Emile Hirsch doesn’t want to go into specifics when it comes to how he lost weight for the role of Christopher McCandless, a college grad who left his suburban world behind to live off the grid, in the dramatic movie Into the Wild based on true events. “It's the simple beauty of diet and exercise. And a little will power, but it's really that simple,” explained Hirsch. “We had several months of shooting at a regular kind of weight and then we took about a month off when weight loss, the diet and the exercising occurred.”
But even though he was deliberately trying to lose some bulk in order to play McCandless toward the end of his time in the Alaska wilderness, Hirsch actually felt great physically. “I felt like I was in the best shape of my life,” said Hirsch. “I felt like my spirit was soaring the whole time. I finished the movie just high on life. I loved it.”
As far as his nutritional intake during the production, Hirsch really prefers to keep that a secret. “It's something I'm going to keep a little vague for you, sorry,” offered the actor who’s now back in great shape – and sporting darker hair - having wrapped up work on Speed Racer since completing Into the Wild.
Collaborating with Director Sean Penn: Hirsch credits his director Sean Penn with setting the tone for the movie and allowing him the opportunity to delve freely into the character of McCandless. “Sean really gave me a lot of freedom in the film. He really wanted me to be - to me it was a free-spirited character so for the freedom to come across, the way you're being directed almost has to be very free, so that was kind of how it evolved. A lot of the portraits of McCandless in Alaska for me were born of that freedom and just finding beads of Chris in moments and things like that.”
Going on a Journey with Into the Wild: Hirsch admits Into the Wild was a life-changing event. “This film for me was just a tremendous adventure,” said Hirsch. “The opportunity to go on the road trip of a lifetime with Sean, which I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to work with him… He made everything so authentic and so real. We shot in all the real locations, went to all these different places. Saw these beautiful slices of America and these wonderful portraits of nature burned into my memory, thankfully. Days where we were camped out on the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. We shot there for about a week or two. Just looking at the side of these cliffs and it's like, ‘That rock there is three billion years old. Wow.’ It's really an incredible, a very humbling experience.”
Stringing Together a Series of Vignettes: McCandless traveled all over the country and met and made friends with a variety of interesting people before ultimately ending his journey in Alaska. Filming the movie’s version of McCandless’ cross-country adventure was one of the more interesting aspects of the production. “It was fun because for me I got to jump around all these different locations,” explained Hirsch. “At each new location would be a whole new set of people and actors. They didn't know about each other. They just knew what they were working on and their part of the film. So I would get to go and experience all these different scenes and places with these different people and have my own fun times. I can't tell you how much fun me and Vince Vaughn had when we were in South Dakota. I think it's going to be pretty exciting for all the other actors to watch the film and see what else we were making, too. Like ‘Oh wow, you guys were all over there too.’"
Chris McCandless – Criticism and Controversy: Hirsch is well aware of the controversy over McCandless’ actions and how they’re interpreted by the public. He’s also well aware of the impact of the film on the public’s perception of McCandless. “When we made the film, we didn't think that we were making Chris McCandless into a martyr. We didn't think we were putting any makeup on any blemishes he had. We were trying to present him as we thought he was, which is a complicated, flawed, courageous, loving person. This is a guy who cared about people. When he was in high school, he would get cheeseburgers and drive down to downtown LA and hand them out to homeless people, on a Friday night when most kids are going out and doing whatever they do these days or back then. So there's that aspect of him where he's a real humanitarian. He cares about people, cares about humanity, but then he doesn't contact his family for two years, and his sister who he loves more than anybody.
So the controversy about Chris is one of the reasons why I think people talk about it so much and why McCandless has become such an enigmatic kind of public lightning rod figure to talk about. That's what it's about. It's about a flawed person. That's what the film, I think, shows is not a perfect person. I don't think Chris McCandless would have wanted that any other way. I think he was very [much] about truth. I think that that was something he really took seriously and was really looking for. So do I take it personally when people criticize McCandless? No. I think McCandless wouldn't have probably hesitated to criticize himself near the end.”