EXCLUSIVE Aaron Eckhardt Interview by Paul Fischer
Aaron Eckhardt has been around a while, and audiences may remember him playing many unsympathetic characters in early Neil La Bute films and last year's Thank you for Smoking. But at last, with his new film No Reservations, the versatile actor gets to show off a genuine Mr Nice Guy, playing a chef who falls for the more blinkered and intense Catherine Zeta-Jones. But audiences will also see the actor in Alan Ball's highly anticipated Nothing Is Private and next summer's Batman sequel, The Dark Knight. In this exclusive and open interview, Eckhardt talks Harvey Dent, fame and his latest film with Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: We've been doing these interviews together now for a few years and it's interesting to see the trajectory of your career throughout that period and I'm just wondering, first of all, when you accept something like No Reservations, do you do it from the perspective of 'this is a really good story' or do you also look at it from a career perspective, you need to get out of that sort of perception that you're an indie actor?
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah well there's that. I mean of course I look at it first and foremost about, 'Will I have fun doing this part?' When I read the script, can I feel myself doing this? Do I go through the motions in my head of doing the movie? When I read this I said 'Yeah'. I liked the fact that Scott Hicks was directing, Catherine was in it and you're going to be a cook and I liked the fact that my character's charming, he's breezy, he's fun, he's not tortured, he's helping people. And I think there is a perception of me not so much as being an indie actor as being this sort 'thank you for smoking' kind of guy', being very manipulative and calculating. It's not so much for the audience as it is for my own self, I want to make movies that the family can go. Not all of my movies are like that because I've just recently made a movie that's coming out that's at Toronto that is not that at all.
Paul Fischer: Which one is that?
Aaron Eckhardt: It's called Nothing is Private. And it's anything but what I just described. And I think that you'll find it very interesting. You'll definitely hear about it, and I hope you see it.
Paul Fischer: Based on that book but they didn't use the same title.
Aaron Eckhardt: Towelhead. Yeah.
Paul Fischer: How is it?
Aaron Eckhardt: Well I haven't seen it. I think that they're very proud of the movie and very excited about the movie. But you know what? This movie, No Reservations, I'm looking at it and I'm going 'Yeah'. I want to be an adult. I want to be in an adult movie with issues and to change it up a bit. I feel like that's more fun for me to do right now.
Paul Fischer: And being a romantic leading man, is that something else that you get to do here.
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah, that's definitely something. I like it when somebody comes out of your movie and wants to kiss you instead of kill you, so it's a change of pace. When people came out of Thank You it's like, you know, they were happy, smiling and I just thought that was cool. And I want to do more of that.
Paul Fischer: Can you identify with a character like this guy in No Reservations?
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah. I can, in terms of the passion. I think he's a good character to play because he has passion, he has compassion, but then he has a backbone too and that's what I liked about the character most. In this situation, when you're playing the boyfriend, or if an actress were saying 'I'm playing the girlfriend', usually you're this pushover part that basically is there only to serve a certain function and when that function is served you're pretty much toast. It's a convention.
Paul Fischer: This could have been the 'girl' role really, the part that you played.
Aaron Eckhardt: Absolutely. It's the same thing in Erin Brockovich. You know? But this had certain things going for it in terms of his flair, he has backbone, he also has an understanding, he's wise. And thankfully Scott brought that out. And I think that this character helps the movie become the movie that it is.
Paul Fischer: Did it give you a greater appreciation of food?
Aaron Eckhardt: Totally. Chefs - I would say to be a good actor it takes a lifetime. It's not me that says that, it's well said. And I think to become a great chef it takes a lifetime. These guys are continuing studying. They have a passion for food. They know food with a deep understanding that I don't have and it's interesting to get into their heads. They're incredibly under pressure to make a living in this business. They're always in the kitchen, not appreciated. They want to be rock stars. They all want to own their own restaurants but some of them can't financially handle that. They have to run a business, deal with employees, all that sort of stuff. I find that life to be incredibly interesting and it's totally unregulated in terms of - other than this, how should I say, the French, you know, because cooking really comes out of the French way of cooking where you apprentice with a chef and you went through the different line in the kitchen. That's all gone basically. And it's hard to get good help and all that sort of stuff. So there's a lot of challenges in being a chef just besides preparing great food.
