It’s no surprise that Aaron Eckhart is the best part of Battle: Los Angeles; an actor who has the good looks and charisma of an old time movie star and the acting chops of the post-Method crowd, Eckhart is a guy you’d expect to see at both the Oscars and on stage at Comic Con. He proves that you can be a serious actor in movies that Hollywood usually churns out without regard to quality.
I had a chance to talk to Eckhart on the phone for Battle: Los Angeles; we had a terrible connection and our time was cut short by publicists, but he still managed to talk with great thoughtfulness about his craft and his career.
All military movies walk a certain line where the characters have to be types that can be quickly understood by the audience and actual characters who have depth. As an actor how do you approach that line?
Typically in drama everybody has a type. You have a leader and the follower and the guy who doesn’t think he can make it but can. The way you take that archetype and make him real is to make him as believable as possible and humanize him and be as specific as you can. That’s how you get away and make special something that is usually more generic. That comes through, I think, in behavior, eccentricities. It’s a difficult question because it’s true of anything - if someone plays a cop how do you not fall into the stereotypical cop? The only way you can get out of it is not by doing cop work differently, you can only be a different human being. You have to worry about different things or approach things in a different way. That’s what I tried to find with my character Staff Sergeant Nance.
Does that mean you go away from what the audience expects of the type? Do you try to surprise the audience or do you embrace the familiar aspects of the character type?
First of all you’re dealing with the script. For example if I’m going to approach a piece of material today I’ll be looking for things that will surprise an audience. I’m always looking for opposites. If a script tells me to do one thing I will look at it that way but also look at it alternately in its opposite, and say ‘Instead of going dark, what if I go light? Instead of angry I go calm? Instead of light I go dark?’ I explore it all the way around itself. I try to give a director a range of emotions, to go from one to ten. I say ‘This is a one and this is a five and this is a ten - which one do you want?’ and usually you end up at the same spot where the script wants you to end up [laughs]. Because it’s written that way and you usually end up in that area. But I always try to explore when I’m making a movie.
You have two films in the last twelve months, Rabbit Hole and Battle: Los Angeles, which are very different. But I can look at them and see how, as an actor, each must be exhausting in their own ways. The physical nature of Battle: Los Angeles, and the emotional stuff in Rabbit Hole. How do they both play for you?
They’re both exhausting. Battle: Los Angeles is the most demanding movie I’ve ever made, no doubt about it, on a physical scale and a mental scale. Rabbit Hole is a smaller film, so the demands on it in terms of time were much less time, but still much less intense. Once I get into a character I stay there for the duration of the movie. I take it and go to work every day and don’t try to get out of it. I stay close to it and either rejoice with it or suffer with it.
Going back to the difference between the two films, that reflects the dichotomy of your career - you go back and forth between smaller, more serious films and bigger, more fun movies. Is that a conscious choice?
At this point it must be because I keep doing it. I like to do it, but the reality of it is that when something comes my way and it has a great director or great actors or a great script it’s hard for me to turn it down. Just because I love to act and I love to act with good people. When I said yes to Rabbit Hole, Rabbit Hole didn’t fit perfectly in my plans. I was making a movie with Johnny Depp called The Rum Diary and then I was scheduld to make Battle: LA right after it so I didn’t have time. But the script was so good and I wanted to work with Nicole [Kidman], so I made room for it. To answer your question I enjoy doing both but there’s no rhyme nor reason to it.
At this point in your career what comes across your inbox more often - the dramatic, smaller films or the big blockbuster movies?
That’s an interesting question. Because I’ve done a lot of independent films and because of Rabbit Hole and things like that I do get smaller, more dramatic movies. But I’ve been gearing myself more towards more Battle: Los Angeles, leader-type, heroic roles. I’ve been getting those more often - in fact I’m going off to do a father/daughter CIA caper (which sounds like a comedy but is not) which is about an estranged father and daughter who live in Europe and are getting to know each other and then have to go on the run for their survival. It’s how they deal with their own relationship and their own survival. It’s a nice thriller. I like that because I’m a physical person - I love sports, I like to be outside, I like to run around. At this point in my life that’s what I’m geared toward.
When you’re out there in your Marine uniform and pointing guns at aliens and having explosions going off everywhere, how much of that becomes play for you guys?
When you’re on set it’s 100% on. It’s no joke. It was very hard work, we trained hard for it. We weren’t really thinking of our foe as an alien; our opposition was something more concrete and real and we tried to personalize it. It was play, but it was serious play, and it was sort of filmed like a documentary.