‘Speed Racer’ Puts Emile Hirsch in the Driver’s Seat

Emile Hirsch is coming out of the Wild and onto the racetrack this week with his new film Speed Racer. The live action family film, courtesy of the Wachowski brothers, puts a new candy-colored twist on the original Japanese anime series of the 1960s. Hollywood.com couldn’t wait to catch up with the star to find out more about his racy new movie.

Hollywood.com: What was your first car? What do you drive now? What do you wish you could drive?
Emile Hirsch:
My first car was a blue Ford Festiva. The car I drive now is a black Toyota Pruis. And the car I wish I could drive, I’d like to drive a tricked out Mach 5 [laughs]. Let’s get the studio to get me one. Can you imagine driving one of those? Especially if it went 180? It would be so much fun. Vrooom!

HW: What is the must-have feature on your tricked out Mach 5?
EH: Jump jacks. I’d be like, “Vroom. Forget the traffic.” [PAGEBREAK]

HW: You’ve got your own action figure now, what did you think when you saw it?
I look like Dennis Quaid on my action figure circa ’95, which is kind of an upgrade for me [laughs].

HW: Do you have lucky charms like Speed’s red socks?
EH: No. I try not to be too superstitious because if you get superstitious about one thing pretty soon it’s everything.[PAGEBREAK]

HW: Was the movie better than you hoped for?
Yes. You read the script and it’s so descriptive of the whole world. But you have no idea what it’s going to be until you see it. And the way they made the colors pop and all the things they did with the focus, and integrating the photographs, it was really quite beautiful I thought.

HW: How did you handle doing a movie in almost all green screen?
EH: There are no sets or props. It’s like your doing “Waiting for Godot” or something…What was really weird was doing the car scenes because we did it on a hydraulic pump called a gimbal. All of my anger in the film is so authentic because they were just slamming me around in the simulator for hours. It was green and hot and there are lights on you and you can’t move because you’re strapped in. You get literally frustrated to the point where you want to rip the thing apart with a bat, and auggghh.[PAGEBREAK]

HW: What kind of direction were they giving you on the gimbal?
They’d be like “You’re coming up on the turn, now slide!” And I’d be like, “Errrrrr.” Then I’d be getting mad because I’d be getting whiplash, and they’d say, Now, “Backslide!” And I just wouldn’t go to church.

HW: Did you get knocked around?
EH: Oh yeah. Matthew Fox got it worse though. I don’t know why. I don’t think he paid off the gimbal guy like I did.

HW: Did you go to a real racetrack?
EH: I didn’t actually drive racecars but me and my buddy Frankie went to a NASCAR simulator at Universal CityWalk, which was fun and beat a bunch of tourists. Hollywood-2; Idaho-O. Then we went to Texas, me and my buddy. We got in contact with the pro, Jimmie Johnson, and went to the Texas Motor Speedway, and he gave us a whole tour behind the scenes and the races and the pit. We saw everything and met all these drivers. We were driving around Texas. And we went to this huge arena and we got to be right in the pit for this big race and it was awesome. We were RIGHT in there.[PAGEBREAK]

HW: Speed Racer is an outsider, like some of your past characters. Why are you drawn to these types of roles?
There’s something about the good-hearted guy fighting the system. I just love that. That’s how Speed is. He’s a really focused guy with a heart of gold and the corporations are trying to crush him and use him for his skills to make them more money. And when he doesn’t want to play ball, they want to destroy him.

HW: Were you a fan of the show or did you watch any episodes in preparation for the role?
EH: I watched it as a kid. I was a big fan of the show. I watched it on Cartoon Network. I also watched all 52 episodes in preparation for the part. Big waste of time [jokingly]. [PAGEBREAK]

HW: Were you excited to see the Wachowskis put their own spin on this story?
EH: Yes. That was the main thing that made me go crazy about this movie… I view these guys more as hard core artists than people making smaller, hard core art films. These guys are very very talented and take their work very seriously. The genre and the kind of films they make, by their very nature, require insane budgets to even make … I remember when I saw The Matrix when I was 13, I saw it in the theaters, and I was so blown away by it. It was one of the most memorable experiences I definitely ever had in the theater. That kind of stuff you never forget and it stays with you. Here, you get a chance to work with them and it’s like, ooh, ooh, ooh.

HW: Some people have described them as experimental filmmakers disguised as blockbuster directors. Is that fair?
EH: That’s totally accurate. A lot of the stuff in Speed Racer has never been done before, from it having a multi-tone, to it having a retro-cool family movie, to having the photo-realism with the CG-backgrounds and infinite focus (and) the way they worked with these digital cameras, to even the color experimentation. It’s definitely one of the most colorful movies ever made. Hands down.[PAGEBREAK]

HW: What do you want to do in the sequel?
EH: I’m so excited to see if the movie is a hit and stuff and if they decide to make a sequel, what would the Wachowskis do. Where will they take it? The first is about the Grand Prix and the races. I wonder what will happen in the second one.

HW: What’s next for you?
I don’t have anything coming up. I did this movie called Milk which comes out in the fall. I don’t have anything as of now.

HW: Milk also stars Sean Penn. What’s it like working with Sean Penn as a co-star rather than a director?
EH: It was crazy. It was weird for me and him because we had such different roles in Into the Wild. (He was) the director. I started not to think of him as an actor when I first met him but then I didn’t even think of him as a director anymore. Then it changed very quick. We got along really well and had a fun time. It was all good (pause) except for this one time… No, I’m kidding.