Paul Fischer: This need to be a great chef and to better oneself in that area, can you relate to that in terms of one's need, your need to become a better actor?
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah, definitely. There's a direct parallel. I mean, it's funny, somebody asked Catherine out there in the press conference did she like her character and the ambition and that. And I thought, at some point you are like that. You have to be so laser sharp focussed and you want to get to the top. You hunger and thirst for it. And if you probably stood back and looked at your life objectively and said 'Oh my gosh'. My friends are all in the business. I do this on a daily basis', then you would see objectively that everything in your life is geared toward that one goal of becoming a great actor. But when you're in it you don't really know it.
Paul Fischer: When they say 'With greatness comes great responsibility' to you, are you that as well? Are you aware that is going to happen, that it could happen?
Aaron Eckhardt: Well I don't know, what is an actor's responsibility if they become great? I think it's just to give great performances. I don't think I've ever given a great performance and I think that people that have, I think it could consume them if they thought they had to get a great performance every single time. The person that comes to mind is - I think that's the worry. The passion to be great will consume you. And I think your destructive habits will consume you and not the good thing. In other words, usually it's the alcohol. It's usually the drugs. It's usually the sex. All those things that aren't really about the very thing that you want. They're just the peripheral things that come with it. The money, you know. Those are the dangers. It's not letting yourself get into those and having those destroy you. Any bad behaviour usually stems from those things. It's not from 'I want to be a great actor'. Because to be a great actor means I practice my craft. I'm continually studying. I challenge myself with my material. I mean I look at actors like Ralph Fiennes, and he's constantly doing Shakespeare and rep and so I ….
Paul Fischer: And then he does Harry Potter.
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah. And then you're like 'Whoa man, who does that?' That's something to be admired.
Paul Fischer: So when you decided that you wanted to do Batman, was that also a way to move up one extra echelon?
Aaron Eckhardt: I've been in the movie business a little while now and done various types of movies with varying degrees of success. And one thing I know is this - if nobody sees your movies, nobody's going to hire you. That's the truth. The more people see your movies, the more people who are willing to hire you.
Paul Fischer: But in that movie you're hidden under makeup though right? So how does that work?
Aaron Eckhardt: Well I will only say that in Batman I am both Harvey Dent and Harvey Two-Face.
Paul Fischer: And you're playing the same character that was once played by somebody else.
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah.
Paul Fischer: That must be pretty tricky.
Aaron Eckhardt: Well I see no connection between the two. And I've not had any discussions about that. That's one thing about movies. What somebody else did is what somebody else did. In soap operas you're willing to believe that a character can come back to life. Basically, you just want that guy on screen. You don't care what happened before. It's like balance. I mean J.R. could come back today and nobody would care. I mean nobody would care about the logistics of him coming back. So I don't think people are going to get hung up on my performance versus Tommy Lee's. It's just two different things.
Paul Fischer: Well the fun of Dark Knight is the fact that there's this duality that you have to portray ...
Aaron Eckhardt: Definitely.
Paul Fischer: ....which must be the hook for you as an actor.
Aaron Eckhardt: Well there's several hooks for me, none of which I can talk about, but I will say that I like the character. I like playing this guy. This guy has likeable attributes, characteristics. And it really, as in this whole Batman going through it, it's really a mirror of our times in a lot of ways. It's a comment on what's going on in the world today. And my character fits into that really nicely. And everybody's character does from Lieutenant Gordon to the Joker. I guess Batman is just trying to make sense of what's going on and trying to fight a fight that maybe he doesn't totally understand.
Paul Fischer: And the makeup is not too much of a pain in the ass?
Aaron Eckhardt: No all that stuff helps - everything helps an actor.
Paul Fischer: What was the difference between that character and the character you play in the Ball film?
Aaron Eckhardt: Well I mean ....
Paul Fischer: That's why you become an actor isn't it? So you can do a Harvey Dent on the one hand and the Alan Ball movie.
