emile hirsch's diet tips
Lone Survivor star Emile Hirsch talks losing weight for Into the Wild, putting it on for Prince Avalanche, diets, pubes and that early-20s lifestyle...
Emile Hirsch, Lone Survivor 2014
Is Emile Hirsch a sadomasochist? Few actors have taken more of a beating than the 28-year-old Californian, who lost 40 pounds for his breakthrough film, Sean Penn's Into the Wild, and ended up a bloodied pulp in William Friedkin's superb return Killer Joe. In his new film Lone Survivor, Hirsch resurrects Danny Dietz, a 25-year-old high-school drop out who became a scout for the Navy Seals and, in 2005, on an undercover mission high in the mountains of the Hindu Kush borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, found himself in a deadly firefight with the Taliban. Dietz was hit four times, once in the neck, but somehow fought on. Throughout our phone call, Hirsch talks about his diet, his body, his work-out regime, his fitness, the toll on his body, even shaving his pubes. He's now the father of a three-month-old baby boy and has taken time out of acting to travel round Africa, as well as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity. But, Lone Survivor aside, his recent roles have departed from the action-led and physical to more contemplative and character-driven - not least the lovely Prince Avalanche, a Beckett-esque dialogue-based two-hander with Paul Rudd which is released on DVD next week.
You've become close to Danny Deitz' family through this film. If you could say something to Danny now, what you say to him?
I don't know, so many things. I'd probably just say 'hey' and hang out with him. But I'm in awe of Danny, and I wanted to play him very badly. I had a meeting about the part, but the director was skeptical of me. I didn't know if I was going to get it, so I had to prove myself. I started to train and work out on my own. Months went by, I didn't hear anything, and it was at the point where I was passing on other movies but didn't have this job. I ended up training six days a week, four to five hours a day. I really went up for it.
Why do such physically-intense roles appeal to you?
I don't know whether I've liked for them, more than they've found me. But I like going way out of my comfort zone. In Lone Survivor, we trained with real SEALs before the shoot; M4 rifles, live rounds. It was dangerous, but I loved it. But even if I trained seven days a week, 24 hours a day, it wouldn't be one one-hundredth of what they go through at SEAL-school. When I was cast in Into the Wild, I weighed about 156 pounds. I went down to 130 pounds for most of the shoot, and then I went down to 115 pounds for the Alaska segment. I did a lot of dreaming about food, but I loved making that film.
How does your body cope with these performances?
You have to look after it, make sure you're eating right. But I'm a bit of a mad scientist. I experiment with different work-out routines or diet and selective-eating routines. I see my body as a project, and maybe I'll eventually stumble on the most perfect diet. I'm on this program right now called the Paleo diet, which is taken from the Paleolithic era. It's more of a selective lifestyle where you stop eating complex carbohydrates. You're trying to eat like cave people used to eat; the foods that our ancestors would have found easy to digest. I love it. You get more energy, and I've been able to feel my muscles develop because you're getting so much protein.
You climbed Kilimanjaro last year, how was that?
It took five days to climb Kili and two days to come down. But I got sick on the way up. I got a bacterial infection on a cut around my pelvic bone after an attempt to shave my pubes - just a bit of light hedge-work - went horribly wrong. Suddenly my hip was inflamed and swollen, and by the time I was on the mountain it was an out of control infection. They had to really bombard my body with antibiotics and steroids - a lot more than I would have got in a hospital, because there's no way of getting help up there. I decided to do it even if it killed me. I'm the guy from Into The Wild, so if people heard that I couldn't make it up Mount Kilimanjaro then I'd lose a lot of credibility. I really had to push myself; I wouldn't say I climbed Kilimanjaro, I'd say I shuffled and limped up there.
Lance, your character in Prince Avalanche, seems a different type of part for you. How did you approach him?
I put a bit of weight on to play Lance, because it literally and figuratively softened some of the hard edges of the character. He's always talking about getting laid, getting pussy, fingering girls; I feel like its easier coming from the mouth of a guy who isn't easy to resent. Lance isn't a douche-bag, he's just a bit schlubby, and it means you're a bit skeptical of his conquest claims. You feel it's more about insecure bravado, and that can be quite endearing.
Prince Avalanche has no sex, no violence, no swearing, and four speaking parts. You're in almost every scene. Did that lead you to prepare for this role any differently?
A lot of movie actors will turn up the day before the film starts to shoot and learn their lines, but I spent a lot of time with this script. I treated it like a play, and I let every line of the film seep into my pores and marinate there. That let me improvise in the lines and treat the takes on the fly.
You're known as someone who knows how to have a good time. How does Lance relate to you personally?
It's one of the most personal roles I've ever had. I never got into drugs, but I liked to drink, liked to party. But I've definitely started to feel different pulls in my life. When you're 22, you can't imagine throwing in the towel. I used to think it was all about going out all the time, but now it's more about the work, family, friends, books, about taking it a bit more easy. You mourn that part of your life a little, but you have to willingly give up the early-20s lifestyle because you realise it's not that rewarding. I've got some great memories though, some great stories.
Lone Survivor is in cinemas now, and Prince Avalanche is released on DVD on February 10th.
Text Tom Seymour