In September of 2010, straight from the Toronto International Film Festival, I got to do something very cool: I went to Moscow and visited the set of Summit Entertainment’s alien invasion movie, The Darkest Hour. Normally when I say I got to visit the set, it involves going to a huge soundstage and sitting around conducting interviews. However, The Darkest Hour was a bit different: the production was filming on the streets of the city and in and around some of the most famous landmarks on the planet. It was a set visit unlike any I’ve ever been on. While I already posted the group interview I did with producers Timur Bekmambetov & Tom Jacobson, it’s time for the one with Emile Hirsch.
During the interview, Hirsch talked about filming in Moscow, who he plays, what appealed to him about the project, working with the 3D cameras and the rest of the cast, what other science fiction films have had an impact on him, and a lot more. Hit the jump to check it out and look for more interviews with the rest of the cast over the next few days.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the latest trailer, you should watch that first. The Darkest Hour gets released Christmas Day.
- Hirsch’s character is a software designer who’s not living up to his potential.
- Avatar was a big reason he wanted to do The Darkest Hour because he had the desire to make a sci-fi film in 3D.
- He said shooting in 3D didn’t really change his process.
- They shot in the Red Square for four days.
- He says the film has an indie spirit to it on a little bigger scale.
So it’s exciting to be back. How is the shooting going? You tend to work very early, how has the shoot been going now that you are stuck into it?
HIRSCH: The shoot’s been going great. It’s a lot of fun and I think we have gotten to see a lot of interesting parts of the city. It’s certainly a much different world than I’m used to, you know living in Venice Beach. But I think a lot of the shoot has been more interesting, because Chris Gorak is such a cool guy and he creates such a good vibe on set. He’s not like some crazy kind of general kind of guy; he’s a sensitive nice dude.
Did you see Right at Your Door before this?
HIRSCH: Yeah, I loved Right at Your Door and it actually scared the bejeezus out of me. I mean I live in LA, so I always wonder about stuff like that, so when I saw that film it really kind of reawakened those fears. I had also worked with Chris on Lords of Dogtown. He was the production designer on that, but we didn’t really know each other that well, he was just the bearded guy who would loom in the shadows. (Laughs) He literally would loom, like he would be on set and he would just be in a corner with the beard and not say anything.
HIRSCH: Or a quiet genius.
What can you tell us about your character?
HIRSCH: Both Shawn and Ben are software designers and we are kind of having it so Shawn is a little bit… He’s kind of coasting a little bit. He’s not living up to his potential and he’s not taking his life that seriously when we first meet him. Not in a particularly destructive way. He just hasn’t really found his purpose, you could say.
So the alien invasion really brings out the best in him.
HIRSCH: Yeah, and it turns him into the hero that we want to see him be. Where he’s maybe a little too easy going in the beginning, those qualities later on end up helping him survive. He can keep his head a little bit easier than some of the other people in the group who get really freaked out under pressure.
How did you get involved with the project?
HIRSCH: Well my agent sent me the script, and he doesn’t normally send me action scripts or science fiction scripts…
HIRSCH: He just doesn’t. There are just not very many of them that get made, in general, where there are parts that I could play. And he didn’t tell me anything in advance; he just goes “Just let me know what you think. This is kind of insane.” I didn’t know what it was about or anything. And I just had a great time reading it. I think I enjoyed the way that the movie was kind of set in reality and used the whole idea of the electricity with the aliens and also that there was this kind of relationship with the members of the group, with Shawn and Ben, and with Shawn and Natalie, and Natalie and Ann. I just kind of liked that, you know?
Your career has taken a really kind of interesting trajectory, you have not gone after the roles that most young Hollywood actors tend to start out in. Has that been by luck? By design? What was it about this project that made you thought you might want to do something on this scale?
HIRSCH: Well, Avatar for me was a really big element in me wanting to do this film. Because I saw Avatar and it just blew my mind. I walked out of the theater after I saw it and was like, “I would really love to make a science fiction movie in 3D.” I literally said that, I was like “That’s what I want to make.” Then this script came along and I didn’t know it was going to be 3D at the time, but it still really excited me. And then I found out it would be 3D and that blew my mind. I don’t really know about like why actors choose certain roles. I just usually gravitate to stuff that I would want to watch. I think that’s probably my biggest thing.
