Killer Joe favours the single shot

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      TORONTO—Like many people, Emile Hirsch had his life changed by a movie, one in which he actually starred. Five years ago, he played a true-life adventurer named Chris McCandless in Into the Wild. McCandless had assumed he might not survive his wilderness lifestyle and gave his life savings of $24,000 to Oxfam.

      Hirsch, then 22, had never heard of the antipoverty organization, which, among other initiatives, supplies food to Third World countries, but he felt that other young people should know about the work Oxfam does. In a hotel room at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where he came to promote the film Killer Joe, he said he became an Oxfam volunteer and decided that for him there would now be a world beyond movies.

      “Going to those kinds of places and seeing the things that I have seen in the Congo and Zimbabwe definitely put into perspective the place of the film industry. I don’t think it necessarily demeans my [movie] work in any way, but it does show you that there is a big world out there. I know I am very lucky to act at all or to have any type of job. It’s a privilege. A lot of actors don’t get any work, and I am lucky to even be here, and it’s important to me that if I use celebrity, I should call attention to something.”

      In Killer Joe, which opens August 10, Hirsch moves a long way from McCandless. He plays a debt-ridden man who decides to hire a hit man (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother for insurance money. The movie is based on a 1998 play of the same name, but Hirsch isn’t worried that there will be too many expectations 14 years later.

      “The play was well received when it had its heyday, but most of the people who watch the movie will not have seen the play. So I think in that way I don’t feel as much pressure, because the audience will experience it for the most part as a movie.”

      He also didn’t feel a lot of pressure working for 77-year-old Hollywood legend William Friedkin. He said that although Friedkin—who directed The Exorcist and The French Connection, among other iconic films—likes to move quickly and focus on single takes, he liked the intensity.

      “It’s almost like riding the [Japanese] bullet train, because once you start, you are working at warp speed. He has a lot of energy and he doesn’t like to wait at all. I think 50 percent of my performance is the first take. He wants it to be like a play in that way. For me, that was a lot of fun. But there is a lot of dialogue, so you are getting one shot with a lot of dialogue from a director who wants you to know every word. So there is a real intensity, and you have to be on your game. There was a relaxed excitement, which is important, because you don’t want to feel anxiety when you are acting.”

      Watch the trailer for Killer Joe.