Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Emile Hirsch Talks Milk
11-26-08 Windy City Times Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Hirsch as Cleve Jones, Harvey Milk's fellow gay activist who was also Jones' mentor in Milk
Milk star Emile Hirsch plays Cleve Jones, Harvey Milk’s fellow gay activist in the film. Jones, who shepherded the project, was a
historical consultant on the film (interviewed in last week’s Windy City Times). Hirsch discussed the movie with Windy City Times.
Q: How did you come on board?
EM: I had met Gus once before. He made, I think, Last Days and we just had a meeting and we chatted and he was looking to cast
a couple of the band people in that and we got along well. After he saw Into the Wild at the Toronto Film Festival premiere he told
me after that he was thinking of putting me into the movie and he brought up the idea to Sean and he agreed. Although I can’t
imagine Sean agreeing too easily after spending so much time with me on Into the Wild. There’s got to be a part of him that would
just be like, “I’ve got to get away from this guy.” (laughs)
Q: Did you have a completely different relationship with him on this?
EM: Yes. He was very focused on his part the whole time. It’s like playing basketball with the coach. It’s not something you’re
used to. I was very used to the other way and it was a little strange but it was great and was a reminder of what an extraordinary
actor he is.
Q: Was it intimidating to have Cleve Jones the character you played on the set everyday?
EM: Cleve had a very strong personality but for some reason we got along really well. We always had a lot of fun, we had a very
jokey, mischievous kind of relationship. But we care about hearing other people’s stories. I would tell me about his life and he
would tell me about his and he’s had an extraordinary life and I always had so much respect for him and what he’s done going into
the project that we just had a great time. I did like the pressure of having Cleve onset everyday brought. It upped the stakes a
Q: Has Cleve’s example as a gay activist and Harvey’s inspired you to champion a cause of your own?
EM: Absolutely. Absolutely and working with Sean and Gus and being involved on Into the Wild with (Christopher) McCandless who
has donated his life savings to Oxfam (an international rights group). I got involved with Oxfam through Into the Wild and I’m
helping them raise awareness about the Congo so I went there this summer for a week and to different places. It’s really just trying
to get the word out there about what Oxfam does and hopefully get people involved.
Q: Does this mean that we’re going to see you champion some gay causes as well.
EM: Well, I am in the movie to start with (laughs).
Q: That’s a great beginning!
EM: So, yeah.
Q: Your character arguably has the biggest transformation in the film – starting out as a hustler and then becoming an activist but
he doesn’t have that much time to do that? How difficult is that as an actor?
EM: You have to be focused and any young actor that’s stepping onto a set with Sean Penn you’re bringing your A Game there’s just
no, ifs, ands or buts – you’re going to be ready. I kept my eye pretty sharply on where I wanted to go but at the same time I
wanted things to be able to just happen and Gus created an environment that let you feel relaxed so you could breathe some life
into your role.
Q: Do you have a bag of tricks yet? You’re still pretty young at that?
EM: No, no bag of tricks. I have my instincts that I try to work from.
Q: You just did a film with Ang Lee?
Q: You also worked with Heath Ledger which makes me wonder do you hope audiences will embrace this film the way they did
Brokeback Mountain? I know gay audiences will but mainstream audiences?
EM: Oh absolutely. I think Heath Ledger’s performance in Brokeback Mountain is one of the best I’ve seen and I loved working with
Ang and I loved Brokeback Mountain. If we could near what Brokeback Mountain was able to achieve – gay people, straight people,
everybody was seeing it and just loves that film – that would be a huge accomplishment and we’d be very lucky if that happened.
Q: What else do you have coming up?
EM: The Ang Lee film (Taking Woodstock). I play a kind of post-traumatic, stressed out young Vietnam vet so my hair was down to
here and I had a big beard.
Q: Cleve is very protective of you, you know.
EM: I like that.
Q: When I talked to him in Chicago he said, “I’ll beat you up if you’re not nice to him.”
EM: (laughs) He’s really great, a good friend.
Check the Archives for other Milk Interviews with cast members and historical consultant Cleve Jones