Aaron Eckhart – bearded biker babe from “Erin Brockovich”, Swoon-worthy chef in “No Reservations”, grieving father in “Rabbit Hole”, two-faced white knight in “The Dark Knight” and now, Camp Pendleton’s best in “Battle : Los Angeles”. Had a chance to chat to the lovely Aaron Eckhart about his latest film and also all those varied roles he’s played.
Last saw you at the Scream Awards back in November.
Yeah, that’s right. I’ll never forget that. I wasn’t prepared for it, I have to say. That was a good night.
Freaked you out there?
It was different. I mean, I’ve never been to a place where there was blood and guts and everybody was screaming. But it was funny because I was just at home and I had been taking a nap. And then I got in the car, I was kind of sleepy and then went to the Scream Awards. It was fun that I have done it.
So Jonathan said you were attached to this film maybe before he was.
Yeah. Well, I was definitely, I wanted to do it. Jonathan convinced me to do it. He brought in this excellent presentation and showed me everything he was going to do. And on his computer, he made up these aliens. But what really sold me was that he brought up a YouTube video of these Marines going through Felushia house to house and both at the same time, being organized and chaotic at the same time, and these young Marines having to deal with a very serious situation. This is the way I want the movie to look, and this is what I want the movie to feel, this train force but yet when the ship hits a fan, they’re both young and trained at the same time. And as soon as he showed me that, I said, I’m in. I just had to do the movie. And I felt like when we were making the movie, the first three weeks, we were on that free way, it was like we were at war. I mean it was bloody hot and we were shooting rounds and the way we were filming it and Jonathan always had three cameras filming at all times, and I just felt like it was the real deal. And everybody did and so my hat’s off to Jonathan for not only having the idea but to execute the idea.
So was it really the Marine aspect of the movie that made you want that part?
Yeah. And it was definitely just the older Marine. The alien part of it you had to make it real. So obviously as an actor, you have to substitute the aliens for whatever force you believe. So, that really didn’t have too much bearing on it. You obviously ask the questions of what will the aliens going to like? How are they going to behave? And Jonathan, I thought, had a very good idea about that which was, they behave like us, they have the same structure, hierarchy, they move in the same way, they retreat, they flank, they have the same sort of… They read the same books, The Art of War, so that it could be two forces that have sort of equal powers, so that the audience will feel like there could be a winner and loser here. I thought that was treated well. But mostly, I feel the movie is a war movie about a group of Marines who find themselves in the midst of an impossible situation.
How much did the boot camp experience impact your portrayal?
It was great. First of all, just to learn your weapons, to sleep with your weapons and live with it, to know what it’s like to do your bedding, we did all the boot camp in character. And so you had a hierarchy, you ate in the hierarchy, you showered in the hierarchy, you trained in the hierarchy, I don’t even know these guys’ real names, so I couldn’t tell you what they were. So, that helped, really helped. These guys was getting to know each other, telling real-life stories. You know, at the beginning of the movie where all the camaraderie of these guys, well, they’ve known each other so well by that; their music, the girls, the stories, the where froms, the what do you do’s, blah, blah, blah, all these sorts. They already have their own nicknames for each other, they knew each other’s personality so well that they didn’t have to act those parts. And then their relationship to me, I obviously did boot camp in character so I wasn’t the most well liked. [laughter]
But that was the part. And even today, if you see these guys around, I never let them feel who I was or wont even suspect, so when they were in the movie, looking at Sgt. Nantz, I think that they were really thinking there was not a big difference between Sgt. Nantz and myself.
So was the experience of making the film different than you thought it would be?
It was the hardest movie I ever made.
Oh by far, the most physical. Just every day was a beautiful nightmare. It was so tough physically. The weather, the physical, the weaponry, just the long days, the amount of takes we took. And psychologically, it was difficult. I mean, I did the last three weeks of this movie with a broken arm.
Yeah. So, I did that. But at the same time, this is the only movie in my career that at the end of it, I was sorry that it was ending. I really loved my character. I would love to… If there is a next movie, I’d love to be in it because I just love everything that had to do with the Marines, with the weapons, the helicopters, and just that whole camaraderie with your sort of diamonds fused under pressure.
Was that a work-related injury, the broken arm?
I did not miss a second of work, [laughter] I’ve worked through it and I did not use a cast.
