Men’s Health – Focused and fit, The Dark Knight’s Aaron Eckhart has a blast at everything he does. How? By staying in motion even when he chills out
Here’s the thing about actor Aaron Eckhart: He talks like he’s the ultimate artistic chill-out-on-the-couch type, but his actions reveal a very different kind of man. He separates work from everything else, but “everything else” is in motion, in flux. He runs on the beach. Hikes. Surfs. Plays guitar. Takes road trips from Los Angeles to his ranch in Montana.
Eckhart’s work time feeds his non-work time and vice versa. Most of us either shut down at the 5 o’clock whistle or simply don’t acknowledge a whistle at all. We become one-note entities that way. Eckhart’s goal is to hit as many notes as humanly possible, and that requires constant motion. It’s not to be confused with workaholism, or attention-deficit disorder, or an unwillingness to commit. It’s curiosity and hunger, pure and simple.
One of Eckhart’s most important life rules is to turn everyday, mandatory activities into playtime. “I won’t do it if it’s not fun, and if I have to do it, I’ll make it fun,” he says. Sounds simple, but how exactly do you make a mandatory activity fun? “I play games with myself. You can completely change your mood. If I have to crawl out of bed to take my dog for a walk, then I make that as enjoyable as possible. I tell myself, Hey, I can read a photography magazine while I do it. I’ll climb out of bed and by the time I see my dog, I’m a totally changed person.” How can you adopt the same kind of mindset? It’s all about embracing the power of play.
The Power of Play
A helpful trait to possess in life is the ability to recognize something that’ll make you a better man, whether it’s a decision, a woman, or even a piece of land like the one I’m standing on now. The actor Aaron Eckhart had one of those “holy shit” moments on this grassy hilltop, which is itself surrounded by dozens of other grassy hilltops, so he snapped it up and made it his.
“Creatively, places like this are an outlet,” Eckhart says. “I love natural beauty. I like to go to a beautiful place where I have some sort of connection. And I want to create there. I feel like everything we do is an extension of our creativity. This place is. I think about this place a lot.”
Other men with Eckhart’s coin might view this stretch of radically steep hills along the California coast as simply a savvy investment, but Eckhart knows its real worth. The hills are alternately covered with long green and tan grasses, twisting oak trees, and sweeping blankets of deep-yellow wildflowers. To the west I see the Pacific. Eckhart noticed the same special qualities when he stood here for the first time.
Now it’s his playground, 100 hilly acres with a big old barn, and it’s just a tiny chunk of a much larger working horse-and-cattle ranch north of Los Angeles. It’s a nice place to be for a photography buff like Eckhart.
When I first meet him at a remote beachhead not far from this place, he’s snapping photos—of trees, sand, waves, rocks. He says he processes the shots himself and definitely prefers film to digital. “There’s just so much more life in film,” he says. On the drive up to his barn, we’re stopped by a herd of about 50 young bulls crossing the road. Eckhart grabs his camera and leans out the window. “Check ’em out— they have fresh brands,” he says, and I see the angry pink scrawls on their haunches. This is ranch living. Power lines run up here, he tells me, but there are no phone lines and cell coverage is spotty. “That really keeps things quiet,” he says, smiling. “As I get older, I get simpler. The simpler life is for me, the better life is for me. L.A. and New York can seem crowded and small real fast. This is a way to spread out a little bit.”
It’s also his way to recharge without lying around. That’s the thing about Eckhart: He talks like he’s the ultimate artistic chill-out-on-the-couch type, but he’s completely not that. He separates work from everything else, but “everything else” is in motion, in flux. He runs on the beach. Hikes. Surfs. Plays guitar. Takes road trips to his other ranch in Montana.
Up on this hill, he’s slowly transforming the barn into his house, which will eventually feature a patio barbecue area directly facing the ocean and the neighboring hills. He shows me the 40 young oak trees he recently planted by hand. He calls the smaller ones “lifers” because they’ll go on well past his lifetime.
Inside, the barn is a work in progress. Eckhart is gutting it to the rafters to create a post-and-beam home, and for now the basics are in place: a kitchen area along the right wall, a sofa facing a small TV about 20 feet across the cement floor, and a computer near the front door (with a satellite Internet connection). In the middle of it all, a wood dining table and chairs sit next to a fat wood-burning stove—an old steel barrel turned on its side. Eckhart stokes the fire, and we sit.
Eckhart personifies the rogue actor who works chronically, thriving on the energy of each project. You know him as the nice-guy biker in Erin Brockovich, as the sociopath Chad in In the Company of Men, and as Nick Naylor in the film adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking, and, of course, he is Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Harvey Two-Face, in the Batman epic, The Dark Knight.
