Hollywood newcomer Emile Hirsch says he was at a friend's house when he received his first call from Sean Penn. "All of a sudden, my heart starts thumping," he says. "My mind was blown. [He said] he wanted to get together, and my mind was even more blown."
At their first meeting, Sean asked Emile to read Into the Wild. After picking up a copy, Emile says he realized that he'd seen a 20/20 episode about Chris McCandless when he was a child. "[The story] had a huge, huge impact on me. I never forgot it," he says. "The idea that someone on their own would hike into the wilderness…that amount of courage really struck a chord."
Sean says he knew Emile could act the part, but it took many meetings to decide whether he could handle the physical demands of the role. "This is not a movie where you go back to your trailer," Sean says. "There is no trailer."
This director was looking for an actor who could handle extreme temperatures and treacherous locations. "There were no safety nets. When he's walking across frozen rivers, he's walking across frozen rivers," he says. "Everything he does in [the movie], he's doing and there are no smoke and mirrors about it. So, it was going to be quite a leap of faith."
Emile accepted the challenge and spent the next eight months shooting the movie with Sean.