Aaron Eckhart: ‘I Feel Like I Still Have To Find My Voice’

The Olympus Has Fallen star on playing the president and becoming Frankenstein’s monster.

Following his outstanding film debut in Neil LaBute’s searing black comedy In the Company of Men, Aaron Eckhart gone from good-hearted greasy biker (Erin Brockovich), smooth, sly tobacco lobbyist (Thank You for Smoking), iconic blockbuster antihero (The Dark Knight) to grieving father (Rabbit Hole). Currently in cinemas as the US President in Antoine Fuqua’s deliriously OTT and hugely entertaining action thriller Olympus Has Fallen, we catch up with Harvey Dent himself in a London hotel. As Eckhart enters the room, he cracks a presidential joke about the group being seated. What was he like going home after being called Mr President all day? ‘I was impossible,’ he laughs. ‘You know, I thought I was doing well, then Morgan Freeman walked in the room,’ referring to the film’s Speaker of the House. ‘Everyone was like, that’s the President!’

When terrorists attack the White House in Olympus Has Fallen, Eckhart spends most of the film chained up while Gerard Butler’s lone wolf Secret Service agent attempts a rescue mission. ‘I felt I was done a disservice in the film,’ he grumbles, ‘not being able to beat the shit out of a couple of those guys and then go on the run with Gerry.’ Eckhart suffered for his art, spending eight hours a day with his arms tied above his head. ‘I lost all the feeling in my arms. It helped me as an actor gather energy, as I had to keep up that intensity.’ One of the most refreshing things about Fuqua’s film is Melissa Leo’s tough Secretary of Defense, who suffers greatly at the hands of Rick Yune’s terrorist. We talk about the atmosphere of that day. ‘Melissa’s another one, we’re cut from the same cloth that way. When she was being dragged with her skirt above her head with blood and snot coming out of her nose, it was all real. I remember when they were dragging her and she was exposed to all, and everyone would rush in after the take and pull her skirt down, and she was like, ‘Get away from me!”

Eckhart is inspired to talk about an actor’s commitment. ‘A lot of actors don’t think that way. It’s laziness, it’s not being demanded of. It’s Hollywood saying, you can get away with less. That’s why you get these stories of Daniel Day-Lewis - who I don’t know, but I think he’s the greatest actor alive - practising a year to touch his eye with a knife. That resonates with me. When I see Heath [Ledger] in a corner talking to himself before a scene, I think that guy’s got balls. I wanna be like him. It takes guts, because everybody on the crew is watching you and it can be embarrassing. People can gossip about you, but that’s the performance you turn in, which is the Joker, which will stand for all time.’ So does he think his best work is to come? ‘Yes, 100%. I feel like I’m asking permission less, and doing what I want to do more. I look for a challenge as an actor. Is it going to help me get other jobs? I’d like to go to ‘the big show’ one day. I feel like I still have to find my voice, and I think audiences don’t really know what I’m about.’

Eckhart says something quite surprising when asked what he likes about acting. ‘There’s not much I do like about it. The only thing I like about acting is having at least one pure moment of reality under extraordinary circumstances. When you have that real moment on camera or on stage, it’s worth its weight in gold. It’s like a hit of a drug and keeps you coming back for more. It’s so hard to do, and we can fake it with cameras, but when you hit it, it’s indescribable. Where was it in Olympus? The only times for me was when I was looking at Melissa, when we were having really soft, silent moments.’

Having lived all over the world, is he a patriot? ‘You don’t get more true blue than me! I’ve lived all over the world, and loved all cultures, but I’m American through and through. I’m very patriotic - I love my country, would die for my country. I lived here during the Falklands war, and you can’t tell me the British people weren’t as stoked about Britain as America was after 9/11. There was a palpable sense of ‘We’re the British. We’re going to stand together and fight this fight.’ Everybody should be that way because they love their country. If the president did fall, and the White House taken, it would mean the end of Starbucks and filling up with gas, and riding my bike. I’ve been afforded in my life the ability to be an actor, and I’ve chosen that. I feel it has a lot to do with the White House. Dammit!’

We just have time to mention his next film I, Frankenstein. ‘I play Mary Shelly’s monster sans bolts in the neck, proficient in the art of Kali stick fighting, which is a Filipino art of kicking ass with sticks. It’s a very physical movie, geared towards younger audiences with a lot of stunts and flying around.’ Despite the action slant, Eckhart picked the film for a reason. ‘He was called an abortion, an aberration, a miserable wretch, but he was poetic, sensitive and very knowledgeable. The monster of Frankenstein is about an adolescent’s insides - the scars and the insecurities, the doubts and the unworthiness you feel. The movie we make is about him finding his soul and loving himself and finding a place in the world. It’s about kids seeing this movie and feeling that way in the inside and finding some self-worth. I felt that way as a kid; thank God for Pink Floyd! They got me through.’

Filmbeat also caught up with Eckhart - watch their video interview below.