Emile Hirsch Shares How Heath Ledger & Sean Penn Formed His Performance in Walden



  • Emile Hirsch reveals that he discussed character creation with Heath Ledger and took inspiration from Sean Penn’s work in Milk for his role in the movie Walden.
  • Hirsch describes his acting process as assembling a collage or art piece, fusing together various influences to create something new.
  • Surprisingly, Hirsch includes SpongeBob SquarePants as one of his influences alongside Ledger and Penn, emphasizing the power of fusing together different inspirations.

Emile Hirsch has described his acting process for the movie Walden while speaking exclusively with MovieWeb, with the actor revealing that both Academy Award winner Heath Ledger and Academy Award winner Sean Penn influenced his performance. Hirsch, who stars as the titular Walden Dean in the thriller, revealed that he discussed how to shape characters with Ledger “a long time ago,” and looked to Penn’s Oscar winning work in Milk for inspiration.

“The process… was something that I talked to Heath Ledger about a long time ago, and it’s a conversation that’s always stuck with me. We talked about creating characters and how sometimes you can almost look at acting like you’re assembling a collage or an art piece, and you’re fusing them together into something new. I felt that’s probably what this particular part called for. I don’t want to say it was like getting the divining rod until you find ‘X marks the spot’ or whatever, but it was a bit of that. I tried to take sources of inspiration that I knew I liked. I knew there was an exuberance to what Sean Penn did in Milk. This character is obviously nothing like [Harvey] Milk, but there was an exuberance that I really loved.”

Hirsch has worked with both Sean Penn and the late, great Heath Ledger before, starring alongside the former in the 2008 biographical film Milk, and the latter in 2005’s Lords of Dogtown. Clearly, working with the hugely talented pair left an impression on Hirsch, with the actor carrying this inspiration into this year’s Walden.

RELATED: Exclusive: Filmmaker Mick Davis Says Emile Hirsch Was Perfect in His Suspenseful Film Walden

Emile Hirsch Was Able to ‘Fuse Together’ the Influence of Heath Ledger, Sean Penn…and SpongeBob

Hirsch continued, explaining how he was able to “fuse together” the various influences around him, which, somewhat surprisingly, include SpongeBob SquarePants alongside Heath Ledger and Sean Penn.

“I’m someone that has gotten so much out of recognizing patterns and making sense of that. Now, whether it’s outside me or it’s just an ability to kind of see things that don’t seem related, then you see how they’re related… I don’t know, that’s sort of above my pay grade. But so often I find with acting or even writing, or even influences you have in life, that they manifest in different ways. You know, watching SpongeBob with my son and working and taking advice from Heath Ledger on Lords of Dogtown, years and years ago, or working with Sean Penn and Milk… all these types of things. I’m someone that’s really a large result of my influences. And being able to fuse together those influences, I think that’s a powerful tool to have.”

As for Walden, the movie follows Hirsch as Walden Dean, a stenographer, who has witnessed all types of injustices in the courtroom. After discovering he has a terminal illness, repressed anger deep within him surfaces – taking justice into his own hands in the most gruesome ways imaginable.

Written and directed by Mick Davis and starring Shane West, Kelli Garner, Tania Raymonde, and David Keith alongside Hirsch, Walden is due to be released On Demand & Digital from December 12th, 2023. Check out the trailer below:

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