“Speed Racer” stars Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci are better known for smaller independent movies than summer blockbusters.

Yet they could not pass up the chance to work with Larry and Andy Wachowski on the brothers’ first writing-directing effort after “The Matrix” trilogy.

After the lesbian thriller “Bound” and their science-fiction franchise, all dark R-rated affairs, the Wachowskis have gone the family route with the PG-rated “Speed Racer,” a live-action and computer-animated update of the TV cartoon series.

Hirsch, who starred last year in Sean Penn’s acclaimed drama “Into the Wild,” plays Speed, the young phenomenon of the Racer family, who gets behind the wheel to take on a corrupt corporate honcho ruining auto racing.

Ricci, most recently seen as a pig-faced girl in the fairy-tale romance “Penelope,” plays Speed’s girlfriend Trixie, who flies the skies in her helicopter to scout out the race course.

With the Wachowskis reteaming with “Matrix” producer Joel Silver, “Speed Racer” also stars John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox and a pet chimpanzee that’s constantly getting into trouble.

Hirsch, 23, and Ricci, 28, chatted with The Associated Press at March’s ShoWest theater-owners convention, where distributor Warner Bros. showed off footage of “Speed Racer.” The movie opens Friday.


AP: Given the more serious films the two of you often do, a big summer action movie doesn’t seem like an obvious choice.

Ricci: But this is the coolest, because it’s the Wachowski brothers, and also, it’s not your average cheesy big blockbuster. It’s really awesome.

Hirsch: There’s something just so wonderfully rebellious about the idea of being like some serious actor and having to just do those kind of movies, where I wanted to spit on the idea and just do something so wrong. But it’s so right.

Ricci: And so much about choices for me is about what’s going to be fun. This sounded like so much fun. You get to go do an action-y film and a really stylized character. To me, that’s fun.

AP: The racing sequences were created by computer animation. Was there any actual driving involved?

Hirsch: I’d skateboard around set, but I don’t think I actually drove a car once the entire time. … But the thing they put us on, they put us on this thing called a gimbal, which is basically a braced piece, like a rollercoaster car, suspended up in the air with a hydraulic rig. That has a lot of power. If they crank that thing max it could break your neck from the force, the G force is that strong. They would just thrash us around. I think I spent a total of 20 days on the gimbal.

AP: Out of how many days?

Hirsch: Out of 60.

Ricci: I was only in there one day, in the gimbal. … It happened to be a Saturday, so the brothers were in charge of how fast and hard the car was getting punched, instead of, like, a second-unit director. And they got really into it. I was just like, OK, whatever, we’ll go with this. But I like being bruised up. I actually had to get out of the car and vomit and get back in.

AP: What was the most fun thing about s ting “Speed Racer”?

Hirsch: There was this chimpanzee on the set. “Fun” may not be the proper word for it, but he was the part that just directed all my attention to it. I loved the chimpanzee. We all did.

Ricci: I didn’t.

Hirsch: Yeah, he did some Michael Jordan hang time on one of Christina’s hoo-haws.

Ricci: In my first shot in the movie, he leapt over and grabbed my left breast with the kind of grip that only an animal or a very young, angry child can have. And I have to like, hang there saying, “Help,” quietly until anyone noticed and got him off … .

Hirsch: This is the first scene, first take of the movie.

Ricci: Before that, I didn’t really like monkeys much, but I’m not going to be Debbie Downer. I’m going to get over this and be like, “Oh, isn’t he cute in his little outfit,” and all that stuff. But then he did that, and it was like, “Well, I’m perfectly justified now in disliking monkeys.”

AP: Were you surprised to learn the Wachowskis were doing such a family-friendly film?

Ricci: I wasn’t, because I knew they wanted to make a kids movie.

Hirsch: What the Wachowskis originally did when they stunned the world with “The Matrix” was they did the unexpected, and they gave people things they hadn’t seen before. But you would really have to go to a completely different genre, because if you approached an R-rated kind of mind-bending action drama, it would always have the echo of “The Matrix.” So to really do what they did with the first “Matrix,” it had to be this, in a strange way.

AP: The Wachowskis are notoriously press-shy. Did you get any sense about why they don’t do interviews?

Ricci: I think they really kind of believe that their work is making the film, and any sort of attention that comes to them as people really takes away from the distance of making the film for them.

Hirsch: Plus, they’re in the awesome position of they don’t have to. They’ve got Joel Silver, who’s a really great speaker to kind of speak, as well as the actors, on their behalf. They’re not interested, and I think probably more than anything, they value their anonymity. You get very smart, somewhat shy people, they don’t necessarily want to be famous just because they’re writers.

AP: Are you car enthusiasts?

Ricci: I used to be, but I’m not anymore. It’s too much work. I had a ’67 Firebird, and my first car ever was a 1964 Ford Falcon Futura station wagon. Then I had the Porsche 911, the year 2000 model. I was kind of into cars, but it’s just too much work. The vintage ones break down, and they don’t pass the smog-emissions checks.

AP: What do you drive now?

Ricci: I won’t say. It’s bad for the environment.

AP: Emile, car enthusiast?

Hirsch: Only the new-technology cars that are absolutely good for the environment. I have a Toyota Prius. I don’t have an interest in any car that isn’t good for the environment, other than maybe an aesthetic quality in a picture book.

Ricci: See, I got my three-year lease on my car before I saw the Al Gore movie (“An Inconvenient Truth”), then immediately went, “Oh, no.” So I’m waiting for my three-year lease to be up, and I’m going to get a green car. I feel really bad about my car. … I got my car because I thought it was hilarious …

Hirsch: What, do you have like a clown car?

Ricci: No, I have a really big sedan like some old, fat Italian grandfather would have. I think it’s hilariously funny, but it’s not worth the humor. Not a lot of people get the joke, so it’s not worth abusing the earth for it.

From the AP