CULVER CITY, Calif. – Actor Emile Hirsch has never been a quitter. He’s been acting since he was 8 years old and it never occurred to him to do anything else. In fact, he never did.
The star of projects like “Into the Wild,” “Lone Survivor” and “Killer Joe” says many of his roles have taught him something about himself.
That includes his latest as the notorious Clyde Barrow in the slick four-hour, Bruce Beresford-directed miniseries, “Bonnie and Clyde” which will be simulcast on Lifetime, A&E and the History Channel, Sunday and next Monday.
Hirsch agreed to do the show before he even saw a script. “They called me and said it was a miniseries about Bonnie and Clyde. I was just, like, IN. It’s such a cool premise. I immediately knew I liked it, and I would probably do it. Then I read the script and liked it and Bruce Beresford. Really, they were making ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ with an Academy-Award nominated director who’s directed classic films like ‘Tender Mercies’ and ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ He is a first-class director, so if it was some guy who is not at the level of Bruce, it would be a much different thing.”
Hirsch has performed with several distinguished directors including Oliver Stone, Ang Lee and William Friedkin. “I’ve worked with some first-time directors, but sometimes their greenness shows,” he said.
“After you’ve seen Hurricane Billy Friedkin tear up a set like a hurricane, it’s incredible. There’s no comparison with some first-time amateur. After you’ve seen a guy like Ang Lee direct a scene like some master craftsman artist it’s harder to work with beginners.”
Still, Hirsch admitted he was concerned before filming began on “Bonnie and Clyde.” “The first week I do any movie I’m usually pretty nervous,” he said, seated on a couch in a meeting room at Sony Studios.
“Most of the projects I do scare me and are nerve wracking. I think I’ve got a personality where I get more enjoyment out of it the scarier it is. I don’t like if it’s just a boring, easy gig. Like even ‘Into the Wild,’ it was so hard compared to my past and the things I’ve done. It pushed me to do things I’d never done,” he said.
Also training with the Navy SEALs on “Lone Survivor” taught him perseverance, Hirsch said.
“Getting to be with these guys who are not quitters and getting to learn that strength of spirit and the training program that they put us in, which was like one-one-millionth of how difficult it is for Navy SEALs. It was nowhere near as tough. But I still felt I learned a lot about perseverance. You learn a lot about yourself when you get pushed that hard and you don’t quit and you just kind of stick it out.”
He stuck it out in real life when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro three years ago. He managed to reach the summit in spite of an illness.
“I got an infection a week before but it didn’t really manifest itself till I was climbing the mountain. I was really ill, on antibiotics, steroids to take the inflammation – it was just incredible. I limped to the top of the mountain. I made it though. I was really, really messed up. I feel like it was one of those things where it was just not quitting, not giving up.”
It seems that Hirsch has always known what he wanted to do. When he was little, his parents split. His dad lived in Los Angeles and he stayed in New Mexico with his mom. But when he was 10 he moved to L.A. to live with his father, who was a producer.
“My dad proposed the idea and one of the selling points was, ‘If you move I know you want to act, I’m willing to help you out. We’ll get you a nanny and she’ll take you to auditions and stuff.’ So that was definitely a selling point. I really wanted to do that, and I knew that in Santa Fe, N.M., I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.”
Even then Hirsch said he didn’t suffer with the rejection that comes with the job.
“I think I had kind of a thick skin so I thought, ‘Well, their loss.’ I would get bummed, but I was good at thinking they were wrong most of the time. I had a belief in myself, and my father was really supportive of me. He was my coach-manager-right-hand, the old guy in the boxing ring who gives the guy the towel. My dad really fulfilled that role a lot when I was younger. He’d say, ‘They’re wrong.’ If I was rejected I rarely thought they were right. I usually just assumed they’d made a bad decision.”