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Capone With Aaron Eckhart!!

Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here, in the company of everybody’s favorite square-jawed, all-American-male actor Aaron Eckhart.

The man has starred in nearly every film by Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty, Possession) as well as some juicy parts in fims like Erin Brokovich, Any Given Sunday, The Missing, Suspect Zero, and the devastatingly funny Thank You for Smoking earlier this year.

One of the clearest memories I have of seeing a film in the last 10 years is was attending an Independent Feature Project Midwest conference about eight years ago (probably just a few months before I started writing for AICN. It was a Thursday afternoon. There was nobody in the audience and I was seeing IN THE COMPANY OF MEN. I think I’d heard about some near-violent reactions to it from Sundance or something.

Neil LaBute was there to do a Q&A after the screening, and there were only maybe 30 people in the audience. By the end of the film, there were 30 (well 29) very pissed-off people. And, he took it; he fielded every angry question, as I’m sure he had many times before and after that afternoon. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen. And nearly all of them aimed their fury at the breakout performance by Eckhart.

The reason for our meeting is his dark indie relationship dramedy Conversations with Other Women, opposite Helena Bonham Carter, which has already opened in a couple cities and opens wider (including in Chicago) very soon. Our discussion was brief but we managed to get into his work with LaBute, as well as the upcoming films Black Dahlia and Bill. I was pleasantly surprised by the frankness of his comments and just how funny the guy is.


Capone: I certainly want to talk about some projects you’ve got coming up, but let’s tackle this film CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN first.

Obviously, there’s going to be a lot written about this film in terms of the use of the split screen, and I’m guessing that no one’s going to be able to explain exactly how it’s used here. I mean, it’s not just that there’s one person on one side of the screen and one on the other. It’s actually much more complex than that.

What did you think of it when it was explained to you by the director?

Aaron Eckhart: Well, he explained that he had this concept of doing a split screen. I have to say, as an actor, you listen to that only so much. And, what I’m really I’m concentrating on is the character and script and Helena, you know. That’s the exciting thing for me. Technical aspects of filmmaking--if somebody says, “Well, we’re going to get a 90-foot crane and swoop in…” That doesn’t do anything for me. Dropping a camera down, you know, from the sky into a microscopic of your eye…I think, well, that’s cool, whatever, but I really want to hear about character, want to hear about relationship.

So, the script, when I got it, really sold me, and then, Helena--she was on board before I was, and I really wanted to work with her. I thought, This is an opportunity to do an adult kind of love relationship film that’s smart and sexy. It’s playful, it’s intelligent, and that sold me. And, then with the split screen, I trusted [director] Hans [Canosa] that he knew what he was doing.

C: It’s a real interesting experience to watch, as I’m sure you know, because by being able to watch an actor who’s not the one talking, but still getting their reaction…it’s very different than what you would normally get: one shot, a person talking and then the other shot of the person talking. I assume as an actor you have to be in character all the time. You can’t drop it, even when the focus isn’t on you.

AE: No. That’s the bonus, and I’ll tell you why…

C:…like theater almost.

AE: Yeah. In conventional filmmaking, you do shot/reverse shotand usually the person who’s off camera, because of the constraints of the physical setup, the constraints of the camera and everything, the performance drops.

So you’re not getting the whole thing. In this instance, because we both had a camera on us at all times, the performance was heightened at all times. And, that made for better energy, more connection. So, it really helped us to be there the whole time. And, I think that’s why our performance are strong in this movie.

C: I love the use of the flashbacks, too, because we actually get to experience them without leaving the two of you. We don’t have to cut away from what you’re doing. We can hear you and see you two talking, but still see these flashbacks of the two characters from when they were much younger. I’ve never seen anything quite like that before. How did you interpret the fact that the characters were nameless?

AE: Well, I’m kind of used to that because Neil LaBute never names his characters.

C: Oh, okay, I didn’t realize that.

AE: Yeah. In the movies, I think, because people are uncomfortable with that, producers are uncomfortable with that, money people are uncomfortable with that, Neil would give them names. You go back and look at the credits on YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS, the names are Barry, Jerry, and Larry, and the women are Mary…whatever rhymes with those namesit’s really just a joke.

I think people do that just to convey the universality of it, but really, it makes them anonymous…their names don’t really matter. Just look at the relationship. I like that, because it does concentrate more on character. I don’t know, it’s weird. Writers often do that when you get scripts, and then later, the public doesn’t know, because they’re forced to give them names later.

C: Right. Did you at any time sort of consider this couple representative of couples who pathetically attempt to rekindle something?

AE: Yeah, it’s that whole kind of thing of “I really want you, but I’m not mature enough to have you, and I can’t commit to you.” The good thing about it is that it’s playful. It’s a one-night stand, really--with a lot of history. We love each other, but we know we can’t be with each other.

I think a lot of people can relate to that, and obviously, if you dig in people’s pasts, they all have a hankering for a past love and think they can still get together with them, but would never want to be with them ultimately.

