Aaron Eckhart has come a long way since playing New York yuppie Chad in Neil LaBute’s classic ‘90s indie comedy In the Company of Men. Since then, he's played Julia Roberts' bearded love interest in Erin Brockovich, Big Tobacco's chief spokesman in Jason Reitman's Thank You for Smoking, and Two-Face in 2008's solemn comic book caper The Dark Knight. Now, he's on the run in Europe as ex-CIA agent Ben Logan, in The Expatriate (aka Erased). We spoke to the 45-year-old about what it is that interests him as an actor.
GFW: So you play an ex-CIA agent. In what ways do you think your character differs from other ex-CIA agents we’ve seen, like Jason Bourne or Liam Neeson in Taken, for example...
Aaron Eckhart: Oh well, I don’t know. Um, he’s a father who’s trying to get away from his past. He’s trying to be a normal father, raise his daughter the best way he can. I don’t know how he differs.
Slightly less hard-edged than those guys maybe?
Um, yeah, he doesn’t trust anybody, he’s been burned. Um, I think he considers himself to be a very good agent, did his job well but was burned by the system.
Did you have anyone in mind who you looked to for inspiration, other fictional CIA agents perhaps?
Well I visited a few CIA guys. I didn’t have a particular person in mind; I got an inside track in the CIA and how it works...I think a lot of the CIA guys are disgruntled because they lack motivation from the top, they lack support from the top, and the guys who are actually out there doing their job get a lot of blowback.
And what about fictional agents?
No, I don’t watch films for films. I don’t watch other actors do their jobs.
So you don’t take inspiration from other actors, at all, generally?
No, because, why? I mean they don’t know anything, they’re actors.
Do you not think you’d learn from them?
I could learn acting from other actors, yeah.
Eckhart with Liana Liberato, who plays his daughter.
How do you think you’d cope if you were in the same situation as your character? Your life erased, forced on the run.
Well I mean it would be difficult, especially with someone trying to kill you! You know, you’d have to use your skills. I think the whole point is to become an animal and live on your instincts, and to trust yourself because you can trust no one else, and to protect your family, I think those instincts are primal – I think that’s pretty much the point of the movie, what lengths you’ll go to to protect your family.
How did you begin to try and relate to this character? I know you said you did a bit of research but was there anything else?
Yeah, I mean you do research and you find out what it means to you. You know, you can do animal work, you can do all the skills and techniques as an actor and you have to trust your director...I did everything I could to get myself in shape: I trained extremely hard for it, you know, doing martial arts and all that sort of stuff, getting ready for my fights, I was in tip-top shape.
You’ve played a wide variety of roles, from Julia Roberts’ love interest in Erin Brockovich to Two-Face in The Dark Knight. What attracted you to the role of Ben Logan?
I liked the idea of the father-daughter relationship, I liked the idea of making a movie in Europe, sort of the romance – I spent my formative years there – and trying to make a little action movie for cheap, I like that. I like the idea of just making a run and hit kind of movie like they used to make and not all the explosions and all that sort of stuff.
Eckhart in 'Erin Brockovich'.
Eckhart as Two-Face in 'The Dark Knight'.
If you weren’t in the acting business what do you think you’d be doing right now?
I’d be a photojournalist ... I like street photography, war photography, I like any sort of photography that is, you know, you’re unobserved, you can catch people’s raw emotions and raw states of being.
So you’re doing that alongside your film work?
Who would you say influences your acting the most?
I think today a guy who’s doing it right is probably Denzel Washington.
Have you seen him in Flight yet?
No. I mean he’s found a way to retain his integrity in commercial films and be an actor and still be relevant and I think that’s the trick.
What’s next for you?
Well I’m in a movie called Olympus Has Fallen, which just got released in the United States, travelling to Moscow, London, Rome and South Africa tomorrow. Then I’ve got a movie called I, Frankenstein, which is a story based on the historical character of the monster of Frankenstein in contemporary times... I’m an actor, I try to do different things and not get too bored with myself.
Do you think you have to challenge yourself to keep yourself interested?
Well, I’m just not interested in doing the same thing over and over and I like to challenge myself, and I guess that’s what it is.
'The Expatriate' is out in UK cinemas on April 5th, and on DVD & Blu-ray April 8th.
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