The Dark Knight Set Visit: Aaron Eckhart

During our visit to the set of The Dark Knight last year, our first Q&A was with Aaron Eckhart. He plays District Attorney Harvey Dent in the film. (At the time of this interview, Heath Ledger had not yet passed away and it was not yet public knowledge that Aaron transformed into Two-Face in the film.) Eckhart came in on his day off to talk to the press and he was very friendly and excited to talk about his role. As he walked in, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale were seen on a monitor filming a scene in the Post Office building.

Aaron Eckhart: Is that a live feed?

CS/SHH!: It is, yeah.

Eckhart: Well that’s cool.

CS/SHH!: Should we turn it off or…

Eckhart: No, I like to see this going on. See who’s working today.

CS/SHH!: Gary Oldman and Christian Bale.

Eckhart: Yeah, Is it good stuff?

CS/SHH!: So far, we just got here.

Eckhart: Oh yeah.

CS/SHH!: It looks good.

Eckhart: It does look good.

CS/SHH!: We’ve assumed those are supposed to be safety deposit boxes. Those are old post office boxes we think.

Eckhart: Oh yeah, so they’re doing that. Did you guys read the script?

CS/SHH!: Noooo (laughing).

Eckhart: They didn’t let you?

CS/SHH!: Noooo.

Eckhart: I’ll give you an idea. It starts out… (laughing)

CS/SHH!: Why don’t you tell us about your character.

Eckhart: Yeah, I play Harvey Dent, District Attorney of Gotham City. And that’s about it.

CS/SHH!: Are you running for District Attorney or are you already?

Eckhart: I think that I… there’s a little bit of campaigning, that sort of thing….pretty much (laughing).

CS/SHH!: What familiarity did you already have with Harvey? I believe you didn’t see “Batman Forever”?

Eckhart: Well I did years ago. I think that obviously… I’ve seen all the Batmans. You know Chris comes at this with such a different take on Batman I didn’t feel like I had to be true to any other actor playing this role. Of course I read the comic books and I think Harvey is portrayed very well in those comic books, his relationship with Gordon, with Batman, with Gotham City. Those really helped me the most. Chris and his brother have written this brilliantly. It gives all the characters a lot of range. As you know there are fantastic actors in this movie and everybody has great things to do. I feel like my character is fresh and he’s new. I think he’s important to Gotham City. Gotham City is going through a dark time and I think that my character helps to give hope to the city, is a positive, I would say, role model for the citizens of Gotham City. And I think that’s important. There’s a lot of mirrors to what’s going on today in society I think which helps make these movies important and takes them beyond comic books. Of course comic books also mirror our times.

CS/SHH!: What made you want to do the part? Did you go after the part, did they go after you?

Eckhart: There’s so many reasons to do this part. You know, first to work with Chris is a huge, if not the main (reason). And then to work with all of the actors, this cast is amazing. Batman has such a history and is a worldwide phenomenon, it wasn’t the prospect of being in a huge juggernaut of a movie. It was more for the artistic and creative aspects of this movie. And I have a really good part (laughs).

CS/SHH!: Were there specific comic books that they sort of had you look at?

Eckhart: Interesting question my friend. Are you a detective? Because I can see how you wheel that question in. I don’t know specifically what month and what year or titles because I’m not that good at that. But I think I’ve read everything on Harvey, and if you don’t read it there’s plenty of people out there that are willing to help you out. It’s surprising how many people know every aspect of Harvey’s character. People are excited that the Joker’s in this movie so I have a lot of help in it that way as well.

CS/SHH!: As we know your plot twist we know that Harvey has an arc and presumably we’re going to see him in the development of that here. How do you complete a performance for one film that is a foreshadowing of another performance?

Eckhart: Well, I think with the other Batmans you’re looking at pretty much, I don’t want to say the dénouement, but you’re looking at the climax of a character’s arc, where does he go after that. He has a whole beginning, and middle and end. And I think right now we’re showing Harvey, who Harvey was before he was scarred. And it’s an interesting role that he plays. We’re looking at Gotham City trying to get out of its darkness. And that’s why Harvey’s important. That’s why Maggie’s part is important. Helping to get out of the darkness. And that’s why Batman is important, you know what I mean. But I think this movie helps us to understand that the citizens are trying to do what they can, as we should in our lives do what we can to help the world come out of darkness.

CS/SHH!: So Harvey’s Harvey and Harvey’s our hero.

Eckhart: Well hopefully, of course things happen, things happen. I’m not sure.

CS/SHH!: Is Harvey turned into Two-Face in this movie?

