Aaron Eckhart – Lights! Camera! The Movies’ Mandate for Change
Aaron Eckhart is more than director Neil LaBute’s muse. No other actor of recent times has made us think about the state of masculinity as Eckhart has. Yet so completely did he disappear Into two vastly different LaBute creations – as the predatory alpha male Chad in In the Company of Men (1997) and as the passive cuckold Barry in Your Friends & Neighbors (1998) – that we still aren’t sure about Eckhart himself. The real-life person couldn’t possibly he as sadistic or self-deluding as the characters he plays, could he? It’s just like a man to keep us guessing, but here one may be able to finally pin down who the thirty-year-old Eckhart actually is. Until his next movie, that is. Then again It’s probably going to he the one that breaks the mold: In Molly, due for release in April, he plays a man with a conscience.
NICOLE KEETER: it occurs to me you might be growing tired of commenting on masculinity.
AARON ECKHART: [laughs] Let’s just say it’s come up before.
NK: Who was the first male movie star to make you say, “I want to do that”?
AE: Probably Steve McQueen, in Bullitt  or The Getaway . And Clint Eastwood in something like Dirty Harry . They always seemed to be cool under fire and kind of rebellious. Cary Grant was also a big one for me.
NK: Really? He would seem to be at the opposite end of the scale.
AE: Yeah, but there’s nobody who represents romance to me like Cary Grant. He was so smooth and such a good dresser. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, too. It wasn’t about a macho masculinity for me – it was about people I could watch, and I could definitely watch them.
NK: There’s no male star more well-liked than Tom Hanks. It’s been said he’s someone men want to have a beer with and women find attractive but he’s basically sexless in his roles, so it seems we’ve moved away from the hero types you described. Why do you think that is?
AE: I think America right now is looking for somebody who appeals to every faction. Tom Hanks doesn’t offend anybody. It’s the residue of this whole politically correct movement. Everybody’s afraid to voice their opinion – you can’t do this, you can’t do that. I think Hanks kind of embodies that. Whereas Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Clint Eastwood would just tell you to fuck off.
NK: I found an article ranking the manliest movies of all time. The list included Rio Bravo , The Dirty Dozen , and The Wild Bunch . In the Company of Men was number ten. And Brian’s Song [the 1971 film about a footballer who gets cancer] was number nine – does that surprise you?
AE: I kind of like that. In the others, the guys are all scumbags killing people and they don’t brash their teeth. If that’s what masculinity is, then I have a different take on it. To me, it’s The Right Stuff  and strong, quiet types like Sam Shepard and Scott Glenn. They don’t have to be killing people; they just have to be leaders. But if anybody’s a man right now, it’s Christopher Reeve, or Michael J. Fox. I have a lot of respect for those guys. So I think Brian’s Song definitely has its place.
NK: If you were offered the chance to play Bill Clinton in the story of his life, would you take it?
AE: [takes deep breath] I can’t even begin to comment on my feelings about Clinton. If we’re talking about masculinity and tenderness, I don’t look at Clinton. I think our heroes have to be honest. You know, Abe Lincoln, Gary Cooper. And sure, they can cry. I have a dog and sometimes I’ll be the littlest kid with my dog and marvel at his ears and his nose and how he looks at me. If he died, I’d bawl like a baby. But I don’t look at that as weak.
NK: What do you think about other boundaries in cinema, like male nudity?
AE: Nobody has to see my penis to know how I’m feeling, you know what I mean? Or my butt. Would I ever do it? It depends if it’s gratuitous or not. In Your Friends & Neighbors, when Jason [Pattic] and I were in the locker room, we didn’t feel a need to strip all the way down, and I think you still get the same feeling. But then, even with sex, I’m more in the school of less is more in movies.
NK: Was there a feminist backlash to In the Company of Men?
AE: There was a feminist backhand in my face! Two days ago, I went to see a movie and this woman recognized me and she said the same old thing: “You’re such a prick, and I feel like hitting you.” It was funny because it hadn’t happened to me in a while.
NK: What about the reaction from women in your family, people who knew you before you played Chad?
AE: Well, phooey. My close family loved it because they know that character really isn’t me. But I had a steady girlfriend at the time, and her mother came over and watched a rough cut of the movie. Afterward, she took my then-girlfriend into the bedroom and said, “I don’t know if I can trust Aaron.” I knew this woman well because I’d been with her daughter for a long time. So I was kind of blown away by what she said.
NK: That the film would have the power to change her perception of you?
AE: Exactly. Of course, I ended up doing exactly to her daughter what Chad did.
NK: I hope you’re joking.
AE: I’m just saying it was very weird that she would think I couldn’t be different in real life from how I was onscreen.
NK: Do you think men and women are the same deep down?
AE: [another deep breath] Women are from Mars. Men are from Venus.
NK: Try again. You have it backwards.
AE: [laughs] OK. It seems to me if you want something badly enough, whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ll do whatever you have to do to get it. I think women can be as cruel as men, and men as tender as women, and vice versa. Through all the relationship stuff I’ve gone through in the past few years, I know there are fundamental differences in how men and women view sex and how they view their futures. But when it comes to getting what they want, both sexes have very primal instincts.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Brant Publications, Inc.