C: And, that’s one of the most interesting things about their behavior after sex is that they start to pick at each other almost immediately and, really, that’s when things turn bad.

In more traditional romantically inclined films, sex is when things start to get better, but here, they don’t. They become much more illuminating, and then not necessarily in a good way.

AE: Yeah, I like that. I think the writing has a lot of layers to it. And, it was fun to play because it was…you’re duplicitous. The characters are really unsure of their feelings, even in the moment. And, it really drove the story; all the way up onto the scene on the roof, we’re still kind of trying to figure out our feelings, and then finally, she makes the decision to leave.

C: Yeah, that’s an interesting point, because they do seem like two people who are trying to appear confident, and you have played many characters in the past who are very confident and sure of themselves, and yet here, they’re clearly not that confident about any aspect of what they’re doing together in this present day.

You obviously have a very solid reputation of putting your trust in, what I term, ‘untested’ directors in your career. What do you look for in someone before deciding to work with them who maybe doesn’t have a whole slew of films under their belt?

AE: The last two years, I’ve worked with mostly first-time directors. I think it really starts with script and story, and then my character. In order, I would go, story, character, and then, after I meet with the director. In that meeting with the director, I’m looking at him going, Can you tell this story? Do I trust you to tell this story properly and to take care of your actors?

And, I think I’ve got a good track record with Hans, who directed this film, with Jason Reitman, who did THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. I just worked with Melisa Wallack and Bernie Goldmann on a movie called BILL--first time directors.

I think that the term ‘first-time’ director rarely comes out of a void. I mean, they are somehow involved or have a history of theater, have a history of commercials, or making films that didn’t go. So, Hans had directed before, and you can really get a good bead on a person when you’re in a meeting and say, This guy can direct. I really feel like Hans took a sort of unconventional technique, and he really made it work for the film. I’m very proud of him.

C: Yeah, that’s true. He took what could have been a very conventional story and made it unconventional, not just by use of the technical aspects. The writing is exceptional. But let me ask you this: Is revisiting a past emotional connection ever a good idea?

AE: I think it’s an emotional idea. I think the heart takes over the mind. I think that, as we see in this film, it’s easier to dwell on the positive and the exciting aspects of a relationship--new love, recapturing old love, the aspects of new love and old love.

But, time brings in the old problems and the old cracks. I examined my old relationships, and I can’t think of anybody, real-l-l-ly. Sure, I would love to physically be with some of my old girlfriends, because I think they’re very attractive, but to spend time with them and to invest my life in them again. It wouldn’t work by virtue of the fact that I’m not with them today. And, I have to remember that, and my character…you know, seeing an old love, especially when she’s beautiful and she’s all dressed up, and you’re at a wedding, and all that kind of stuff. It’s ripe for, you know… It’s charged with sexual energy.

Outside of that, it’s like meeting a woman in the dark, having this amazing relationship with her, and then a couple of hours later, going out into the light [laughs], and being freaked out.

C: The first half of the film is very sexually charged, but you’re never quite sure they’re going to make it there. And, once they do, and once that energy is released, reality kind of does…yeah, you go out into the light, exactly, that’s what it turns into.

Okay, let me just ask you about one thing coming up, well, two things… THE BLACK DAHLIA, I gotta ask. The trailer looks amazing. Now, there’s a tested director…

AE: Yeah, and I think from… I just worked with Hans, and then with Jason Reitman. I worked with three first-time directors right in a row. And, then I went to Brian DePalma, and it wasand the best, the most tested. With them comes [production design] by Dante Ferretti, who is the best.

So, you’re working with guys with literally 40-50 years’ experience. Everybody talks in a calm manner. Everybody knows what they’re doing. Everybody is deferential, respectful. Brian knows exactly what he wants. I was in heaven. And, Brian, when he gets what he wants, he stops filming, he moves on, he doesn’t worry. It was literally…if we hadn’t been in Bulgaria filming this movie, I would have been in heaven.

C: Okay, last thing. Neil let slip at ComicCon a couple weeks ago that you’ve got a little cameo in THE WICKER MAN. Is that right?

AE: [Laughs] Yeah, it is.

C: I won’t even ask you what it is, because if it’s a surprise, I don’t want to ruin it. But, is there ever going to come a time when he’s not a part of your film life?

AE: Sure. Well, Neil and I…I mean, I owe Neil a call right now, actually. He just called me the other day, and he said, “I got something for us.”

C: Oh, boy.

AE: We’ll always…scheduling is such a problem right now. But, we’ll always work together for sure.


Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 29, 2006, 9:20 a.m. CST

    thank u for smoking

    by Ace Hunter

    was underrated

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Thank You For Smoking was OVERrated...

    by DanielKurland

    I was looking forward to this movie so much, and I did think it was good, but it was more average than great, and I was a little disappointed. The trailer made it look too good I suppose.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Aaron is Iron Man

    by stlfilmwire

    I saw the suit in the trunk of his car. He said it was just for some fitting. He then pulled out a hot glue gun and shoved it in my left eye... or that is what he called it.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 10:11 a.m. CST

    "Get me Aaron Eckhaaaaart!"

    by Osmosis Jones

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 10:34 a.m. CST

    He may be too old but he'd be a great

    by R.C. the "Wise"


  • Aug. 29, 2006, 10:47 a.m. CST

    You know...

    by Everett Robert

    for the life of me, I can't place him in Any Given Sunday...

