Taking on any project or puzzle can be a mission of patience, frustration, skill and learning. The practice of autopsy – a macabre science throughout the ages – takes an authentic hand, even when performing before a camera. A profession taught and handed down for generations of families; the stories and experiences cutting into true horror happening to those unfortunante souls can chill anyone to the bone. Playing the character Austin, a son, an apprentice and young man at a crossroads in his life, is talented actor Emile Hirsch who embodies the mystery, conflict and connection in the critically acclaimed THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE currently released for screenings through IFC Midnight. Emile took some time coming off the set of one of his many film projects to talk a return to horror. Working with André Øvredal and Brian Cox as well as the chilling ring of a bell for CinemaChords.com….
CinemaChords: This has been your first film returning to the horror genre since THE DARKEST HOUR in about five years. What made THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE so appealing and challenging that it had you eager to return to this realm?
Emile Hirsch: Well, I think I have always been a fan of the horror genre. Such films as THE EXORCIST, HALLOWEEN and THE BABADOOK. which came out a year or two ago. which I thought was amazing as well as Guillermo Del Toro’s movies like THE ORPHANAGE which was great. I don’t know if there’s been a resurgence in horror but I think after working with William Friedkin on KILLER JOE and hearing his stories about THE EXORCIST and how it was a seminal experience in his life in many ways or creatively at least. I just became interested in it as a type of film which created a much different sensation or viewing experience then a comedy or sci-fi movie or an adventure movie. Something about when you are really freaked out watching a movie where there’s a weird rush or some type of thrill. It’s just a thrilling experience; it’s a thrill ride. It’s fun to engage in a different type of movie. You know I have made a lot of movies at this point, over twenty films or something. So I get really excited to try something new right now.
I don’t get very excited making a variation of the same movie over and over. This is something that’s very different and that could be very exciting. I like this idea of making different types of movies because if you follow an actor you don’t necessarily want to have to watch the same type of movie every time you watch that actor in a movie. I think there is something to be said for switching up the genres but you can still you enjoy your performance or be a character with an actor that you’re familiar with but in a different genre.
CinemaChords: Speaking with André Øvredal recently, he spoke nothing but praise for you and Brian Cox’s performance as well as understanding the psychology of the character. How was it working with André on this project, especially with such a limited body of work? Also, how did you become connected to this project?
EH: The script was sent to me and both André and Brian were attached. I asked a friend of mine who’s a really talented guy in the world of film about André. He said this guy is amazing! Watch TROLLHUNTER. So I watched TROLLHUNTER and I really loved it! Even though it’s only one film, for a director a feature-length film is a huge achievement. One film is a big, big deal and even to get to a point when you complete the film, there are so many steps that these directors have to take these day to get that film. If you can have one really great film, it’s an incredible calling card for him. He really rode all these different tones and it was just a very special film because it’s arty but it’s still hugely entertaining. It’s freaky but it’s still really funny. It’s small scale but you still feel as though you were almost watching a JURASSIC PARK kind of movie at times, particularly near the ending when your mind is almost blown from this grand spectacle that he created out of this seemingly tiny film.
Visually, it showed assurance in the way he just viewed things and presented things. JANE DOE was a big departure because his personality was this naturally Scandinavian kind of sense of control. So TROLLHUNTER, in a certain sense, is almost even more remarkable. He was so all about moving a camera in precise ways and at very specific moments. TROLLHUNTER is this mockumentary that is hand held. JANE DOE is actually more of a him film in many ways.
CinemaChords: You can see that in the way that he frames shots and lets the movement work into the frame. Also, the movement which is compared and contrast between the two films. Talk to me about working that to Brian Cox and that father and son dynamic?
EH: Well you know with Brian Cox, the work was so easy with him because he is such a talented and incredible actor. We made scenes that honestly could be really hard to pull off, not just with the heightened levels of emotion in certain parts of the film, but also with all the tools that we had. There was some extremely technical choreography that we worked on every day for some of the medical scenes. I consider myself a pretty good technician when I’m under pressure but this film took was very much like, “Can you pat yourself on the head and rub yourself on the belly at the same time?”
It was really like we had so many tools and this was a lot to juggle plus you have the scenes and the lines and you have to make it look like you have been doing it for years. But Brian was just a
master at that. So I just kind of followed his lead pretty much on everything in the film. He’s the boss in the film too and I’m his assistant and his son. The father-son relationship worked, I think, because Brian and I just really liked each other a lot; plus he’s a really fun, funny and caring guy. He really looked out for me. I think that rapport that we had is sort of what you see in the movie. It’s a respect and admiration. One of the things the film does really nicely, which some people have been commenting on, is the aspect of the friendly relationship with the father and son in a movie. Not a relationship where they’re yelling at each other and there’s all this defiance. I haven’t really experienced much of that with my father. I know a lot of people who have but that’s not everyone’s experience. There’s this kind of movie cliché now where some people have that experience and writers interpret that as being super dynamic dramatically. Then it almost becomes like the norm of the father/son experience in a bulk of movies. Then it becomes overly cliché which might not even be emotionally accurate so we took a different path. The writers took a different path and it’s not like an extreme path. These guys really respect and like each other and everyone’s like, “It’s so refreshing!”
CinemaChords: It’s very interesting when you have something that’s fluid inside a very jagged relationship. I’m also glad you put in a personal perspective from your life and how it reflects the dynamic as well. Let me close it out with this: Two key scenes in the film, especially one being André’s favorite which is the elevator scene in act three and also the connection of the bell and those scenes connected with it. Can you talk about those two scenes to close it out?
EH: The elevator scene from me and Brian was sort of a confession for both of the characters of this reckoning that they been forced to deal with by Jane Doe. There’s this honesty that both of the men have in the elevator scene and dealing with the roots of their lives and, without giving anything away, my character has gone through a very distressing time to say the least, as has Brian, but it is sort of like for me a surreal scene because the character who is a very logical character is talking about stuff that is totally impossible and that a few hours before would be nonsense to him. He’s trying to engage it in a practical way so to me it was trying to capture a mix of despair and also confusion and almost a disbelief at what he was saying and realizing. As well as trying to play that real because you are a practical person, suddenly there’s this impossibility to deal with. I was like, “How would someone actually react to that?” I was trying to ground it as much as I could because at the end of the day it’s a pretty out there scenario. I just wanted to try to capture that because if you can make it a little bit more believable, the audience will then believe a lot of stuff. When you’re watching a movie, you create that suspension of disbelief and there’s a lot of stuff that you think you will never get away with that audience will just go with because it is part of the story. I think that natural ability for the audience to suspend their disbelief and for us trying to authenticate it and the characters we create up to that point make for a very believable premise considering the outrageous scenario.
The bell scene is I think is André’s finest moment in many ways. Brian and I are sort of the vessels for the audience and particularly that scene. Less is more from us and then the audience is able to project their own fear, particularly the bell scene when you don’t know what is on the other side of the door. The imagination runs wild in a very similar way with the scene with Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN when Javier shows up behind the door with that weird cow air gun. That scene stretches on for such a long time but it’s just agonizing to watch because you don’t know what’s on the other side of the door and the primal responses and reactions that everyone has from our evolution. It’s sort of André realizing that and he was super inspired by that scene in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. I think he wanted to kind of take that simplicity and effectiveness that scene had and apply it to that horror scene.
CinemaChords: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE.
EH: Thank you so much for the support!
Watch the trailer for the film and find out more about THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE at http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/the-autopsy-of-jane-doe
Follow Jay Kay @JayKayHorror on Twitter
(Photos from Jay Kay at the 2016 Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and found on Yahoo)