Aaron Eckhart Interview
Aaron Eckhart Interview
Aaron Eckhart, star of Olympus Has Fallen, tells View about playing the President of the United States, seeking out great roles to play on film, having amazing moments of clarity as an actor, and he explains how much he enjoys the work of his acting heroes, peers and friends in the movie business.
Should we stand up when you come into the room?

Aaron Eckhart

It would be nice, a little respect once in a while.
Did you get the Presidential treatment on this film? Did you get the biggest trailer?

Aaron Eckhart

Let’s see, I got the second best trailer. The producer got the best trailer – Gerry was the producer.
What were you like when you went home after playing the President?

Aaron Eckhart

I was impossible. I thought I was doing well, and then Morgan Freeman walked into the room, then everybody was like 'THAT'S the President...' It was fun. Look, we didn’t go Daniel Day-Lewis with it, there were no demands of 'Mr President' off-screen, although I would have liked it. It was fun to play, you are brought up believing anybody can become President of the United States. 'What do you want to be?', when you’re a kid, 'I want to be President of the United States'; some people get to be President of the United States. So as an actor to get to stand in the Oval office and think big thoughts and ponder important questions was a lot of fun. But really what I did was pick the characteristics of my ideal American President: integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness, then basically work out how do you be the leader under duress, get the shit kicked out of you, be tied to a post, etc.
But with all due respect to the present incumbent, you’re a more rugged president...

Aaron Eckhart

That’s your opinion. I think when I talked to Antoine Fuqua [director] about this, we mentioned JFK because he was a young, vital athletic President who played football with his family, he was famous for it. He had a young family, he had a certain charisma, that was the importance of the boxing scene at the beginning. Gerry’s out there taking care of business, and when you cut to the bunker you don’t want to feel the President was helpless. You wanted to feel that if he could unshackle himself, he could beat the shit out of somebody or he could take a punch. That was important to the balance of the film. I would have loved to have got my hands on those guys, I think I was dealt a disservice in the film by not being able to beat the shit out of a couple of those guys and then go on the run with Gerry.
How long were you chained to that railing?

Aaron Eckhart

I would say that in a 12 hour day I was doing at least eight hours. It was about two weeks and I lost all the feeling in my arms. It helped me gather energy as an actor because you had to keep up that intensity over a long period of time so I tried to make it as hard as I possibly could. They always tried to loosen them and I’d tighten them. I tried to get the scars and feel the pain so that would translate to the audience.
So you *were* doing a Daniel Day-Lewis?

Aaron Eckhart

A little bit.
Did you stay chained to the post off-camera?

Aaron Eckhart

Yes, you have to because you don’t want to get all that intensity at the beginning of your day and then just give it away because it takes all that energy to get it back. You want to keep it as close to you as you possibly can so that at a moment’s notice you can do what you have to do. This is what I say: if the character’s pulse is 160 beats per minute, I don’t want to act that, I want to get my heartbeat up to 160 a minute so I don’t have to act it and I can concentrate on other things, like listening and being present in the scene. So I do thousands of push-ups and I do sprints and I do whatever I can to get my heartbeat up before every take so that intensity and fire is in my eyes all the time. I think that’s important, I think the audience responds to that.
Speaking of intensity, that scene with Melissa Leo is quite shocking. What was the atmosphere like on set that day?

Aaron Eckhart

It was intense. You know, Melissa’s another one, we’re cut from the same cloth that way. She felt a responsibility as an actor and as Secretary of Defence that when she was being dragged with her skirt above her head, with blood and snot coming out of her nose, it was all real. When you looked at her, you didn’t have to act. You’ve got tears in your eyes, especially when she’s sitting there crying. Look, this is all Hollywood stuff, you know, ‘Give me the codes’, but I think there’s meaning behind it because she’s a great actor. She took it very seriously.

I remember when they were dragging her and she was exposed to all, everybody would rush in after the take and pull her skirt back down and she’s like, ‘Get away from me!'. And then you’re like, 'Yes!' I would say to Antoine, 'What was Denzel like, what would Denzel do right now, how does Denzel come in, in the morning?' And he would say, 'Aaron, just like you, just like you, just like you'. 'What would Denzel do here?' 'Just what you’re doing'. And that’s important to me, it’s important to Melissa.

You look at some actors and you’re like 'Excuse me, but there’s about to be mutual nuclear destruction, the White House has just been taken over, the Vice-President has just had his brains blown out, and you look like you’re having afternoon tea at the Ritz'. It just doesn’t make sense to me, go get some emotion. But a lot of actors don’t think that way. You’re looking at them thinking, 'We’re not in the same movie, man'.

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Content updated: 18/08/2019 16:21

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