Eckhart: I can tell you the answer to that. I was just instructed. Harvey Dent turns into Harvey Two-Face in this movie. So that answers your question.

CS/SHH!: So have you been to try on make-up yet?

Eckhart: Yeah, I have done scenes as Harvey Two-Face and it’s interesting. I won’t tell you exactly what they’re going for, or what we’re going for, but I think that I can say that it will use all of today’s technology to create this character. He’s going to be interesting, and I think that’s what makes this character important about the movie because you see him before, who he was before, as in the comic books. Harvey’s a very good guy in the comic books. He’s judicious, he cares, he’s passionate about what he loves and then he turns into this character and things happen. So you will see that in this film.

CS/SHH!: Can you talk about the relationship between Harvey and Bruce? What are the dynamics between them?

Eckhart: Well that’s a very good question. It’s a very good question. That question will be answered (laughing) in the movie. But I think that that is an answer to the question in that there are dynamics that are being shown because the citizens of Gotham and law enforcement don’t know that Bruce is the Caped Crusader. So there is a marked difference between how Bruce is treated and how Batman is treated.

CS/SHH!: I get the impression that Christian’s played up Bruce’s role as playboy and more concerned about having a good time and it’s all a mask and Harvey would be not liking him for that reason.

Eckhart: You probably have a point (laughing).

CS/SHH!: Have you flipped a coin yet?

Eckhart: I have flipped the coin, yes. You know I’ve flipped the coin, and it’s a real coin.

CS/SHH!: It’s kind of like one of those, like putting on the bat suit for the first time, flipping the coin for the first time.

Eckhart: I think that’s a real big part of Harvey, this coin. And so I think we’re giving it its due and being pretty true to the comic books in that respect.

CS/SHH!: As an actor can you talk about the opportunity to play split personalities. Can you talk about your inspiration for playing the other personalities?

Eckhart: Well I just talk to my other selves (laughing). I think that it’s interesting about human behavior that under certain circumstances, in one minute you can believe in one thing and then the world can change and you can believe another thing. I think 9/11 is indication of that. I mean the world could turn on its axis in a second. I think Harvey is not such a bad person. He does bad things but he’s doing it, hopefully we’ll see that the reasons why Harvey Two-Face is doing what he’s doing. I think it’s important that you know he’s just… he didn’t become Harvey Two-Face in a vacuum and that’s important I think. And it’s also interesting to show that there are reasons for his behavior and I think the comic book shows it. It depends on which character you think is more attractive and exciting. I mean obviously a guy who goes out and murders people, its vigilante justice really, is probably more cinematically exciting. But I think knowing why he got there and that he was a cool dude before is important as well.

CS/SHH!: Are you saying that Two-Face is a vigilante in this as opposed to the classic psychotic Two-Face?

Eckhart: In terms of villain-ry in the movie or anybody’s motivation in the movie, you’re always trying to improve your lot in life and to exact your own code in life. And I think Harvey Two-Face has a code and his code is killing people for reasons that will remain secret.

CS/SHH!: What do you draw out of yourself as an actor to play a psychopath?

Eckhart: It’s that code. It’s the code. It’s the code of saying, “How can I justify this,” how would I, in what circumstances, under which circumstances would I go kill somebody. You know, you hear people say, “If my child was this, that or the other I would kill or do that.” I think you have to put yourself in those situations. Obviously I haven’t killed anybody, but you have to make that as real as possible for yourself, if you can’t make it real you make it in imaginary circumstances. That’s where the fire comes from, that’s why when we see great performances you have to justify your behavior as an actor. And that’s what the fun of acting is, whether it’s exacting your code or it’s falling in love, or whatever it is. You have to make it real for yourself and however you do that. The other thing about acting is that you guys, if I were on screen and I was pouring acid on somebody like this, well all you see is me pouring what you think is acid on somebody’s face or whatever it is, but what I’m thinking is I’m just pouring this water on it because that person really likes the water. It doesn’t matter what I’m thinking, it just matters what you guys are seeing and your own interpretation of that event. So I don’t even know what that has anything to do with but I don’t believe that you have to really want to go kill somebody in order to do it in the movies.

CS/SHH!: You don’t have to find something exciting to correlate to the character?

Eckhart: Yeah, I do I think if I have to go kill somebody in a movie I have to figure out why I want to go kill that person and then I have to relate to that and try to go kill them.

CS/SHH!: Is it intimidating to bring this classic character to the screen?

Eckhart: Well, I’ll tell you what is… First of all the responsibility of being in Batman is pretty big, for one of these blockbusters that has so much heritage. The daunting thing really is working with Gary Oldman and Michael Caine and not so much daunting as in pretty big for me because I love to act and I respect actors and I respect those actors in particular. But saying Batman, I mean how many years has Batman been around, 70 years. How many lives has Batman touched? That is daunting. The fact that I was talking to with…you guys know who’s in the cast right.

