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Emile Hirsch as Sedgewick Bell

by Ken James, Staff Writer

Emile (prounced Em-eel) recently starred in the 2002 Jodie Foster production The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. He also appeared in Showtime's Wild Iris as the teenage son of an alcoholic mother. On the horizon for this 17-year-old from Westwood, CA is The Mudge Boy. Hirsch has also guest-starred in "ER" and "NYPD Blue".

to The Emperor's Club Interview Home | to our film review

How did you first hear about this project?

My manager sent me the script and it wasn't being made for a couple more months so I just kinda read it and liked it and was like "alright, when do I audition?" They're like "no, they're not casting". So I'm like "alright", and put it down. And then it came about. I ended up coming here and meeting with Kevin Kline and reading some scenes for the audition.

What was it like going toe to toe with the Oscar-Award winning Kevin Kline?

Emile Hirsch and Kevin Kline in 'The Emperor's Club'It was pretty nerve wracking when I first met him. I was very nervous. Not just on top of the fact that it's already Kevin Kline, but I'm auditioning as well!

So it's like "ahh". But he was really nice, and it was fun to work off of him. I kinda got into it.

How did you work on composing your character?

Emile Hirsch as Sedgewick Bell in 'The Emperor's Club'I tried to think of a kind, well meaning, charismatic person and just take away the kind, well meaning part. That was it!

I definitely watched some politicians on CNN and CSPAN. Definitely kinda watched that charismatic way they try to win people over. Then I... I don't know, I just kinda tried to think of a rebel. If I was a disruptive student in class, what would I be?

Was there anyone in specific you tried to pattern your character after?

I did a composite of a few different people. I will never admit who they are. But no one in [my] high school. They're more public figures.

Did you study the 1970s as you did research for your film role?

No, not really. My hair was pretty long. I didn't really do much. Don't got no time machine.

What's the film about for you?

I think it's kinda about the --going back to the quote-- "conquest without contribution is insignificant". I think it's about that. If you just cut corners for the end product, it just kinda questions does that justify it? Does that mean anything to anyone in the end?

I think there is a lot to be said for the work that's put in to something. Not just getting to the end solution.

It seems like your character goes through so much trouble just to cheat, he may as well put that much effort into study. Why does Sedgewick do that?

Because with him he has to win. There's so much pressure on him. He wants to win the love of his dad. When he loses his dad storms off. But cheating to him is like a guarantee. Whereas studying there's always the chance he could forget and could be wrong.

Do you think kids your age would go see this? What are some of the main themes students will be interested in?

Emile Hirsch as Sedgewick Bell, a charismatic student who breaks the rules by rowing across the lake to the girls' private schoolSome people my age... I would probably see this movie anyway just because it has people my age in it.

It's pretty entertaining. There's a lot of fun in it. But also it kinda touches upon the questions of ethics in school, which I think is pretty relevant to a lot of kids.

Have you ever had a teacher like Mr. Hundert? If so, what was it you liked most about them?

Yeah, I think my tenth and eleventh grade English teachers, Dr. Victor and Mr. Schenk, were kinda like Mr. Hundert to me. They kinda inspired me to work in English. Like literary analysis and getting into the reading.

They're really funny... definitely crack a lot of jokes. But at the same time they are really good at what they do.

What do you think makes a good teacher a good teacher?

A certain nobility, like what Mr. Hundert have. Willing to put in the time and work. It's more important to take the road to the destination then the destination itself.

Do you personally see the value in reading the dead Greeks and Romans, the "Classics" that Mr. Hundert so passionately teaches?

Yeah, I did it in 10th grade. So I was kinda primed and ready... I gotta resurrect Mr. Hundert's speech that he gives to Senator Bell. "Because it is the foundation of our society today..." It's true! Not just some line. The way the world kinda evolved.

Can you relate to the kind of education these boys at St. Benedict's experience? What is your education like?

I go to a public high school with like a couple thousand people.

During the downtimes in filming, what did all you teenage guys do for fun?

We roamed the streets of Manhattan after shooting and just kinda bummed around.

What are some of your personal favorite films?

Roger Doger is up there right now. Some of the old classics like On the Waterfront, Streetcar Named Desire, Usual Suspects, [and] Mosquito Coast.

Are you enjoying the "Hollywood shtick"?

Well, I'm not too much into the Hollywood shtick I would have to say. I live in Westwood. I'm not 18, so I'm not clubbing or anything. I'm enjoying the acting a lot though. Working on films and stuff.

Hirsch makes the grade in `Emperor's Club'

Special to The Star

Even though Emile Hirsch's acting career is just starting, he may already be typecast.

In his two movies (last summer's "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" and "The Emperor's Club," which opens today) he plays a student in private high school during the 1970s.

That may not be a problem for long because Hirsch is only 17 years old and the roles are exact opposites. In "Altar Boys" he was Francis Doyle, a sensitive, likable teen who expresses his frustrations (often caused by the overbearing nun sister Assumpta, played by Jodie Foster) through elaborate comic-book fantasies.

