Given the kinds of films associated with Aaron Eckhart, it seems something of an anomaly to find the star of Neil LaBute' s Company of Strangers, in the midst of a sci-fi special effects studio movie. But the actor, feeling relaxed and in good humour when we meet, doesn't see too many differences at least between the process of working on a more character-based film and an event yarn such as The Core. "Obviously, there is a difference in the subject matter, but I approach the material the same way and then its just logistics," Eckhart explains. "It's how much money you have, but when it comes down to it, money doesn't change the fact that you have been truthful in what you are doing, and if you are not, then it's not worth doing it."
They don't get much bigger than The Core, in which Eckhart plays a geologist who joins a secretive group of scientists and astronauts to save the earth from imminent destruction. For an actor with such a strong sense of character, Aaron had to learn to delicately balance character with big-style narrative and effects. "I think that maybe that's my weakness, in that I don't know how to do it, so I just do what I do and try to do it as passionately and as well as I can. Honestly I did not approach this role one ounce different than a Sean Penn movie; I just try to put myself in the circumstances of doing the things that I do. I mean, obviously what we did with this, it's not implausible because I'm sure there are things going on right now that would seem incredible that they're actually happening in the world, but to me, it's just, there's no difference between a studio and independent film, other than just the quantity of money and resources. When it gets down to it you just have to act."
Eckhart is one of those Hollywood actors who has been on the cusp of stardom. The Core may well be his ticket to that unique realm of the A-lister which begs the question: Is one of the temptations to take on a role in a big Hollywood movie based on good business? The actor chooses his words carefully. "There is an economic reason for doing these films. I've been working for many years and I think I've managed to work with some of the best people in the business, which has been rewarding and an apprenticeship." He recalls having been offered The Core immediately following 9/11 and felt it was the perfect film to do following that tragic event. because "it's diversion, entertainment and fun which is why I did it. It was fun making it, and it was fun going down with a whole bunch of people to the centre of the earth and all that kind of stuff. There are different reasons to make movies." Lacking the experience of working with blue and green screen, Eckhart jokingly says that in learning how to react to nothing, he "looked at the other guys and would just try to do things that would shock myself or would do physical things like running around and all that kind of stuff in terms of seeing things." All of which requires a lot of imagination of course, "or you just have to have a lot of confidence in standing still and thinking about nothing." Having a sense of humour this kind of splashy entertainment film doesn't hurt either. "I remember Stanley [Tucci] and I manhandling those nuclear bombs and I think Stanley and I were laughing so hard I swear he was literally pissing himself, because here we were lifting these bombs that weigh 20,000 pounds which was improbable."
As serious as an actor Aaron is, he knows full well the kind of movie that The Core is and clearly relished being a part of it. "This movie is a popcorn movie, whereby a whole bunch of people are going to go to it, have a fun ride, and I want to be a part of that." And if it enhances his career in the process, so be it. "If it helps me in the way that if this movie is successful, I get to make more films, great, and the more films that I make and the more interest that I'm allowed to cover, the better for me and the better, hopefully, for the people who like to watch me."
A higher profile has added side benefits, adds the actor, including his ability to produce films which are not necessarily within the absolute mainstream of Hollywood. "I can think of films that I'm producing right now that are extremely hard-hitting, graphic films, that nobody necessarily wants to see, graphic in terms of violence, of adult content and racial and historical subject matter."
Eckhart may not be a household name in the commercial sense, but he admits that's his own choice, having decided from the outset to have been picky in his choice of projects, "because I've made choices to work with people whom I've always admired, though I am more willing now to say that I'm going to go out and have fun this year." That includes shotting a small role in Ron Howard's Western, The Missing, "which means I get to go ride horses for a little while, hang out on a ranch and work with good people." The actor is hoping for a resurgence in the Western, especially in these post 9/11 days "because of their mythical hero status. I think they are very important because westerns have a code and a symbolism. Right now, I have to admit, that I'm more interested in giving people a little bit of hope and goodness"