The story of actor Emile Hirsch is one that seems to have been told a thousand times: a young and impressive actor falls from grace as he/she tries to battle his/her demons off the screen.
Hirsch, born in 1985, was probably one of the most promising actors of his generation, sharing the distinction with the likes of the slightly older duo of Ryan Gosling and Jake Gyllenhaal (each born in 1980). His early career was filled with standout performances in an array of critically acclaimed movies, and it was in The Girl Next Door that the actor was first brought to the attention of the masses.
Released in 2004, when Hirsch was only 19, The Girl Next Door chronicled Hirsch’s character’s departure from high school in a sexually fused movie that also featured Timothy Olyphant and Paul Dano. Although typically a high-school movie in some ways, the film borrowed heavily from source material that was much deeper than simply getting laid and taking drugs, and Hirsch was therefore required to carry the movie with much more depth than would otherwise be expected, and all while being so young. It was a strong statement from a young actor who was displaying his potential with a mature performance that was uncommon for people of his age. From there the actor chose the right projects and critical acclaim came in its droves as he played possibly the most developed character of skating-drama Lords of Dogtown in 2005, a film which also starred Heath Ledger, and turned in a third good performance in a row in 2006’s Alpha Dog. This trio of movies acted as a springboard to career defining work in the latter part of the decade with 2007’s Into the Wild and 2008’s Milk.
Collaborating with Sean Penn on each project – under him on Into the Wild which Penn directed, and supporting him in Milk for which Penn won a Best Actor Oscar – Hirsch excelled. His ability to transform himself into a range of different characters was proving him to be one of the better character actors of his age anywhere in the world and a much sought after talent. Into the Wild was perhaps the most important role of his career as it truly established him as a capable leading character actor, while Milk brought him more widespread attention from those within the industry. Each film told the remarkable true stories of Americans in extraordinary situations and Hirsch seemed to manage with the weight of expectation exceedingly well for such a young man.
In the years following 2008’s Milk, Hirsch sought a route away from the mainstream and instead into more artistic and challenging endeavors. The standout of this period was his role as a boystrous and hilarious partner to Paul Rudd’s straight-laced character in the darkly humorous Prince Avalanche (2013), directed by Pineapple Express and Joe director David Gordon Green. The actor worked effortlessly with Rudd to form a duo that was ultimately lovable despite all of their flaws, and showed as an individual that he was capable of producing humour as well as drama if the role fitted such a description. It was in the same year that Hirsch’s name began to grow once more as the young actor dropped a significant amount of weight to be one quarter of the Mark Wahlberg starring war drama Lone Survivor, playing a part of a four man crew with Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster.
Lone Survivor would prove to be Hirsch’s last meaningful step towards the limelight as the actor was taken to court in 2015 following a brawl at a nightclub for which he was found guilty of assaulting a female Insurge Pictures executive from behind in a drug-fueled bust-up with the woman – full story here. The actor was sentenced to 17 days in prison for misdemeanor assault and 50 hours of community service, as well as a fine of $4,750, but the brutality of his attack and the fact that his victim was ranked highly within the industry, has all but killed any chance of this once highly respected young actor making anything more from his career than has already been made. Unfortunately for his fans, Into the Wild and Milk (2007-2008) will likely remain the actor’s career highlights for the rest of his life, though it can be seen as no less than Hirsch deserves for such horrendous actions. From here on out, the actor is penned to be a part of three small independent films by relatively unknown directors, indicating that although his career has continued, his pulling power has reduced significantly with audiences and those working within the industry.