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 10:53 a.m. CST

    One of the best actors out there

    by BobParr

    I think his choice to do indy movies almost exclusively is interesting. A lot of indy actors just don't have the looks to be leads in mainstream films. He looks like your classic leading man. Almost an Erol Flynn old Hollywood presence. Either mainstream Hollywood isn't calling him or he's not interested.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 11:15 a.m. CST

    The perfect Steve Rogers.

    by The Heathen

    No way for Iron Man, he's perfect for Captain America, I don't think he's too old or anything. I can't remember him in Any Given Sunday either. Hmm. Thank You For Smoking was UNDERrated. Great movie. Vern rules brother!!! *zooms in on bicep*

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 11:41 a.m. CST

    Manimal: The Movie

    by Lou Stools

    Aaron Eckhart was born to play the lead.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 1:39 p.m. CST

    Fine, maybe...

    by DanielKurland

    To the general public, "Thank You For Smoking" was under rated, as few people seem to be aware of it, and I haven't seen it getting THAT much accolade. But based on how excited I was for it, I was disappointed.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 1:40 p.m. CST

    Thank You For Smoking Sucked!

    by Nairb The Movie

    It was just kitschy crap followed by... oh wow! More kitschy crap. Look out guys we are gonna be politically incorrect about... CIGARETTES! Ahhhh! We don't need our characters to have actual motivation they are just gonna say... KITSCHY CRAP!

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 2 p.m. CST

    I wished you had asked him if he would like

    by superninja

    to play Captain America. He would be perfect for the part!

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 2:03 p.m. CST

    Oops, I see others had this territory covered.

    by superninja

    I don't think Eckhart is too old to play Cap. There is something about Cap to me that just doesn't agree with WB 30-something-playing-20-something casting. He can be a little older and wiser, in my opinion. War hardens people and WWII lasted for six years.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 3:30 p.m. CST

    In Any Given Sunday, I believe Eckhart played

    by Orbots Commander

    Al Pacino's Assistant Coach. Wasn't he the guy that Cameron Diaz was going to replace Pacino with?

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 5:19 p.m. CST

    Nope, he's a great actor.

    by brokentusk

    I saw THANK YOU FOR SMOKING a few days ago actually and Aaron Eckhart totally won me over as an actor. The only thing I'd really seen him in was ANY GIVEN SUNDAY and THE CORE, so I didn't really care enough to have an opinion on the guy one way or another, but now, after THANK YOU, I think he's a legend and a great leading man.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 9:55 p.m. CST

    Just saw this guy in Thank You For Smoking

    by dregmobile

    Great actor. Nice interview. Be great to see him take a lead in something big AND good (as opposed to THE CORE).

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 11:47 p.m. CST

    Heathen, superninja

    by TheRealRatigan

    Does anyone else remember when another site reported a sourcec laiming "they were looking for an Aaron Eckhart type" for Bruce Wayne? I think this had to be when BATMAN: YEAR ONE was still developing. I doubt the studio would have ever approved that casting, but it made me think about how ideal Eckhart would have been as Jim Gordon... physically, he would be perfect, straight off of the DC page. As good as Gary Oldman is, I would rather have seen Eckhart as the future Commissioner. ...As for Captain America, I'll see you Aaron Eckhart, and raise you Joel Gretsch(THE 4400, TAKEN. I think that he could represent all of the characteristics that superninja invoked, but with the tougher physical presence that Eckhart lacks to make it credible.

  • Aug. 29, 2006, 11:51 p.m. CST

    Heathen, superninja

    by TheRealRatigan

    Does anyone else remember when another site reported a source claiming "they were looking for an Aaron Eckhart type" for Bruce Wayne? I think this had to be when BATMAN: YEAR ONE was still developing. I doubt the studio would have ever approved that casting, but it made me think about how ideal Eckhart would have been as Jim Gordon... physically, he would be perfect, straight off of the DC page. As good as Gary Oldman is, I would rather have seen Eckhart as the future Commissioner. ...As for Captain America, I'll see you Aaron Eckhart, and raise you Joel Gretsch(THE 4400, TAKEN). I think that he could represent all of the characteristics that superninja invoked, but with the tougher physical presence that Eckhart lacks to make it credible. But watch them cast Paul Walker instead.

  • Aug. 30, 2006, 4:35 a.m. CST

    Thank you For Smoking

    by Nabster

    left me dissapointed as well. I mean it was pretty good, but a little pretentious, and the whole unpc angle of it got old after a while. Can we stop with all the infantile Cap casting? Cap should never make it to the screen, it would be idiotic.