Aaron Eckhart is no stranger in playing morally suspect characters, but none comes even close to his dual roles of ambitious District Attorney Harvey Dent and the vindictive Two Face, in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight.
Off screen, Eckhart is unpretentious, charming and says he's just grateful to be in the movie, despite the buzz he's receiving for his performance. He talked to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: Your thinking behind saying yes to a movie like this. I think the last time we spoke you had already started shooting it, or maybe you had finished, I can't remember, and I think one of the things you were saying is that part of your thinking is, you know, given a career, what is good? Is it a good career move? Is that something you consciously think about when you take on a big movie like this?
Eckhart: Well, you know, I'm sure that I thought about it, but mostly the fact that Chris [Nolan] is directing it. I don't know, I'm trying to think how I could have said no.
Question: If it had been some other director, I assume. Or some director that you didn't really trust.
Eckhart: Yeah, then it's a whole different ball game. But coming into it, having Chris directing it, having Christian [Bale], Heath [Ledger] playing the Joker, and Gary Oldman and Maggie [Gyllenhaal] and Michael Caine and everybody, then having read the script. Chris called me to his office, and said, "Will you come in?" We had a chat, and a cup of tea, talked about everything but movies, or but Batman. Then he says, "You know, I'm doing the second Batman and we got this part and maybe you want to read the script." I was like, "Well, give it to me." He says, "I'll have a guy come over to your house and give it to you." So he did, and I read it, and I was like looking at my part and reading this thing and going, "Oh my Gosh!" Because I thought I was just going to have a little part, you know, a throwaway part, because Heath was in it and everything. The script was so beautiful, so dense and complex, and so many characters intertwined, and so many dynamics, psychologically, social, personal, political, moral, ethical. It was so big, and I thought, Wow! So the way, to answer that question, I feel lucky to be in the film. I certainly feel lucky now to be in the film, being part of what I think is one of the strongest Batmans, having one of the greatest characters in cinematic bad guy history, which is Heath playing the joker. To have watched him do it, to have been a part of it, you know, I think is very special, and it's an honor for me. And to be a member of Chris's cast, and to have worked with Gary. So, I don't know if I ever, even knowing that Chris was directing it, it didn't turn my mind to turn it down. The question was, How am I going to be good in it? You know, how am I going to, you know, I have to really prepare and try to be good with Gary and with Christian and Maggie and Heath. Those were more my concerns.
Question: What were the challenges of playing a character so morally ambiguous as this character is?
Eckhart: Well, I sort of made a name on it, you know, it's in my lexicon, but he is complex. First of all, I really appreciate that Chris brought Harvey Dent into the movie, so we get to know Harvey as an altruistic, justice minded, Gotham-loving citizen who was, is the DA of Gotham, but he was also internal affairs, so he's a ball buster, you know, he's a tough guy, but he's also got a big heart. That was fun to play as an actor, because Gotham City is really the central character in this movie, and cleaning it up is the issue. And then watching the transformation into Two Face, I think the audience can empathize, or understand if not empathize, why he's doing what he does, the pain and the anger and the bitterness and the whole kind of the why of it all. So I was happy to play that.
Question: Was Two Face a tougher character for you to play?
Eckhart: I think tonally, to find the tone, especially knowing what Heath was doing, and trying to get it in the ballpark. You know, being in a historical comic book movie playing an iconic figure, where do I go? What tone does Chris want? And we had a lot of discussions about Chris, being lost sometimes, and saying, "What do I do, where am I going? Should I go here, here, over here?" We tried it many different ways. That was probably, for me, was to find the range of the character and how that fit in with the overall picture of the movie.
Question: Does the physical aspect of Two Face help you? When you look at the mirror and see that makeup, does that enable you to really transform into the character?
Eckhart: Yeah, definitely. Even the suit and the reactions of the other actors.
Question: What were the reactions of the other actors the first time they saw you in that makeup?
Eckhart: It was a lot of touching. It was funny because Heath and I spent time in the same trailer, him figuring out what he was going with The Joker, and me figuring out what I was doing with Two Face, so there was a lot of, weird noises, a lot of us trying on the character together. I really appreciated that.
Question: What surprised you about Heath when you were working with him?
Eckhart: He was, well, I don't know if it surprised me, but what thrilled me was that he was an actor who put it all on the table. It was all out there, and he was committed to this character and loved the character. That the crew and the cast loved him. Chris loved what he was doing with it, and he raised everybody's game. He was a topic of conversation, about his character and what he was doing with it. To act with him was to fly, you know? I watched him as a fan while I was acting, you know? Like going, Wow, this is really amazing.
Question: Were you a comic book fan before you did this?
Eckhart: I was not an aficionado. I read the comic books after I got the part. But I grew up with Batman, I knew the television show. My interest in comic books is little, but what I do like about comic books is the reality of them. And I think that's what interests Chris in making these movies, sort of how do you make it real and entertaining at the same time.
Question: It doesn't look like a comic book movie, does it?
Question: This movie doesn't have that.
Eckhart: No, but it also has a big feel. That's where Chris's genius comes in, because you don't want Batman to be an independent movie. You want it to be big. How Chris achieved that in my opinion is that every chance he gets he does it for real. Those are real stunts, those are real people, those are real crowds. You know, so you're grounding this film in reality, we're in the streets of Chicago flipping trucks in the streets of Chicago. Having helicopters, you're sitting there one day in a building, and you have helicopters flying through the streets of Chicago. That's insane, you know what I mean? We just shut down the city.
Question: Do you think this film is contemporary, do you think this film has contemporary themes?
Eckhart: Oh my gosh, so contemporary. When I read it I was like--I didn't know when I read it if that was his intention, and I think he's stating that it wasn't his intention, but it's just subconsciously it just leaks out. But the themes and the issues and the decisions that one has to make in this life and death, fighting crime, vigilantism. Love. Every, it's a morality play and every issue is explored. Testing people's limits. The Joker asks the Batman to betray his one cardinal rule in order to save the woman he loves. How Shakespearean is that?
Question: What's next for you?
Eckhart: Traveling. Well, Towelhead comes out.
Question: Finally, right?
Eckhart: Yeah, finally, and then Traveling, which is a romantic comedy with Jennifer Aniston.
Question: That'll be a bit of a change of pace.
Eckhart: Yeah. But it's good. Hopefully it's touching and profound at the same time.