And I had three weeks to go and the whole last thing after that, I just you know, I mean… I broke it here, it was the top bone that went through I wasn’t about to… When these movies start get going you don’t want to shut them down.
Well, this is a follow-up to her question, was it during the making of ‘’Battle: LA’’? Were you sitting on the set?
Oh, yeah. No, I did a stunt. I said to the cameraman, I said, “Here dude, I’m going to do it.” And he’s like, “All right. That will be cool!” [laughter]
That will be cool!
At the end of the scene, when the thing’s coming up and I run for the box, I ran and I jumped over this thing. Well, one take I jumped, I slipped and it was about 7 feet, I fell right unto my arm, into my head, these are all of these rocks around, lucky I didn’t kill myself, but I realized and I said, “Keep on.” And I think two days later, I went to the — at night, not during the day — I went to the hospital and did my MRIs and x-rays and then, but I did not miss work.
Did the cut make into the movie?
Jonathan told me that he would put that in the movie.
You know that actual take.
You haven’t seen it yet?
I can’t remember now that I’m thinking about it. I have to ask Jonathan, I’m not sure if that’s the actual one. It worked with the movie because it was painful.
Did you get a lot of bangs and bruises?
Oh, my gosh! Oh, boy! Everybody was knocking their teeth out and somebody was always at the dentist or hit in the eye or don’t point that at me, you’re falling over. I know one guy couldn’t walk, you know, definitely everybody was banged up. I can’t think of anybody who wasn’t hurt at one point or another.
That’s going to make it more real, I guess.
Oh, yeah! And the heat was beautiful. It was so damn hot and humid and miserable, but it was just beautiful. There were times, at very early on the film, when I would… Because we did the free way scenes first, three weeks of this free way scene, and I would look at the guys between takes and they would just… I mean you couldn’t tell if it was a Vietnam picture or what. They were just like, or Iraq, they were just sitting there dead.
Faces drooping, million yard stares just like this and then we had to… Everybody was like, “Arrh.” That was awesome. I loved that because like I said, Jonathan had three cameras going on at all times, so if he put the camera on them, it was always authentic, it was always real. You couldn’t tell… You’d thought they were at war.
Is it handy doing a flick that doesn’t rely over an abundance of CGI?
It’s like with the Dark Knight, it’s absolutely valuable. I mean that’s why these films have that texture you’re talking, that depth, it’s because it’s real. I mean we had a freeway, we just sat down overpass that went on hundreds of yards. Overturned cars, smoke everywhere, debris, helicopters crashed into the free way, tanks. When you look at that as an actor, you’re like I’m in a war zone, that’s just all there’s to it. Then now, when you’re take… Doing the takes, you have the smoke that’s going up and everything, you have no visibility any ways. So, you don’t know that your foes are coming from… Where the alien is or whatever, you just know that bullets are coming at you. So, in other words, what I’m trying to say is that you’re focusing narrowly; you’re not focusing in the distance or anything like that. So if you see an alien here, but it did “Swish” like this, you know like that on you at all times and that was great because we use the environment, but the aliens were always on us. Like that bus, if I ever see that bus again, [laughter] I don’t know what I’ll do to it. I hate that bus.
You’re having those ‘’Speed’’ symptom?
I should talk to Keanu Reeves about that. I absolutely hate that bus.
Could you talk a little about Two-Face in comparison with working at ‘’Battle: LA’’?
Well, they’re so different. You know, Batman is a dark movie and it’s basically a movie that takes place a night. It’s got sort of those the evil overtones of corruption and politics and all this sort of stuff and obviously, Batman lives in a cave and Battle: LA was just out in the open.
You know what I mean? If you cut the smoke and threw away your clothes, you’re looking at the most beautiful day in the world. And so, really, literally, the movies are night and day. In terms of the film making and stuff, the great thing about working with Chris Nolan is that every movie, even though the movie costs $200 million, it felt like an independent film because that’s where he comes from. All the actors stay on set, he keeps it very easy, quiet set. He works fast. He’s dealing with incredibly dense material, the script, an incredibly complex script for the Dark Knight. I mean, comparatively to any other scripts I read, it’s just like, “Wow!”
