In David Gordon Green’s latest film, Prince Avalanche, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play a couple of road maintenance workers in the remote Texas wilderness. They’re the ultimate odd couple — Alvin (Rudd) is an uptight nature-lover who enjoys his solitude, and Lance (Hirsch) hates the wild and talks obsessively about sex and women. They bicker, they bond, and they fight like 8-year-olds. It’s Green’s most intimate film in six years, after a string of larger studio films (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter). At Sundance, we spoke to Green and Hirsch about playing (and being) man-children, gaining twenty pounds, and getting horny in the woods.
Emile, what was it like to play a man-child? You were acting opposite the master of man-child acting.
Hirsch: I think the curious and slightly disturbing thing is that there are actually parallels to me in that part. Not in ways that I’m, like, happy to acknowledge, but they’re definitely there. So it was almost shocking to see the film because there are parts of me that do kind of wanna break free of the shell of immaturity and kind of ascend to being an adult. But it’s easy as an actor to kind of be shackled in this protracted period of infancy.
Green: See, I’ve protected my protracted period of infancy. For many years. And I have no desire to become an adult.
Did you guys draw on any of your own wilderness bonding stories while shooting this?
Green: I used to spend summers taking troubled kids on mountain hikes. That was fun. This is something Paul and I would draw from. It was like a group of us counselors who would take these kids on these backpacking trips in the Rockies. And there were always a couple of cocky nerd counselors that would do things like sit backward in their chairs when they talk to the youth — things that they think kind of made them hipper. So Paul and I would talk about these cocky nerdy characters that had this confidence that came out of nowhere and wasn’t deserved.
Hirsch: It’s strange for me because all of my past wilderness experience was shooting Into the Wild and the preparation that went into that. At times I felt like I was kind of sinning or something — saying I don’t like nature and I wanna go home and I love the city and all this stuff, stuff that was literally the most rigid other perspective.
Green: There’s something within contemporary culture which is far more faux masculine than it was when men were really men. Now men are either children or women or half a man or trying to be something else. I live part-time in a cabin in Colorado up in the mountains and part-time on a ranch in central Texas — but do I really know how to go brand a cow, or do I really know how to go rappelling down a cliff? No. I do the recreational, half-assed version of all these manly activities and then try to keep that kind of Zen masculinity, like, “I’m a man of nature.” But in truth, I like a high thread count in my sheets.
I thought the sexual frustration that Emile’s character was feeling was hilarious. When men go into the woods, it’s this kind of idealized Thoreau thing, but then there’s this whole other element.
Green: I get really horny in nature.
Hirsch: I think I understood why he got horny. You’ve got Paul Rudd there. I mean, why not?
Green: For me, it’s such a romantic place. It’s a poem of a place, you know? Mountains and trees and rivers and creeks. You just want … females.
Hirsch: You feel like an animal. You see that donkey dick in the movie and it’s just green lights.
Wait, where was the donkey dick?
Hirsch: No one saw the donkey dick!
Green: People missed it! People missed it!
Hirsch: It was the shot of the donkey —
Green: He’s fishing, Paul Rudd is. Then it cuts away from him, and there’s just a donkey that’s just looking at him, but he’s got a dong this long [makes a hand gesture that suggests great length].
I totally missed that.
Green: We had to keep our toilet humor in there a little bit. I couldn’t totally clean up my act.
What kind of physical prep did you have to do for the character, Emile?
Green: Whataburger. Taco Bell.
Hirsch: I don’t know if this was totally intentional or if this just kind of ended up working, but from my normal weight, I’d gained twenty pounds by the time we had started to shoot. I normally weigh like 140, but I was 160 pounds. I felt like it kind of worked out because there’s something a little bit endearing with his schlubby physicality. I feel like you can get away with saying a little bit more vulgarities, especially in terms of talking about girls and stuff, if you realize he’s not someone who’s going out and roses are falling at his feet. You know what I mean?
Green: Emile had to hit the gym seriously after this show.
Hirsch: Yeah, it was pretty funny. I was literally eating three fast-food meals a day with desserts and candy on top of it. For the whole shoot.
Green: For the record, that was by choice.
David, a lot of people are calling this a return to your indie roots. Do you see your career that way?
Green: That’s an understandable consideration. But for me, I’ve always had great independence on everything I’ve done. Nobody’s ever told me not to do anything. Sometimes in the studio movies I’ve been working in, you’ll put a joke in a movie because the crowd loves it — not because I love it. There’s no joke in this movie, there’s no comedic beat, there’s no dramatic beat, there’s no emotional beat, that’s for anyone other than me.
Emile, I heard you and Paul wrote the drunk montage song.
Green: “Writing it” is a liberal term.
Hirsch: Paul is a really good improviser. I’ll try to keep up. So we kind of just started singing this song and making up the lyrics as we went along. I think we did two takes and picked the best one. There was one take where I just went completely vulgar, just Lance’s sexual frustration venting in song form.
Why didn’t you use that one?
Green: Trying to keep it clean. There’s no real profanity in the movie, which is interesting. I mean, you give the middle finger, but there’s no bad words, per se.