Interview: Aaron Eckhart Talks About Gotham’s White Knight

Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight

Fans around the world are currently scrambling for tickets left and right to see this summer’s most anticipated film, The Dark Knight. Many are die-hard fans of Batman, ready to see the darkest and most epic adaptation of the caped crusader yet. Others will be headed to the cineplex on the buzz around Heath Ledger’s performance, one that has already begun to generate Oscar buzz. But what all of these moviegoers will come to realize is that The Dark Knight has a hidden star, one character that comes out of nowhere to carry the emotional weight of the film. That character is Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s District Attorney and great white hope for a better future.

To fill this role, director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) chose Aaron Eckhart, fresh off of his critically acclaimed dark comedic role in Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking. Eckhart’s fresh, noble nature was almost pitch-perfect for Dent, who serves as Gotham’s hero with a face, but whose circumstances ultimately drive him to become something else entirely. And while his character’s importance in The Dark Knight will surprise many, his ability to pull it off certainly won’t.

We had a chance to sit down with Eckhart during the press junket for The Dark Knight. And as you will see from the Q&A below, he opened up about playing Harvey Dent, acting in a comic book movie and working with the late Heath Ledger.

Aaron Eckhart in The Dark KnightHow did you go about approaching your character?

Well, I don’t know it was really there in the script, I mean Chris – they just wrote a beautiful script. I – it was fun playing the politician and the crime fighter and kind of the Gotham’s hope. It was fun for me as an actor. I did look at certain characters in history that I thought represented that pretty well like R.F.K. who was the Attorney General of the United States of America who fought the Mob, who was unpopular sometimes even amongst his own family, because of those ties and I thought he was a good representation. He was fresh, he was young, you know, he was obviously, he was driven to get rid of the mob like Harvey is. Harvey’s absolutely 100% driven no matter what happens to him. So I looked at things like that, I looked at burn victims and in doing Harvey two-face and seeing what happens to the skin in the body and what happens psychologically to a burn victim and how they feel about themselves and when people are looking at them, they feel monstrous and out of place and that kind of stuff, but mostly it was just in the script. Chris really just laid out a great character for me, and then in conjunction with The Joker and Batman and Maggie we had so much to do, so much was going in this comic book movie. I felt when I read the script that Chris had tapped into what was going on today in the world some of the fears and I thought that was important. I felt like he asked The Joker to ask the other characters in this movie questions that they didn’t want to answer and I think it asks us the same questions as an audience. What would we do if we were given a button to blow somebody up that was lesser seemingly lesser than us, you know that sort of stuff.

Do you think there’s been some sort of like almost like a Shakespearian tragedy in a way?

Yeah. It was certainly a morality play, but you know, very Shakespearian, the whole – I just love it when Batman is asking himself questions, you know, he takes a moment to himself and he has to go to the oracle you know, he goes to Alfred, you know, and has a discussion or what Lucias says to him and I think those are profound moments of the movie and really ground the movie but then it ramps right back up into Batman flying off a building just so elegantly and gracefully.

Did you have to remind yourself sometimes that this was a comic book movie?

Yeah. Well, it depends if you’re working with Batman or not [laughs] as I knew when we were with Batman I knew it, because he was a big shoot. You know, Christian is a big dude. You just saw, I mean he fills that suit out and you know, the first time I worked with Batman, Gary and I were on the rooftop with the bat signal and we had half of a scene and then we were in the middle of the night in Chicago and then Christian came you know, as Batman and I looked at Gary and I just [was in awe] you know? And I had one of those moments, because Gary was used to it. He had experience before but another weird thing, not weird, about the movie is that the resources that Chris has to work with were enormous and what he did with those, how he used those was spectacular because most of the stunts in this movie are real, it gives really a gritty feeling to this and really makes us believe that we’re in Gotham that Gotham is falling down. There was one time on the same night that we were on the top of that building, we’re in the middle of Chicago and all of Chicago was lit up. The buildings and everything and I said Chris isn’t that great? You know, all day after work they lit all the, they left the lights on in all the buildings, it literally looks cool when you pan around, and he looks at me and he goes those are us. [laughs] I was like, ahhh! So this isn’t Neil LaBute.

Aaron Eckhart in The Dark KnightAnd what was it like working alongside Heath as The Joker?

Heath was wonderful to work with. You know, I, unfortunately didn’t get enough time to spend with Heath personally and professionally but the time I did spend with him I was amazed by his talent, what he was doing with The Joker. In rehearsals, we went to rehearsals in London and Chris brought me in and worked with Heath and he started, he’s doing his thing, albeit you know, in less than first gear, and I just thought OK, all right, we’ll see. This kid is doing something here. Got to step it up. And he’s doing something special so and then I said to Chris, I go, he’s really going to be good in this, and he said yeah, and so, then you know, I would hear reports about what Heath was doing and I would come to work, I’d come back to work after having some time off and I would say, hey Chris how did it go, you know, what’s been happening, and he’d go wow! His eyes would light up and he’d say Heath’s been doing this and he’s been doing this and he’s been doing this, and he did this and I was like OK. So we all were watching Heath pretty closely and felt that he was doing something special and then having seen it now on the screen I see it, but our scene together in the hospital is our biggest scene and you know, that was Heath’s scene and he drove it you know, and had all the energy in it and it was a great scene. I really got a lot of energy from him, and he throughout the day would find his character and find different things to do and the faces and this and you know, he would take it and he would improvise and he knew his characters so well, so thoroughly that he could anywhere at anytime, like just and that’s when you know you’re working with somebody special you know, boom boom boom, over here, over here, I say something, boom, he boom, boom, you know, boom, like this. You know, none of that was in the script, right, but we’re working, we’re working and so I felt when he started I was like OK, what am I going to do here, because I don’t know what I’m going to do here, I know how I feel but I don’t know what I’m going to do, and Heath really helped me with that.

I felt it was an honor to work with him and I felt like that was why an actor is an actor, to be with him, and I’ll just say one last thing about him. He was great off the set. This, he was happy and he was, he showed me pictures of his kids, and talked about his kids and children and liked to listen to music and stuff like that, and I think that’s important to know.

What about your character, looking back at the history of Harvey Dent and Two-Face. What did you do to prepare as far as research?

Well, like I said I said that in this room about the burns and stuff, I said that, that’s research, but I in terms of comic books, Chris sent me comic books, you know, in terms of like looking at movies or past, people who have been, I didn’t do any of that. I, Chris you know, you’re watching Batman Begins you know where Chris is going and you’ve read the scripts so you know what is happening there, so really what you just have to do is then make it personal for yourself and then you’re dealing with the issues of the script which is betrayal, it’s loss, it’s this that and the other, and I just did that in my own personal way.

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart in The Dark KnightWere you surprised about the arc of the character?

I really was. I have to say I was astonished and stunned when I read this because I heard that Heath was The Joker and I thought what’s there for me to do. And I could not believe how much Harvey was in it and how long was in it before he went to Two-face, and I thought that was brave of Chris and I thought it was brave. Well, I didn’t know I was in the movie until I saw it you know, I thought well, I’m certainly going to get cut out, he’s like Heath’s doing this, he’s doing this, and I go, great.

Do you think that part of Harvey wanted to be Batman?

Yeah, I think and vice versa. I think it goes two ways. I think it goes two ways. And I think that’s such an interesting dynamic. I think that Christian played that and also Bruce Wayne it’s interesting because if Batman wants to do that, then Harvey wants to do that then what happens when they meet Bruce and Bruce has got all that in his head, the dynamics there are just so out of control.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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