Can you talk a little bit about, as an actor, working with 3D cameras and how that affects your performance? How it’s changed your performance? And after looking at playback, how has that influenced everything?
HIRSCH: Well, I would say that honestly, shooting in 3D hasn’t really affected the way I work as an actor that much. Maybe that’s not a good thing. Maybe I’m not being diligent enough. But I really like watching the playback back sometimes, because you just get a… even just a normal shot I find that much more interesting because of the 3D. It’s like a shot of a couple of cars and us walking and it’s like, “Oh wow, this is 3D. I’ve never seen this before!” But you know, maybe it makes us more still in certain shots or closer shots, but certainly the way that they shoot the actors is a little bit different. I don’t think you can do quite as much cutting in 3D, because with your eyes you can get a headache. And then also they can’t do as many super close shots. The 3D doesn’t hold it as well, so the close ups are very kind of limited. So you are using your body language a little bit and there are more medium shots or wider shots.
We also heard there’s a lot that you guys are using a lot more master shots in this film. Could you talk a little bit about longer takes and how that is as an actor?
HIRSCH: I really enjoy longer takes. It makes it feel a little bit more like a play. It’s not all broken up into tiny little pieces. Certainly when we do some of the long action scenes, we do need to break that up into little pieces too sometimes, particularly when we are using guns and there are shots going off and stuff like that. I never really worked with automatic weapons before. When the blanks go off, that’s really… even though they are blanks, it’s really scary. So I was kind of like, “Okay, let’s do this.” And I was hiding behind a rock when they first were firing the guns. And then they blew out the back of this bus, there’s a sequence, and they were like, “Do you want to be on set for the explosion?” I was like “No, I’m going to pass this one.” I’m sitting in the little trailer reading and then all of a sudden it’s like “boom!” It was an Ichabod Crane moment, and the explosion was way bigger than they thought it would be. A couple of guys got pelted in the face with glass and stuff.
HIRSCH: I’ve done a little bit. There’s a lot of running and a lot of movement in this movie, and a lot of climbing, and a little bit of falling. There was one stunt which was actually pretty cool. They built half of a submarine and there’s this net that I climb up out of the water. I have this alien gun on my back and I have my bag that I’m holding, and I’m like totally soaked in water. The camera is next to the submarine looking up and seeing me climb it, but it was one of those things where I lowered myself down against the river holding this net, and it’s a pretty good climb up, and this alien gun which is strapped to me weighs several pounds. It’s like twelve pounds, maybe more, so it was one of those things where it was kind of scary, because I realized if I slipped I could have sunk into the river like a stone. So that was a challenging stunt with actual consequences if I were to mess it up.
We’ve seen a lot of really cool locations where things have been shooting. Do you have a particular favorite or one you are looking forward to shooting at?
HIRSCH: I’m pretty interested… this isn’t really a location, it’s more of a set. But there’s a character named Sergei in the movie, and I’m really curious to see what his apartment looks like, because he’s got the Faraday Cage, which is like an electrical insulator.
Yeah, we saw pictures of it.
HIRSCH: Yeah, so I thought that looked really interesting and I would like to see what that looks like, to see what they end up doing with the cat. I think the cat is supposed to get electrocuted too, like [makes a cat shriek noise]. I don’t know why that’s funny.
HIRSCH: I had met Max probably once or twice over the years, but I never really got to know him. I met him once when I was 19, and I met him again in Cannes over a year ago, or a year and a half ago. But once we realized we would be working together we started hanging out. He is such a fun guy, like he is so much… I would hang out with him all day if I could, because he’s got a really great sense of humor and really smart. I don’t know, I like people with a good sense of humor. He’s just a lot of fun to hang with.
Can you talk about working with Rachael [Taylor] and Olivia [Thirlby]?
HIRSCH: They both are just super classy, professional, funny. I really liked Olivia’s work in Juno and The Wackness, so I was really excited. When they sent me the script they told me that Olivia was attached to do it and that was definitely a really big factor in me really wanting to do the movie too—an actor that I really respected and admired I would get a chance to work with. And Rachael I had seen in, of course, Transformers. But also that movie Shutter, which I really thought was pretty cool, with Josh Jackson. So they have both been fun. We have a whole little group. It’s cool you know? It’s nice, because Max is from England, Rachael is from Australia, Joel’s from Sweden, so we are not just a bunch of Americans you know? Although Max does have an American accent.
