Emile Hirsch Is Addicted to Puns

The veteran actor and star of Prince Avalanche goes deep into horse dentistry, wordplay and improv.

Getty / Dave Kotinsky

The question often posed to Emile Hirsch is whether he is okay with the fact that, despite being well into his second decade in the business, he’s often cast in movies as someone far younger than his 28 years.

“Oh yeah, I wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” he says, before pausing for a moment, straining through a flood of potential follow-ups, and then adding, “unless I’ve gone to horse dental school.”

This is how Emile Hirsch’s mind works, in quick quips and asides, tangents and puns, too. What would a horse dentist be called? “A horthadonist,” of course.

Maybe this how all interviews with Hirsch go (check out his Twitter feed for evidence), and you’d understand why; he’s been doing this for over his half his life. He spent the first 12 years of his career — starting when he was 11-years-old — as the cute kid guesting on TV shows like NYPD Blue and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and then broke out with the high school sex comedy The Girl Next Door in 2004, and even that was nearly a decade ago. So, yeah, you can’t blame him for just having fun with reporters at this point.

And, given the almost-vanilla blandness of so many actors during interviews, it’s a very welcome development. For those willing to play ball, at least.

Getty / Dave Kotinsky

Another Hirsch-ism: Releasing an independent movie in a summer filled with blockbusters is “like sending a penguin out on a boogie board in Maui at high surf… That’s sort of dumb thing to say because what penguin’s gonna be in Hawaii?”

Though he second-guesses his metaphor, the larger point still stands: Prince Avalanche, the uniformly praised dramedy from director David Gordon Green, was made for about 1/200th the price of most tent-pole pictures this summer, and it has no special effects; hell, it’s set in 1988, so there aren’t even any cell phones involved. Hirsch has largely played in this shoestring world of independent film since his one attempt at the big franchise, the live-action adaptation of Speed Racer, crashed at the box office back in 2008.

He won’t rule anything out, but don’t look for Hirsch to go that route again.

“It was a conscious decision, yeah, and also I think once you star in a $200 million bomb, it’s harder to get a studio movie,” he explains, laughing at that period in his life — which is probably easy to do because he rebounded so quickly with a scene-stealing role in Milk.

“I feel like there have been a couple franchises that I sort of looked at, but having been down that road, I was just less excited about doing it, because even though we only made one of Speed Racer, I did that big summer movie,” he adds. “I enjoyed it and I loved the movie, but I feel like there’s a lot of other films that can be smaller — and I’m not ruling anything out, either — but a movie like Prince Avalanche, you’re not going to be able to make this, even at a studio level. This type of character piece, you almost have to make it in the way we did it, because it’s not gonna get made otherwise.”

The way that Green and co. made this movie was as barebones as possible, with a skeleton crew that all stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in rural Texas. There were no trailers for the actors and costumes consisted of a pair of overalls and a t-shirt throughout the shoot, but unlike many dialogue-driven films, Prince Avalanche was entirely scripted, with little-to-no improv.

“I feel like sometimes if it feels insanely improvisational, you can almost throw an audience off [as] it’s so hard for them to get in the moment because they’re aware it’s improv,” Hirsch says. “When you’re in a conversation with someone, talking, they look like they have more of an intention than when you watch them improvising on screen. Improvising is not real when you watch it on screen. Whereas if we’re just hanging out right now talking and someone was to film this, we would be speaking with so much confidence that people would think for sure that it was scripted.”

(By a very strange mind, no doubt).

He doesn’t discuss it much, but Hirsch has completed a few screenplays of his own. He’s headed off to New Mexico to film a movie with Jesse Eisenberg and Diane Kruger next month — Midnight Sun, the story of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project — but at some point, there is an ambition to maybe direct his own flick.

“I definitely think it would be a lot of fun to try. As long as I could keep it in a small, experimental realm, where you’d have a little bit of room to play,” he offers. “The last thing I’d ever want to do is get $15 million and try to direct some big movie as my first movie. I think that would be a really bad idea for me. The $1 million movie, making that, where you’re going to make back the money, and hopefully, live to fight another day.”

And if that doesn’t work out, there’s always horse dentistry.

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