Emile Hirsch isn’t a ripped type, like his “Lone Survivor” castmates Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch. Yet he plays a SEAL in the adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s book, which details a mission gone disastrously awry: when a quartet of soldiers went to capture or kill a Taliban leader in 2005 and wound up ambushed, fighting for their lives. Hirsch, who plays soldier Danny Dietz, says it was intensely difficult —which is exactly what he wanted.
What drew you to playing a SEAL?
A lot of people when they think of Navy SEALs, they think of this G.I. Joe type. When I read the book, I realized that’s not who Danny Dietz was. He was someone I could really relate to. He was an artist. He was a great drawer. He was a quiet, serious person who was soft-spoken. But when that switch flipped he was all business.
The film isn’t particularly jingoistic, but it also doesn’t get into the question of whether war is just or not.
It’s not a political movie. It’s not a movie that dabbled in “Should we be there?” It’s on a smaller scale. It’s about representing the type of person or the type of courage it takes to be one of these soldiers. That really appealed to me, because sometimes you need these guys.
Was it difficult convincing Peter Berg to cast you as one of the toughest kinds of soldiers?
Peter Berg flat-out said to me when I first tried to get the part, “You don’t have the physicality. No offense, man.” I just wanted to be in the movie so badly. I didn’t take no for an answer. I kept on emailing him and calling him and testing him and writing him letters. Eventually he sent me this text that just read, “Show up at Gold’s early tomorrow.” I wrote him back and said, “Early? What time?” No response. So I realized, “Okay, this is a test.” I woke up at 3:30, and I went to Gold’s in Venice Beach and waited there for them to come and unlock it. The guy came at 6 to open it up. He was like, “Alright, man, come back here at 8:30, Peter will be here.” So I went and took a nap at my buddy’s apartment.
I went back I just followed Peter, who was working out like a beast with a trainer. At the end of the day, Pete took me aside and was like, “How badly do you want to be in this movie?” I was like, “Really f—ing bad.” He was like, “How hard do you want to work?” I said, “I’ll be here every day.” He said, “Alright, that’s what you’re going to do, six days a week.” I asked if he was giving me the part. He said, “No.” So I trained six days a week for hours and hours a day. It was three months before they gave me the part. They were trying to simulate an environment that would make me want to quit. I never did.
How was getting out of shape after the movie wrapped? Did you body just rebel against you?
It sucked. I tried to keep lifting and keep training. I couldn’t keep my body at the same level, because you’d have to train 4 or 5 hours a day. It was a withdrawal. All of a sudden you’re back to this unstructured life.
You’re playing a character who realizes at one point he’s going to die. What is it like getting into that headspace?
It’s a really difficult, intense place to go to. I had a really close friend who almost died of cancer. He’s okay now, but we lived in that place, where it’s always the elephant in the room. It gives you an appreciation of what these guys go through — the ultimate sacrifice the job entails. You see the effect their deaths have on their friends and families. It makes you appreciate what they do. It makes you want to hold all the policymakers accountable.
Was it always a heavy set, or was it sometimes fun?
It was heavy at times, but there was also a lot of levity. Those SEALs are funny guys. The SEALs were always shooting the s— and having a laugh. It was kind of a guys’ set, ultimately. I don’t know if there’s one woman in the movie. It’s a pretty dude-heavy movie.