Q&A: Emile Hirsch on 'Prince Avalanche,' Forest Fires and Playing Lazy

Actor stars opposite Paul Rudd in David Gordon Green film

Emile Hirsch
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Emile Hirsch
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In Prince Avalanche, out today, Emile Hirsch is Lance, a tubby guy who can barely make it a week without running back to the city for a girl. (And would never dare venturing into the Alaskan wilderness.) Based on the Icelandic film Either Way, director David Gordon Green's version charts the relationship of Lance and Alvin (Paul Rudd), a pair of unfriendly acquaintances tasked with repairing roads destroyed after forest fires devastated Bastrop State Park outside of Austin, Texas. Rolling Stone spoke with Hirsch about playing a lazy guy, his own campfire rituals and fighting fake Taliban soldiers for his upcoming part in Lone Survivor.

I'm actually on my way to Austin, Texas, right now, and was going see if there's anything you thought I should do down there.
Oh, I love Austin. Star Bar and Dogwood are two really cool bars. And Lake Austin – go out and go tubing on the lake, it's a lot of fun. Go see the Capitol, go to the Alamo Drafthouse. I love Austin. I'm thinking about someday moving there.

What appealed to you about this part?
Well, I think it was a chance for me to do something different that I've just never really done before. Most of my film work has been pretty straightforward dramatic parts. That template of Into the Wild – all the expectations people have for me are based off of that, and those characters always have a sort of self-sufficient and loving nature, and just a pride in solitude. To contrast that, my character Lance in Prince Avalanche, he's kind of a needy, insecure brat, very immature in a lot of ways, and he doesn't want to be alone – ever. There's kind of a perverse pleasure in playing the exact opposite, and finding humor and an endearing quality to someone that's like that.

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Absolutely. How did you and David Gordon Green connect?
I've known him for about nine years. We worked on a movie together which never came together. I sort of lost track of him over the years, but I called him randomly, like a day before he called me about this. I had actually called him and asked him a couple questions about a script I was writing, and how to go about making a low budget movie, and he politely answered my questions. And then the next day he called me and said, "By the way, I'm working on this little project right now. Would you be interested in reading it?"  And I said, "Of course."

You grew up partially in New Mexico. Was this sort of forest fire destruction something you were familiar with?
Definitely. That type of environment, I actually spent a lot of time hiking, and that kind of environment I feel very comfortable in, and I like it. And my actual perspective on nature is probably somewhere between McCandless and Lance. I appreciate nature, but I don't necessarily want to eat squirrel at the end of the day, like McCandless.

So what do you want to do at the end of the day at the campfire?
You know, like make s'mores and hang out and be there with some friends. Have a couple beers and, you know, look at the stars and call it a night.

Maybe even find a nearby Holiday Inn or something?
Yeah, put on a boombox on, you know, dance around. Yeah, get a cabin – get a hotel room. Throw in a private jet with a Jacuzzi in it.

But you're no stranger to these films that have themes of loneliness and isolation. How do you do on your own in the wilderness? Are you good by yourself?
I mean, I'll go hiking by myself, and I'll, like, walk around, and I'll chill out at my apartment, but I like being around people. I'm a people person. I'm kind of like Lance. I get lonely. I'm not the one that's, like, going out for months and months at a time alone.

New York magazine's David Edelstein said, "Everybody doesn't like somebody, but nobody doesn't like Paul Rudd." Was that your experience working with him?
I mean, I love Paul. We had a really great time. And, you know, he was in kind of badass mode. He's lovable in the movie, but he has an edge that I think most people haven't really seen that much of. I think that what's really refreshing when people watch the movie is that Paul has this kind of dark edge and I'm sort of the goofy one. It's kind of a bit of a casting role-reversal, which I think David Gordon Green, the director, really relished.

This was something of a return to roots for David Gordon Green. He's been doing a lot of different things since he made All The Real Girls and George Washington. Was that something that you felt on set? I think he said it felt kind of like summer camp.
He was honestly just riding a massive creative high the whole shoot. He knew how he wanted to do it, and he had me and Paul, and we were both totally game to just try anything. He had his whole crew that he normally works with, just loving the work, loving every day, loving the way of the shoot, the chillness of it. He really was in the zone.

And how did that set compare to the set for Peter Berg's Lone Survivor?
Oh, man, night and day. Like, lazy, sitting around at times on Prince Avalanche to having to get into the best shape of my life for, like, four months, training every day and putting on an insane amount of gear and just going out into the cold mountains and just fighting all day. Danny [Dietz]'s character, that I portray, a real-life Navy SEAL, he was like a very serious, badass guy to his core. He's the exact opposite of Lance.

What did you do to prepare for the Lone Survivor part?
Peter Berg made me go to Pro Camp, which is a pro-athletes camp that NHL players, football players and baseball players go to in their off-season. It's six days a week at six a.m., at the gym for three to four hours. Just non-stop weightlifting and cardio. That was before we even started training with the Navy SEALs. And then we started training with the SEALs, and the SWAT team at the SWAT course, with live fire, M4s, rifles with real bullets. And then a week in the mountains, where we were actually training and hunting down Taliban actors who were dressed up to spy on us and ambush us in the woods.

You hiked Kilimanjaro and not too long ago you toured the Congo. What adventures are you scheming now?
I don't know. I was in Austin for a week. I did a cross-fit course, a pretty badass weight and cardio course. And now I'm not really sure what my next challenge will be – I've got to figure that out.