And the great thing about Chris and Jonathan is that whatever is on the page ends up on the screen and that’s a testament. And Jonathan, I cannot say enough about Jonathan. I cannot say enough about the way he filmed this movie, how he pushed us, how he allowed me personally to work with him. I mean, there’d be times when Jonathan will be doing things that were absolutely just mind blowingly real and how he filmed it. I looked at the playback, I don’t usually look at playback, but he said, “Aaron, come here. View the playback.” And I said, “If somebody were getting shot with these bullets, that’s the only way how this can be more real.” You know what I mean? When I was looking at the playback. Now, if we didn’t have aliens in last four steps, you guys might see something a little bit different, but Jonathan’s a real deal and I think he’s going to go far.
Since this movie, this experience and being very physical and it and being very troop-oriented, has this changed like your life in any way in like are you more sensitive towards that? And then also from the professional standpoint, you may be exploring being an action star like push on it a little more.
Well, yeah, for sure. I love to be physical. I love physical movies. I love movies where you’re out and about. I like I’m going to do a CIA movie with all the run through Europe, that kind of thing. It’s much more attractive to me than it was early on in my career. I also like movies where either you’re a father figure or like in this next movie I have a daughter, like in the last… I have been doing it for the last few years, I’ve been a father. So I like that element of things. This movie changed me. I mean, I’ve always had a high regard for the Armed Forces, been very compassionate to them and I feel for them especially I went and did the USO Tour.
Really? That’s good.
We went to Afghanistan. Yeah, with Bradley Cooper, and he and I went with Dax Shepard. And that was a great experience. And I was just sitting down with those dudes at lunch and dinner and telling lots of stories. And I mean, just incredible. So I want this movie to… I feel like when those guys see this movie, that they’re going to be stumped. I feel like they’re going to feel like we honoured them, that we tried to get it right. I feel like they’re going to be entertained. I feel like they’re going to think we did a pretty good job handling our weapons and moving and stuff like that which is important to me. Yeah, so I feel like in my life, I still wear mostly, every single day, I wear all green. My hair is short. I’m ready for the next one. [laughter]
When did you do that USO Tour? Was it during the filming of this?
No, it was before.
Yeah. I went, I can’t remember when it was now, but we went to Kandahar, went to Kuwait and then Kandahar. And then we went out on helicopters to far off, way out the bases and there are 40 Marines protecting a hill in the middle of nowhere. It was really, really intense.
So were you taking notes during that time?
Oh yeah, mental notes for sure.
You think that played a big part in you wanting this part?
Yeah, I mean, I think I was already thinking about this movie. I think I was already in talks with this movie but I think my life had been going that way anyway. I, certainly, when I talk to this guys, what resonated mostly to me is that they’re out there fighting for each other and that the relationships in how all of them thought they would never be there. They’re reservists. I’ll tell you a couple of stories real fast. But we would go in into these far off places and no, we’re not announced and we’re not Will Smith and Tom Cruise. They don’t know… So we walked in and we all would fan out and sit with people. So I would come and take my tray and you guys would be marines or army, whatever. And I just sit there and do like this, eat like this, and they’d look over to me like this and they’d go… [laughter]
“No way! What are you doing here?” You know, like that, and then the hallways will erupt. Then, Bradley and Dax, we’ll all get together, we’d sign autographs and take pictures for hours. And one time, we’re way out in the middle of nowhere and taking pictures. And there was a group on this table over there with a bunch of hairy dudes, like this, all sitting, just looking down and grubbing. And so, I looked at them and they didn’t want any autographs or any pictures or anything. So I went over to them and I go, “Who the hell are you, guyS1 You don’t want any pictures, you don’t want any autographS1″ [laughter] And they looked at me like they’re going to kill me. I go, “So are you Special Forces” Like that and it was great. They were Special Forces, they loved it, they all took pictures, they took us out on the range, we shot. It was great. Every man back there was just wonderful.
Now, do you ever think as a guy in a Neil LaBute movie that you would eventually become an action figure?
Well, no. And interestingly enough, early in my career, I just shy away from that sort of stuff. I did have opportunities to follow that kind of stuff but I don’t think I was ready for it.
Mentally, I felt like doing Neil’s stuff and it is all basically a lot of words. I just can’t say words any more. All I want to do, the perfect movie for me is to run around and grunt a couple of times and shoot gun or something like that.
But the action figure, do you think it was good likeness and where is it in your home?
Yeah, I did. I don’t have one. I’ve had this spent. Yeah, but I did think it was a good like. I didn’t know that they were doing it, but it’s cool. I’d like maybe a Staff Sgt. Nantz with and all the stuff like that, GI Joe doll.