In Battle: Los Angeles, Aaron Eckhart is charged with the impossible. Eckhart’s character, Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, is trapped behind enemy lines in Santa Monica, miles from downtown Los Angeles.
In real life, Aaron Eckhart exudes the same calm but determined exterior of his onscreen persona in Battle: Los Angeles. He walks into our room at the Casa Del Mar, yes in Santa Monica, for a talk with SheKnows about playing an action hero for the first time in his career and why the work on Battle: Los Angeles was the most meaningful in his entire career. That’s quite a statement for the man who has appeared in numerous box office smashes as well as indie darlings adored by critics and audiences alike.
Eckhart first caught eyes with his steely stare in Your Friends and Neighbors, In the Company of Men and Thank You for Smoking. Eckhart announced to the world his acting prowess opposite Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich while big budget films followed including The Dark Knight, No Reservations and Love Happens. Also, in any other Academy Awards year, Eckhart would have been nominated for his heartbreaking turn in Rabbit Hole opposite Oscar nominee Nicole Kidman.
Battle: Los Angeles arrives in theaters March 11 and turns the alien invasion movie storyline on its head with astounding visual and sound effects, plus a cast of characters who bring the power of the film home. What experts first thought were meteors turn into alien ships rocketing to earth for a full-on colonization. Aaron Eckhart and his team of Marines are charged with keeping the invaders at bay in the city of Los Angeles.
Stay with SheKnows all week as we premiere our Battle: Los Angeles interviews with the film’s stars — the badass Michelle Rodriguez and the scene stealer Ramon Rodriguez who will also be stealing hearts as Bosley in the TV update of Charlie’s Angels after charming audiences in The Taking of Pelham 123.
Aaron Eckhart talks!
SheKnows: This role in Battle: Los Angeles seems especially personal to you. It looks like you had a blast playing a U.S. soldier.
Aaron Eckhart: I did. It was my favorite character I’ve ever played. If there’s a second one, I’m ready. I still wear my khakis and my fatigues and got my hair short and I’m ready to go [laughs]. I heard it’s in the works.
SheKnows: Was this the most intense shoot you ever experienced?
Aaron Eckhart: Every day was a war. Every day, I got in the car and thought, “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this movie.” Every day after work, I thought, “I don’t know how I made it through that day.” It was brutal with the heat, humidity, the action scenes — Jonathan (Liebesman, director) shoots so much film with three cameras working all the time — the weight of your weapon, but that being said, it was exhilarating all the time. With the noise and the concussions, the explosions, you felt like you were at war. We had such beautiful sets. We locked down a freeway overpass in Shreveport, Louisiana for three weeks. Anybody seeing that would have thought we were at war. We had downed helicopters, blown-out tanks, Humvees turned over, cars riddled with bullets, shooting 10 to 20,000 rounds a day. It was a blast.
SheKnows: In the film, your character is icing down his sore bones. Were you like that after a day of shooting?
Aaron Eckhart: Oh my gosh [laughs]. I broke my arm on this movie! We had three or four weeks to go, so I did the last part of it with a broken arm. No cast, we just did the movie. People were getting their teeth knocked out and everybody’s ankles are swollen [laughs], it was serious. It was a very challenging movie. We were well trained. We were well coordinated. We had great instruction and great supervision. Jonathan and myself wanted this to look real. This is not a green screen movie. Yes, there is CGI, but the smoke, everything’s real. We’re sitting on a bus that has blown to (expletive). You didn’t have far to go to believe that you were at war. Whereas some movies that are all green screen, it’s an impossible situation for the actors. There was too much to imagine on a daily basis. Here, at any given take on any given day, it would look like a photograph from Vietnam — guys exhausted, sitting on their helmets, propped with their weapons at their side, some asleep on the ground on their pack. You take a picture of that and you would know where you were. Everything was so authentic. They did a great job to sell it.
The battle of Battle: Los Angeles
SheKnows: What most appealed to you about making Battle: Los Angeles?
