April 2, 1998
People think he’s a prick – and then tell them about their life; Aaron Eckhart’s role as Chad in In the Company of Men has elicited visceral reactions, he tells ANDREW L. URBAN.
The character Chad probably suffers from ASBD – Anti Social Behaviour Disorder, or so they imagined, when good friends Aaron Eckhart and director Neil LaBute began work on LaBute’s film, In the Company of Men. In this startling first film from LaBute (and first leading role for Eckhart), Aaron’s character, Chad, “has no emotions, no feelings, no loyalty; so I took it from there.”
In an attempt to get even with the female gender, Chad devises a cruel game plan, to find a suitably vulnerable young woman and simultaneously date her with his co-worker Howard (Matt Malloy), trying hard to get her to fall in love with them both – and then both unceremoniously dump her.
“He actually taught an ethics class that I was in, which is kinda ironic,” on Neil LaBute
Chad is very different from his own character, says Eckhart. “First of all, I’d never do that to a woman. Unless she pushed me,” he adds jokingly. “No, I would never do that. And Chad is a much more even person than I am; he’s so calculating. That was the one thing I had a bit of challenge with in the character, the fact he’s three steps ahead of everybody. And in real life I’m always three steps behind.”
Eckhart met LaBute doing theatre work at Brigham Young University in Northern Utah. “He actually taught an ethics class that I was in, which is kinda ironic,” he says, referring to the role LaBute gave him as Chad. “We discussed some of his earlier work, which is equally bleak and brutal and the class would argue over the ethical and moral issues of Neil’s work.”
Eckhart moved to New York, and LaBute moved to Indiana University but they kept in touch, always intending to make a film together. Now they have: and In the Company of Men was written and produced “in no time and no money,” says Eckhart. But the film’s hefty cyncisim – LaBute describes it as “a love story for the 90s” – polarises film audiences dramatically.
“People come up and tell me I’m a prick and then tell me a story about their life.”
“Oh yes, people have strictly visceral reactions to the film. I stood outside a cinema with a camera crew and a microphone one day as people were coming out of a screening and people would not talk to me – they physically pushed me away. I think people need time to digest this film, to understand it. Last night I was at a party and a girl recognised me and she said, ‘You know, I really, really, hated you in that film . . . I’d just broken up with my girlfriend.’ There seems to be a pattern: people come up and tell me I’m a prick and then tell me a story about their life. For a film to evoke that kind of response is pretty dramatic.”
Chad posed no great challenge for Eckhart, even the celebrated scene with a black intern who is forced by the control-freak Chad to drop his pants and show his balls – to see if he’s got what it takes in the corporate world. “He and I were great friends, we had a good laugh about that between takes, and we’re both proud of that scene. No, it was a great shoot, great relationships.”
“She’s unbelievable – I just tried to match her level.” on Stacy Edwards
Eckhart has special praise for his co-star Stacy Edwards, who plays the deaf target of the nasty love game. “First, she’s a terrific actress, and [her deafness] brought a whole new dimension to the film. It was both fun and a challenge to remember that she had to look at the lips and I had to remember to face her whenever I was talking. She’s unbelievable – I just tried to match her level. For me, acting is about honesty and communication, and she’s great at that; we’d just look each other in the eye and it was magic – I could feel magic.”
Although Chad In the Company of Men was Eckhart’s first leading role, he was in and out of In & Out, starring Kevin Kline; he had a small role, but it was cut out of the final version.
Since making In the Company of Men, Eckhart has made another film with LaBute, so far tentatively titled Your Friends and Neighbours (as at January 1998). Eckhart co-stars with Jason Patrick, Ben Stiller, Nastassja Kinski, Catherine Keener, and Amy Brennerman. He gained 18 kilos for the part: “I play the antithesis of Chad, a round impotent husband whose wife is unfaithful with his best friend. He’s plagued by insecurities and paranoia – it’s a really great change for me.”
When we spoke, Eckhart had lost 8 of the 18 kilos, and was having trouble “kicking” the remainder. But he has a good reason to keep trying: one of his next roles, in mid 1998, could well be in the Australian epic romance, In A Savage Land, directed by Bill Bennett (Kiss or Kill), set on a New Guinea island in the 1930s.