You’ve obviously been shooting all over Moscow and getting to see the city through the shoot. How has that process been? How have you been enjoying the city?
HIRSCH: It’s been amazing. I mean, the traffic here is gangbusters crazy. You will literally finish shooting, and you’ll be in traffic for an hour and a half on the way back from work. The jams here are crazy, because I guess the way the city was designed is like in these rings, which is like maximum inefficiency with traffic. And then getting to go to the Red Square where we shot for like four days was really great. I was able to later go back and check out St. Basil’s Cathedral, and that was amazing, getting to do the whole audio tour. I went with my agent, Brian, actually and he was pushing me to do more, not touristy stuff, but get to know the city’s history a little bit more and I’ve been working so much that I haven’t really been taking full advantage of that. So I would like to do more of that on the second half of the trip, too.
What are your personal feelings? Your impressions of this city and the sites you’re filming at?
HIRSCH: I mean there’s a certain sense where it’s kind of like the wild west, a little bit. There’s this sense where anything can happen, but there’s also… the people are really nice when you got out to bars and clubs and stuff, everyone is really cool. I’ve had a lot of fun meeting and hanging out with Russians a lot.
I am curious if any of you and your cast have gone and done karaoke together.
HIRSCH: Karaoke! We have not done karaoke yet, yeah. Not like… What was that place? Guy’s? Who was there that night?
HIRSCH: It was like Lindsay Lohan, right?
It was Lindsay and it was Samantha.
HIRSCH: Did you get up and sing that night?
I might have gotten up…
HIRSCH: And belted out a few tunes?
That was… It was a very late night after the pub…
HIRSCH: You’re tongue is getting awfully tied right here…
It was late at night after the club closed, and there were a few people. Slightly awkward question, but I have to get it out. You filmed Speed Racer, which was very poorly received. How do you process that as an actor? As a performer how does that affect you?
HIRSCH: I don’t know, it’s one of those things where I really liked the movie and I think a lot of other people did too. I mean, obviously not the whole world. It didn’t do that well financially. But I think that as long as you try to make films that you like and believe in and would want to see yourself, you kind of can’t second-guess stuff like that in a certain sense. Do you know what I mean?
HIRSCH: Yeah and I’m still really close to Larry and Andy [Wachowski]. I can’t wait to read their new script, which apparently is really long. Like, 200 pages or something, it’s really epic. But I just respected those guys so much and you know the first Matrix movie was probably my favorite movie I’ve ever seen in the theaters. So the chance to work with them I’m still really grateful for. Just seeing those guys work on set is mind blowing.
What other science fiction films have had an impact on your imagination?
HIRSCH: I really love The Usual Suspects. The first time I saw it in the theaters it was amazing. Again, Avatar blew my mind. Titanic blew my mind when I first saw that. Good Will Hunting, I really liked a lot.
Tell us, what’s it like having Chris as director and Timur [Bekmambetov] as producer? How are they working together?
HIRSCH: Timur is cool. I probably don’t see the full resource of Timur, because I’m on set acting and stuff and that’s Chris’s domain. So Timur is around and he’s always really cool, but I don’t think that I am the one seeing first hand exactly what he is doing. That’s more of like the behind the scenes kind of stuff that us actors aren’t privy too.
So how is it working with Chris as a director?
HIRSCH: He’s great. He’s just such a hard worker. That’s one of the things I really like about him, like he’s so not lazy at all, he’s always on. Even if he’s only slept like two hours the night before he is there with you every single moment, every single take. There’s never any defeatist attitude in him ever. Do you know what I mean? He’s got the will.
HIRSCH: I’ve seen Wanted, and I loved Wanted when they sent me the script. I thought that movie was amazing. I thought James McAvoy was incredible in that movie. It was a really underrated performance, I thought. Then I rented Day Watch and Night Watch, and those movies were mind-blowing, especially when you realize the budget for those movies was like 3 million dollars or something like that. The stories about how they got all of the effects done was so cool. They were having college students do some stuff on spec and using any resource they could to get it made. I think that that’s…
That was a vision that appealed to you?
HIRSCH: Yeah, and I like the idea and this is a smaller budget for this kind of movie and it’s that spirit. It’s like independent filmmaking spirit on a little bigger scale. You know what I mean? I really like that and it’s kind of dirty, and grungy, and there’s a sense of adventure to it. I like the way that it came together.