CS/SHH!: Yes.

Eckhart: Do you?

CS/SHH!: YES (laughing) Do you know something we don’t?

Eckhart: No, no, no, I was talking to Eric Roberts about this, playing Maroni. And he’s just so happy to be involved in something this big, that has so much energy involved in it, that has so much heritage. And I believe that to be true as well, that I’m going to be in Batman, which I never in a million years thought that I would ever be in Batman, acting, with a guy in a bat suit (laughing).

CS/SHH!: Are you ready to be an action figure?

Eckhart: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know actually.

CS/SHH!: Surely… you will be. (laughing)

Eckhart: If not this movie then another one. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. It’s an interesting question.

CS/SHH!: How do you emote through the makeup? Have you ever worn anything that heavy and how does that affect your craft?

Eckhart: Well any advantage you can gain, in terms of physical advantage helps you act because it takes you out of yourself. It also helps the other actors act. When you look at yourself and you are scarred beyond belief something happens inside of you where you can trick your mind really easily and all the sudden you believe that you’re scarred. If I were blind in a movie, playing a blind man, I would have those feelings of being blind and it helps me, it helps me because all I have to do is go look in a mirror between takes then I have to say I get all those feelings and look at the guy across from me who I’m acting with and I want to kill him. Or if my wife died or whatever it is, all those little things help you because you can believe in something like that. If you see your face caved in, or your eyes or your guts ripped out or somebody bleeding on the floor, your body takes over after that and you just do what you do. So the scarier part about it is if you didn’t have that. You see.

CS/SHH!: There’s a lot of different ways you could go with Two-Face’s performance. Like in the cartoons he’s the cold-hearted gangster and with Tommy Lee Jones he’s the cackling mad man. Where are you taking this?

Eckhart: It’s early days but I believe that it’s stronger if you have a heart. If you can relate to a character if he’s a villain or not it’s always better, I mean if I can help you to relate to my character then I think that I am more likely to keep your attention.

CS/SHH!: So did you throw out the idea that Harvey Dent’s wife?

Eckhart: Was he married?

CS/SHH!: Yeah, the first couple of interpretations.

Eckhart: He went home to his wife. There’s one that he’s not married in. Well, that’s an interesting question, I mean, we’ll have to see about that. I don’t know, you know (laughing). That’s an interesting question.

CS/SHH!: Nolan does such a great job in the first movie with really connecting the adversaries of Batman in terms of mythology. How does Harvey and/or Two-Face relate to Bruce Wayne and Batman?

Eckhart: That’s a good question, that’s a good question. I would like to answer that better for you, I can only say that the two of them are contemporaries, and you can make your own conclusions about what that means. In other words, the one can look at the other as himself. Do you see what I’m saying? And that holds a lot of energy in that because you have Bruce Wayne who is this particular person, you have Harvey Dent and who are they in society. What do they mean to each other? They are basically physically similar, they’re a lot of qualities and characteristics are similar, there’s a lot of energy there. What they want for the world is not totally dissimilar. One has taken it to another level, but who says that the other one doesn’t want to take it to that level as well, the power that comes with their jobs and responsibilities. So there’s a lot of, Chris has helped, in my opinion, to humanize Batman. And I think he’s doing that with all the characters. I think it’s going to be powerful. I’ll tell you guys what Heath is doing is going to blow you away.

CS/SHH!: Just by virtue of the fact that Harvey is the District Attorney, presumably sanctioning, or working with Batman. Would you agree that that sort of indicates a moral flexibility to begin with?

Eckhart: Well I didn’t say that he’s working with Batman.

CS/SHH!: Well it seems to be in the plot.

Eckhart: In the plot, well there you go (laughing).

CS/SHH!: In the comic books, Harvey Dent is important to Batman trying to decide “we’re going to fix this”.

Eckhart: I think in times of trouble extraordinary means have to be taken sometimes. And I will say that sometimes, and I think we’ve grown up with cinema like this that people have to do what they have to do to rid themselves of cancer. And Gotham City is, I think, going through chemo.

CS/SHH!: There’s a cult classic Batman line, “Where does he get all those wonderful toys.” What toys do you get?

Eckhart: Well, the iPhone (laughing). I wish they had given me one, it comes out today.

CS/SHH!: We got the Batpod behind you, have you seen that yet?

Eckhart: You know the less I see the less I have to lie about (laughing).

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Source: Scott Chitwood