"The Emperor's Club," however, stars Hirsch as Sedgewick Bell, the spoiled son of a U.S. senator and a constant threat to order in a class on Roman history taught by Mr. Hundert (Kevin Kline).

"With Sedgewick, I thought of a kind, charismatic, well-meaning person, and I took away the kind and well-meaning part," Hirsch said by telephone from Dallas. "I definitely think people identify with Sedgewick and like him. Sedgewick would certainly want to justify everything he does in his mind, you know, when it comes to school or people.

"Francis is kind of like an unconditionally loving person. He sticks by people, and he really doesn't desert them. Francis is a lot more sensitive than Sedgewick in a lot of ways, (but) not as charismatic and not as manipulating."

Neither character has much in common with Hirsch.

"It's night and day," he said. "I go to...a public school in Los Angeles, near...the inner city. So it's a completely different environment. I go to a school with about 3,000 kids. It's huge."

Even so, adapting to a period roughly 10 years before the actor was born was relatively easy.

"My hair was already a little longer than most kids in both films," he said. "I listened to a lot of music from the '70s. I really like '70s rock, funk or whatever."

The final segment of "The Emperor's Club" jumps forward and shows Hundert's students as adults played by 30-something actors. Hirsch said the cast and crew went to considerable lengths to make the transition aesthetically smooth.

"We shot the younger stuff first, and the other guys watched the tapes," he said. "The challenge was up to them. They did a great job. Joel Gretsch (who plays Sedgewick as an adult) did an awesome job. He did a lot of little (mannerisms) I did in the film. There's a scene where I'm at the chalkboard, and I wink to a student when I'm yelled at. And (later) Joel winks to his wife...I was like, `He did it!' I was so happy. It was pretty sly."

Hirsch is likely to continue landing divergent roles. He's had guest spots on "ER" and "NYPD Blue" and has even played the young Harry Houdini in a television movie. His next film, "The Mudge Boy," makes its debut at the Sundance Film Festival next year.


Interview-Emile talks about his role as Sedgewick Bell in "Emperor's Club":
(by Rebecca Murray)
Based on the short story, "The Palace Thief," director Michael Hoffman describes "The Emperor's Club" as being about "a principled teacher who gets in over his head, venturing into a situation more labyrinthian and complex than his vision of the world had prepared him for.
"The role of Sedgewick Bell, the student who challenges Hundert's beliefs, was given to newcomer Emile Hirsch ("The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys"). The filmmakers knew that bringing the character of Sedgewick alive onscreen would take making the character as multi-dimensional as possible. "It was important to leaven the serious dramatic moments with warmth, humor and levity so that Sedgewick can successfully cast his spell." Finding the right actor was the filmmakers' most difficult challenge.

Director Michael Hoffman recalls, "A couple of these kids would come in and I thought, 'Oh my God, this person has to go toe-to-toe with Kevin Kline.' What was fascinating was how clear it was when Emile Hirsch came in. His complexity and intelligence and natural instincts were so strong, we knew we had found Sedgewick Bell."

EMILE HIRSCH ('Sedgewick Bell')

This was an extremely tough role for any young actor. How did you get into character?
Believe it or not, I got into the charismatic, shady, sly heart of Sedgewick Bell by watching CNN and C-SPAN.

You're serious?

What was it about watching those two stations that helped you find Sedgewick?
I don't know. There's something just so kind of smooth about politicians. I'm not saying that all politicians are like that but Sedgewick was raised by politicians - his dad is a senator - so I figured the qualities that they have, he would have been around them while he was growing up. He would have seen that's how adults act and that's how he's supposed to be.

Was it difficult playing this character? Sedgewick doesn't have many redeeming qualities.
Well, his charisma is his redeeming characteristic to the audience, you know, it's his mischievous side. He draws people in by the fun that he has. He gets people to like him.

You do an almost nude scene in this film. What was filming that scene like for you?
It was extremely bold because I don't have a 'six-pack so I kind of felt like a chump, but it was alright.

And your next project involves your character living next door to a porn star?
I go to school and I fall in love with a porn star. It's got a great script. It's really funny, but it's got some good drama in it, too.

Are you trying to stay away from the typical 'teen comedy' movie roles?
No, not consciously. If there's a good teen comedy script, I'd do it. I'm not staying away from any genre. I'm trying to get scripts that I like.

How did you get the role in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, and what was it about that script that hooked you?
It was the mix of drama and adventure. The mix of elements, with comedy and animation. It had a kind of honesty that it tried to evoke, and I think it did. Getting the part was thrilling. It was a series of auditions over a month. I lost sleep on a lot of nights but I just kept on going because I wanted that role like a mo-fo.

Of the two characters, Francis in "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" and Sedgewick in "The Emperor's Club," which one is more like you?
Definitely a lot more like Francis - not so much like Sedgewick (laughing).

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