Emile Hirsch in Rome: “Always chase dreams, even if they are wild”

Emile Hirsch in Rome: “Always chase dreams, even if they are wild”

Seventeen years after the release of In the wildwho earned him acclaim for his work and defined, perhaps by some kind of osmosis, his personality, Emile Hirsch, now 38, by his own admission, has not abandoned the role of the unforgettable protagonist Chris McCandless.

The young adventurer and maverick starred in the 2007 film directed by Sean Penn and earned him the Critics Award and a National Board of Review Award. He says he carries within him “idealism, having the heart and priorities in the right place”, as well as a certain radical view of life, the acting profession and Hollywood in general.

Related stories

It was a love-hate relationship for Hirsch that reached a nadir when the actor was involved in an unfortunate assault against a Paramount executive in 2015. It cost him a 15-day prison sentence, a $4,750 fine and 50 hours of community service. But most of all, he admitted his addiction to alcohol.

The Californian, wearing a green T-shirt decorated with tropical motifs, which give him a “boy next door” look, is in Rome for the screening of Into the Wild, as part of the “Il Cinema in Piazza” festival organized by the Piccolo Cinema America association. An independently owned entity, it was created several years ago with genuine intentions and commitment to showcase American cinema in Rome, attracting national and international guests, from Paolo Sorrentino to Oliver Stone.

We met Emile at the offices of the Sala Troisi, in Trastevere, headquarters of the Roman Boys Association.

Emile, you are not new to Rome, but you are new to Piccolo Cinema America. What do you think?

Crazy. There is a 24 hour bar as well as study room upstairs and a really nice big cinema. It’s kind of a cinephile’s paradise. And it is an independent association.

Then again, you are also an “independent”. What is your relationship with Hollywood today?

It seems to me that I have always been looking for unusual projects. Being independent makes you autonomous, with fewer rules to follow and more creative freedom. I like doing things for which I take big risks. A quality that happens more often in the independent world.

What’s the tradeoff? Was there a time when you made certain films to somehow stay in the business?

I think, also in terms of choices, I like all genres of films. I like action, comedy or drama. For me, it’s not necessarily a question of “I have to do this certain thing to get it”. I know a lot of actors who don’t make action movies. I enjoy watching them. And if it’s a genre I watch, I usually enjoy making it too. I think the best way to build your career is to only do the things you enjoy. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. Without thinking too much about it. When you start looking at your career and your choices like in a graph, you end up doing too many calculations, it gives the impression of being hypocritical, false. You may be a great actor with a great career, but many of your choices won’t be inspired.

You had a very warm welcome and you are not new to Rome. What do you like about this city and Italy?

When I come to Italy, I am always in awe. I’m touched by people’s affection for some of the movies I’ve made, like In the wild. It’s really cool. Italians have good taste, so it doesn’t surprise me that they appreciate art and creativity (laughs). And that’s great In the wild it has become, well, … it has a great reputation in Italy and in Europe.

You have also shot films in Rome, such as “Venuto al Mondo” by Sergio Castellitto.

I shot three different films in Italy. In addition to “Venuto al Monda”, there is also American night (Alessio della Valle, ed.) and State of consciousness, shot in Bari. The bond I have with Italy is incredible. I’ve been here at least 10 times, at least. I love the food, the people, the atmosphere, the history and a love of all things different. One of my favorite artists is Leonardo da Vinci. It’s so nice to come and be in his land: the art and science and everything in between. It would be worth coming there just for the architecture.

Returning to In the wild, almost 20 years have passed, even if it seems like yesterday. That film had a huge impact…

One of the things about In the wild what resonates with me the most is that when Sean Penn and I made the film, we knew what its potential was. We wanted to honor the life of Chris McCandless and create something we’d be proud of. We wholeheartedly believed in what we were doing. This was not a situation where we had any doubts. So we gave 100%. I was very young, only 21, when I made that film. I am now 38 years old. It’s crazy that it’s been so long. I think the most satisfying thing is that I’ve never looked back with regret: “I wish I’d worked a little more on this, I wish I’d pushed more on that.” I know we put it all into that movie.

Do you think it was one of the movies that started to change our awareness of the environment?

It’s hard to attribute it to a movie. What I noticed is, In the wild it’s not a movie that audiences saw 15 or 16 years ago when it came out, and that’s it. It’s a film that people keep looking for, even the younger generation sees it. In the US they show it in schools. In high school, during lessons. I like to think that one of the reasons the younger generation is fascinated by this film is the invitation to live life following one’s dreams. Although sometimes they can be “wild”.

Tell us about your future projects. Have you finished shooting Bau Artist of War?

AND Inside the manwhich will be released on August 11 in the United States War Artist Woof is set in a concentration camp during World War II. I play Joseph Bau, an artist who, while in the fields, helped forge identity documents to smuggle people out. An intense film. I’m thrilled with it. I also recently made another film, Degenerate, which talks about poker and cards. It was also a lot of fun. I was in danger of becoming addicted to poker myself. I thought, “The movie is over and I’m still playing cards. I have to stop!”

You’ve had a career full of ups and downs. There have been some moments in your personal life that have marked you. Do you feel obligated to prove that you have become “a good boy”?

I think it’s simply a matter of doing your job well and being able to put your heart and priorities in the right place. Nobody’s perfect. No one can do the right thing in every moment of their life. I try to be a good person and live as best I can. For me, life is a very long journey. Things that happened in the past: I can choose to move forward and be positive. If you always win in life, that’s one thing. But for me the most important lessons are learned in another way: How do you react when you get into trouble? And I think the ability to get back up is an important quality. You know, many times I look at some of the work I’ve done and try to learn from my characters. I do it to get me on the right track.

Which characters?

Definitely McCandless, because of his idealism. But also Danny Dietz, the Navy SEAL I played with Lone survivor. A fearless warrior who doesn’t give up. If he lets go, he gets back up.

We conclude with a topical issue. There is a lot of talk about AI and the role of technology in today’s world. What do you think? Do you think it’s a threat?

Personally, I think AI will find its place in the software world. It’s like virtual reality. Remember VR and Mark Zuckerberg and how would everyone live in the metaverse? The truth about VR is that it will never catch on. Maybe one day I will be wrong and this interview will be shown as an example of a fatal mistake. But I think reality is interesting enough without needing to live in a fake one, made up by a bunch of wimps. As for the AI, I played around with GPT Chat a bit. I asked him some questions. And after about five or ten questions, I got bored and never opened it again. I am not interested. I don’t think artificial intelligence can become a big problem for artists. When you look at art, you want to see art. Not some fake robotic shit.