As we got on the phone with Emile Hirsch for an exclusive chat about his harrowing true tale Lone Survivor, his first comments said it all when we told him how stunning the Peter Berg-directed true story is on so many levels. “You know how important it is to me to tell these guys’ story and pay respect,” Hirsch said. “All of this matters so much to get this story out there.”
Hirsch plays one part of a quartet of Navy SEALs who drop behind enemy lines in Afghanistan with the purpose of taking out a major Taliban leader. As teased in the Lone Survivor trailer, all hell breaks loose soon after. Hirsch talks the painstaking effort it took to ready himself to tell this inspiring tale of bravery and brotherhood in the first must-see movie of 2014.
Movie Fanatic: When you saw Lone Survivor and saw how Peter Berg had bookended it with the footage of the real Navy SEALs and their families, how did that sit with you in the realm of letting the world know these brave men’s tales?
Emile Hirsch: I didn’t know Pete was going to do that. As preparation for my role, I had seen most of those videos. You can watch them on YouTube. I’ve gotten to know a lot of those guys in the video personally and through watching them on videos for so long. So, to see those guys that I had identified with and to see the movie bookended with these guys’ real videos, it really hits it home. I was destroyed by the end of the movie. To me, that is the most powerful tribute.
Movie Fanatic: You mentioned the training and everything you had to go through to get ready. Have you ever had a role like this in your life where you had to get in such physical shape to realistically portray a character?
Emile Hirsch: It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Pete Berg told me no to my face at the beginning. I didn’t stop pursuing it. I wanted to be a part of it so badly. I wanted to play Danny so much. Eventually he told me to show up early to a gym. I didn’t know what time he meant. I asked him, but no response. I show up the next day at Gold’s Gym at 4:30 a.m. He shows up at like eight. I literally waited standing at attention. He shows up, and says, “How badly do you want to be in this movie?” I said, “I’ll do anything.” He put me in touch with T.R. Goodman at ProCamp at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach and we spent the next three and a half months, six days a week, training at 6 a.m. for hours. The goal for T.R. and me was to put me in uncomfortable places and to get me used to being comfortable with the uncomfortable. I needed to push myself to places I never thought I could go. The beginning of the training, I didn’t know if I could do it. I often thought I might quit. But, I had to have that question answered for myself. I never quit. They tried to break me, let me tell you, they tried. I wanted to be in this movie so badly, that I took the uncomfortableness and everything they gave me, and I kept going. That gave me the confidence that Pete needed to see before he was ready to give me the part. After three months, he finally offered me the role.
Movie Fanatic: It sounds incredibly difficult to get ready for the role, but I’m sure there were some challenging days making the movie as well. Those locations were desolate and rough. But, was there a filming day that you’ll always remember for the rest of your life?
Emile Hirsch: Some of the days of us just being together, shooting the (expletive). Those are the ones I remember, before the battle scenes. Those are the happiest days. Once the firefight started, that was as much of an adrenaline, intense, and fierce type of vibe that we had. There were a lot of great days, though. Working with actual Navy SEALs on set, getting to know these guys, wanting to represent them and tell their story in the right way. And also, realizing what a huge opportunity it is because these guys have done so much for the country and sacrificed so much. And so many of them have died and their families have been affected, to get the honor to portray one of these guys in the movie that will probably be considered one, if not THE movie on Navy SEALs in a long time, it was a heavy honor.
Movie Fanatic: Peter Berg, I feel, is just scratching the surface of what we’re going to see from him before all is said and done. What impressed you most about Pete on the set of Lone Survivor?
Emile Hirsch: I got to know Pete so well in that preparation that I was doing for the movie. He would come in and work out occasionally and yell at me like a drill sergeant. It was all a part of it. He took his time getting us all to that place where I was ready to play the part. I have so much respect for him. He can act. He can direct. He’s also just a really thoughtful, intelligent guy. I was impressed with how he navigated the social situation with all the SEALs’ families and the community. He really honored them in the right way.
Movie Fanatic: Hanging out with those real Navy SEALs on the set and getting ready for the movie, what did you take away from them? Maybe not even something you used in the movie.
Emile Hirsch: It’s the mental toughness. SEALs are common men with uncommon goals. They’re guys that are willing to push themselves harder and further than the other guys. They’re guys who are not willing to quit, no matter how bad it gets. They’ll keep fighting. It’s a very inspiring trait in a human being. It’s something to celebrate. We need these guys.