Emile Hirsch on why his latest character is a fresh take on the crime genre

Emile Hirsch in 'Midnight in the Switchgrass.'
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Crime isn’t exactly an unturned stone in terms of subject matter that we see on both the big and small screen, but yet, the mysterious nature of the evils of human nature are as popular as ever. The latest film in the genre comes from first-time director but long-time Hollywood producer Randall Emmett, and with a cast of noticeable talent (Bruce Willis, Megan Fox, Emile Hirsch, Machine Gun Kelly and more), ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ has the star power to set itself up for another look into the dark side of the world.

But for Hirsch, who plays dedicated detective Byron Crawford, it was his characters convictions that drove him to want to explore more. In the film, Hirsch’s Crawford becomes perplexed and a bit obsessed with a string of murders that he believes are connected. It’s not until he links up with a similarly passionate agent in the FBI (Fox) that he’s able to connect those dots concretely, and what ensues is a chase to save lives.

Hirsch sat down to discuss more on why he wanted to play the character of Byron Crawford.

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What was it that made you want to get involved with this film?

I was first aware of this film because I had known Randall for a really long time. He produced ‘Lone Survivor’ and ‘Force of Nature’ and we’re buddies. He told me he wanted to [make this film] and direct it—and I thought, I don’t know about this, because he’s a really well-known producer but he hasn’t directed before. So I went to the table read and read it out loud, and I was honestly really pleased with the script. I really enjoyed the character and just the way Alan [Horsnail] had written his part, there was some real meat to the character.

So when Randall asked me to do the movie I said yeah, and there were also just some super cool actors I was excited to work with…[But] Randall is a super large personality. He’s the guy who would get a 20-piece marching band for his entrance when he does World Series Poker or something like that, he’s a real showman and it’s wild actually. But he’s really fun to be around and really high-energy. So, I always had a feeling that he was going to be good at it.

I did know that he went to school for visual performing arts, so he had a background and he’s worked with actors and done some stage work and stuff. So, that was the main kind of thing, then when I got on set I was pleased that he very naturally adapted to it. It seemed very natural for him to be working with actors and scenes. I was pretty surprised that there were a lot of things that came to him very instinctively that some other directors that I’ve worked with would struggle a little bit [with.]

What did you like about your character?

What I really liked about the character of Byron Crawford is that he was a fresh take on a homicide detective. What I’ve been seeing a lot of recently is a super jaded cop who is on the beat and he is an atheist and believed in nothing and all of the horrible stuff he’s seen just confirmed his belief in nothing and he had a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. This character was a little different. He had a real spiritual foundation and he was a devoted Christian. His wife kind of propped him up and they were really a team. I kind of liked that dynamic because I feel like I haven’t really seen that, and it addressed his religious background in a non-judgmental way. Sometimes with those subjects or any kind of religious involvement, it’s really easy to look at it with either an overly positive lens or negative lens.

I just wanted to present these people how I saw them. He’s a very religious guy with his wife and he really believes in a righteous cause and has his morality and his drive towards justice, and it is super informed by his faith. There’s a lot of cops like that, so it was nice to see that angle and that was sort of the fresh take that really sparked my interest. Especially because religion is a hotbed subject in so many ways, you either love it or you don’t love it or whatever… I liked the idea that there was something not controversial, but he had a real stance on things.

With ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass,’ is there anything that sets this film apart from others in the genre?

I think it’s a cool addition to the genre. My favorite films of the genre would probably be “Seven” and “Silence of the Lambs,” those are masterpieces. For me, in terms of characters that I’ve done, it was [nice] to play probably the most spiritual character that I’ve played since ‘Into the Wild.’ To have this guy be a homicide detective and have that spiritual angle within that job was a cool take. That was something that sets it a little bit apart from the rest of those movies.

As you mentioned, there really is a great cast. What were some moments from filming or character relationships you enjoyed exploring?

I’ve worked with Bruce Willis and [Lukas Haas] on ‘Alpha Dog’ 17 years prior, so it was great getting to reconnect with them. Lukas and I didn’t have any scenes really at all, but Bruce and I had a couple which was nice to catch up with him in that way. But my first day of shooting was with Megan Fox and we were doing that big bar scene where we were discussing the case.

It was interesting because Randall was nervous that day because it was his first day ever of directing a movie and he’s got me and Megan doing this three-page dialogue in a bar scene. That was when me and him being friends came in handy, because he was relaxed and then Megan came and we just got into it. We shot this long scene and it was a good intro for Megan and our characters to get know each other a little bit. We’re kind of getting our perspectives on the cases, she’s learning what kind of cop I am and I’m learning how determined she is being in the FBI.

We get to a place where we see that we agree on a lot of stuff and how determined each one of us are and we’re both willing to break the rules to get the killer. It was kind of cool, we’re coming from a similar place with two different types of jobs and two different positions. It was a meeting of the minds scenes and it was cool shooting that as a scene between Megan and I on my first day. I really had fun with that.

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Is this based on a true story?

Alan [has said] that he pulled from a few different stories. He said he deliberately didn’t make it  [just] one because then there’s certain obligations and certain moral responsibility to get it right in specific ways. I think he made it more loosely inspired by a couple of different stories and then stitches them together and then it became it’s own thing. But there are certain things that he says—he won’t really reveal what they are though—and they were pressing him about which killer [it was] and he didn’t want to say.

I understand why he didn’t want to be judged through the lens about okay, this is about the so and so killer and you’re watching the movie thinking that and then how they got it wrong. He says it’s more inspired by certain things that probably happened and then creates a fictional story around that.

‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ hits theaters On Demand and Digital on July 23 and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27. 

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