Aaron Eckhart: I’ve never done anything like this before. Jonathan was a big sell for me because Jonathan told me how he wanted to shoot it. There’s only one way to shoot this movie and that’s like a documentary. Then, there’s my character — an older soldier, taking a group of Marines and being the salty older dude. That was attractive to me, but really, just doing a movie where I was physical, where I had to be in excellent shape, to toughen up a bit. That was fun and I’m going to continue to do that. I’m going to do a movie called The Expatriate, a CIA thriller, run-around movie. I like being like that. I liked the aspects of Battle: Los Angeles. This movie is a family film, it’s not exploitive, not overly violent, no swearing, no sex — this is something the whole family can go see. And when kids see it, while they are beyond being entertained, they’ll be inspired in a way to look at leadership, heroism and all that. It was a good message.
SheKnows: Your character is retiring in the movie, could you relate to that at all?
Aaron Eckhart: Well, in many ways, yes. These young Marines he is working with, he cannot relate to them at all. The technology and the like has passed him by. I feel like that in a lot of ways. The more we go hi-tech, the lower tech I go. I want it simpler. I haven’t checked a voice message in years. I don’t make phone calls. I text for sure, but I really have little use for technology in my life. I felt that was interesting to me in the character. Not only has technology passed him by, but our forces have changed.
SheKnows: There’s a scene where you recite the military numbers of all the men your character lost in Iraq. How did you remember all those numbers?
Aaron Eckhart: [Laughs] Man, I was sweating those! I taped them up on my trailer and was memorizing them. I got them all memorized, then we go to shoot the scene and I was forgetting some, and Jonathan said, “Just make them up!” [Laughs] Dude, I just spent hours…I’m not that great of a memorizer. Oh my goodness, that was giving me trouble, and then I just had to make them up! But, I made sure I got every single one of those right!
Battle: Los Angeles’ realism
SheKnows: Judging by the experience you all had making the film, the realism…did you have a short day in the makeup chair?
Aaron Eckhart: There was no makeup on this film! By the end of the day, that dirt, grime…it was real. It just accumulated through the first hour of filming [laughs]. You had bombs, the gun powder, that was all pretty real.
SheKnows: How did this character fit into the lexicon of other characters you’ve played?
Aaron Eckhart: I want to make movies about men that have a code. It’s very simple code which is you kill me, I kill you, or I kill you before you kill me [laughs], the Clint Eastwood code. Especially today, things have become more relative in movie making and in real life. I was looking to do a character that is a little more black and white in that way. I think there’s a beauty in that.
SheKnows: Like your character, you’re a veteran in your field working with a bunch of newer guys. What was it like on the set with those young actors like Ramon Rodriguez and Ne-Yo?
Aaron Eckhart: It’s interesting, there were a lot of guys that were totally new, a lot of guys that were big and I didn’t know about it. The point is in this kind of movie, you have to commit to it. You have to commit to your character and your rank and commit to making it the best movie you can. It was interesting to see the guys rise to the occasion. They all brought something to the table. The guys really bonded and really knew each other well by the end. I did less of that because it wasn’t my character. I felt like when they were looking at me, they didn’t know who was Nantz, and who was me.
SheKnows: Obviously the military was a huge help for Battle: Los Angeles, how was the military a help to you personally?
Aaron Eckhart: Their example, telling me stories, getting it right. Marines themselves, all I have to do is look at a Marine and know that I’m representing them. How do I want to represent the Marines? I have honor, reverence and respect. I want to not only get the technical things right, I want to get the mindset right. That was very important to me. When I worked with the Marines, I worked with them, I wanted them to know we were serious. Those Marines, they watch movies all the time. As soon as you tell them you are doing a Marine movie, they’ll tell you every single thing that went wrong in a Marine movie. I’m going to Camp Pendleton to show the movie, and then I’m going to Quantico to show the movie. It’s important to me that we represented them well.