Apart from watching all 52 of the original Japanese Speed Racer cartoons, Emile Hirsch describes preparing for the title role in the Wachowski Brothers’ movie adaptation as pretty effortless.
“I didn't actually drive a race car,” Hirsch recalls at a press event held last month at the Long Beach Grand Prix, “but me and my buddy Frankie, we went to the NASCAR simulator at Universal City Walk, which was fun, and we beat bunch of tourists. It was like, Hollywood 2, Idaho 0.”
Christina Ricci, who plays Trixie, Hirsch’s love interest in the film, recalls that working on a green screen set into which the backgrounds would be inserted digitally was a bonding experience for the cast, which included Susan Sarandon, John Goodman and Matthew Fox.
“A lot of our stuff early in the shooting was all family stuff, so it was all ensemble, and it was all of us together, and you walk onto the set and you see all of us dressed in all these hilarious costumes, and it was 'Hey, what are we doing today?' It's snowing. 'Hey, Susan, did you know it was snowing now?' We'd be laughing, 'cause it was sort of ridiculous, but we're committing to it. We don't know what's around us but we'll do what they tell us to."
With no real racing being filmed, the actors who drove in the breakneck race scenes that take up much of the film were strapped into mechanized gimbals that threw them around convincingly enough for the camera, an endurance test that left them with bruises at the end of the day.
“It was so much fun,” recalls Ricci. “I love doing that stuff, I love getting the battle scars. When you're in the gimbal you get banged around so much, and at one point I had to get out and throw up and then get back in because it's a lot of shaking and craziness. It was just really fun - I had a good time.”
Hirsch’s memories aren’t so fond. “All of my anger in the film when I'm driving was authentic, because they were just slamming me around in this simulator for hours and it's green and it's hot and there's lights on you and you can't move because you're strapped in. You get literally frustrated to the point where you want to rip the thing apsrt with a bat. I think I have a drawing of me breaking it."
With so much of the film realized later, after the filming was over, Ricci says that the actors had to trust the Wachowskis and the vision they were creating. “I don't think that anyone could really get into what they have in their heads,” she says. “That's the thing about them is they inspire such confidence and such trust, because you can tell they have this complete vision in their heads and you'd be doing a huge disservice to not trust them and let them do what they have to do, because how are you going to possibly know whether what you're doing matches what they have in their head, unless they tell you?”
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