and through Prime Video below.

Rent or Buy Prey


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