Aaron Eckhardt: I feel no guilt about studio movies or independent movies. I feel no compunction to prove myself, that I'm not willing to do things because I continually do things that when I'm on the set I can't believe I'm doing this. I just gained another 30-35 pounds for a role, Bill, a comedy that's coming up. Doing this Nothing is Private, you know, the things that I have to do in this movie. It's just like, it's all fun. It's all about being an actor. I really don't associate it with me being in Batman or me being in No Reservations or whatever. To me it's all about I'm going to go play a character and do this and it happens to be in this movie. I'm not getting hung up on what the genre is. If it's interesting to me I'll do it.
Paul Fischer: Is there anything after Batman that you're contemplating?
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah. And I can say it, it's just in the trades. I'm going to do a movie called Travelling, which is a fantastic movie. It's a movie about a grief counsellor who teaches people to manage their grief and yet he himself is grieving.
Paul Fischer: Well that sounds like a cheerful little film.
Aaron Eckhardt: No it is. I think it's going to be a touching - it's a touching romance.
Paul Fischer: And how does Alan Ball shape up as a first time director?
Aaron Eckhardt: Couldn't have been better, on every level. He not only is a great writer but this deftness with actors and with the technical side of filmmaking, he's really masterful. He really understands and has patience and knows how to talk to actors and how to get out of actors what he - I mean really, really wonderful.
Paul Fischer: And with Batman are you prepared to face the onslaught of the comic book fans that are going to be scrutinising every facet of this?
Aaron Eckhardt: I don't think I understand what this entails.
Paul Fischer: Good luck. That's all I can say.
Aaron Eckhardt: That's what I've been hearing.
Paul Fischer: I'll see you at Comic con next year and you'll be 'Oh my god, what have I let myself in for?'
Aaron Eckhardt: They didn't pay me enough.
Paul Fischer: Enjoy it while you can.
Aaron Eckhardt: I will, I will. I can't imagine. But you know what, I'm there with veterans, you know. I mean Christian's been through it and Chris and I think Heath is going to take the brunt of it. Let me tell you. Heath is going to be spectacular in this movie.
Paul Fischer: You've seen him in the makeup?
Aaron Eckhardt: Yeah. Heath is going to be amazing.
Paul Fischer: What about being on a Chris Nolan set?
Aaron Eckhardt: More so than ever with Chris is that it feels like he's just making a movie with the family, because everybody stays on set. It's very mellow, he works with the same people all the time. So it's very familiar.
Starring: Academy Award® winner Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Golden Globe nominee Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking), SAG Award winner and Oscar® nominee Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Academy Award® nominee Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April).
Director: Scott Hicks
Rated: PG Mild themes, Infrequent mild coarse language
Running Time: 104 mins
Master chef Kate Armstrong (CATHERINE ZETA-JONES) lives her life like she runs the kitchen at upscale 22 Bleecker Restaurant in Manhattan - with a no-nonsense intensity that both captivates and intimidates everyone around her. With breathtaking precision, she powers through each hectic shift, coordinating hundreds of meals, preparing delicate sauces, seasoning and simmering each dish to absolute perfection.
Kate's perfectionist nature is put to the test when a brash new sous chef joins her staff, the high-spirited and freewheeling Nick Palmer (AARON ECKHART). A rising culinary star himself, Nick favors opera while working and loves to make everyone around him laugh. His casual approach to both life and cuisine couldn't be more different than Kate's, yet the chemistry between them is undeniable...as is the discord, like forks clanging off a granite countertop.
It might be easier to deal with this turbulence at work if Kate wasn't already off balance at home, struggling to connect with her nine-year-old niece, Zoe (ABIGAIL BRESLIN), who has recently - and very nexpectedly - come to live with her. A bright, perceptive child more comfortable with fish sticks than foie gras, Zoe is clearly out of place in Kate's routine but Kate is determined to make a home for her...just as soon as she figures out how.
If she wants to forge a real bond with Zoe, find happiness with Nick and rediscover her appetite for life, she will have to try something bold and new, and learn to express herself outside the realm of her kitchen. For Kate, that would be like trying to cook without a recipe.
In Cinemas 23rd August