With all the talk of Christian Bale’s Bat-intensity and the late Heath Ledger’s jaw-dropping work as the Joker, it’s easy to discount Eckhart’s contribution to the Batman canon. But fans should be prepared for quite a performance, says the film’s director, Christopher Nolan. “Aaron’s intensely focused, but in a productive and flexible manner. He can project the integrity of a young Robert Redford, but take his characters much darker.” Ultimately, he says, Eckhart’s character is the emotional core of the film. Not a light statement, considering the company on set.
For Eckhart’s part, The Dark Knight was an opportunity to turn sponge and absorb, which he thinks men don’t do enough. That means three things: Observing, questioning, and not being shy about doing either. “When I’m on set with guys like Gary [Oldman], who I really admire, I’m pumping him for information all the time. I asked him, ‘What was it like on Sid & Nancy, how did you do that part, what were you thinking when you did that, or what would you do here?’ Sometimes I like to ask, ‘What would you do right now in my place?’ When Heath and I were doing our stuff, I’d look at him and think, What’s he doing, how’s he ramping up for that? What’s he thinking?
“I always look at people to see how they practice their craft.”
Eckhart’s work time feeds his nonwork time and vice versa. Most of us either shut down at the 5 o’clock whistle or simply don’t acknowledge a whistle at all. We become one-note entities that way. Eckhart’s goal is to hit as many notes as humanly possible, and that requires constant motion. It’s not to be confused with workaholism, or attention-deficit disorder, or an unwillingness to commit. It’s curiosity and hunger, pure and simple.
And it definitely accounts for his single-guy status in his 40s, he says. “Certain people are better staying home, but I’d bet if you sat people down and asked them to really, earnestly talk about their dreams, they would soon be flying in the clouds and living here or there, doing this or that. But because of the constraints of time and money and family, people can’t do that. In my way, I don’t have a family to stop me.”
He does want one, though, and therein lies the conundrum. “To sit back and relax is difficult for me,” he says. “It’s not my favorite thing to do. I always like to be creating something. When I don’t have that outlet, that’s when the steam builds up.”
Making It Happen
Eckhart doesn’t even like to watch movies. That small television sitting across from the sofa—a far cry from the monster flat-screen and sick surround system you’d expect an actor to have—isn’t used very often. “I haven’t seen a movie in 3 years that I wasn’t in,” he says.
I ask him if this ties in with his need to be in motion, since watching a movie is a static act of sitting and being spoon-fed a story. He nods. “That’s very true. I love acting. I love making movies. But movies also remind me of the work I have to do. All I can think about is what I have to do tomorrow. I can’t seem to let that go.”
The classic rogue is an inherently self-absorbed creature. It’d be easy for men who don’t have Eckhart’s freedom—and let’s face it, few of us do—to scoff at what they perceive as his self-absorption. They might say, If I ran around like that doing whatever the hell I wanted to, my wife would divorce me. These men would also surely point out that they have too little time, too little money, and too many responsibilities to live Eckhart’s life. But they’d be missing the point.
Imagine saying this: If I ran around like that enjoying myself in everything I did, my wife would divorce me.
Would she? If you included her in the smiles? In the successes? In the fun? That’s Eckhart’s point. We see others doing what they like to be doing, and we scoff or gripe. What we don’t do is figure out how to go for what we want because griping’s easier. This is what Eckhart has figured out.
“If I want something, I just pursue it,” he says. “And if I can’t have it right away, I figure out what I need to do. Not that I’m not judicious with my money—that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about building a life that I want to live in. We see so many people who are doing it, living these beautiful dreams, and I’ll admire them and say, ‘I like that. I’d like to have a place by the beach where I can go surfing and play with my kids.’ And I say, ‘Well, I’m going to go make that happen.’ All these things, how to do this better, where can I travel, how can I get in better shape, it’s all making me dream bigger. And making it happen.
“The funny thing is,” he continues. “There will always be people out there saying, ‘You can’t do that!’ Well, I just did it. And they’re like, ‘But, but, but.’ No. I just did it.”
WHEN IT COMES TO A WORKOUT, DO IT ALL
Eckhart lists running, surfing, boxing, jumping rope, and trying to stay away from gyms among his favorite ways to stay lean. “The gym’s a weird thing,” he says. “You’re developing muscle for aesthetics. I’d rather dig tree holes with my landscaper.”
DECODE YOUR OWN CODE AND LIVE BY IT
Eckhart was raised as a Mormon, and even though today he forgoes the dogma of that religion, he maintains a central value based on it. “Any religion or philosophy—whatever your core values are when you’re growing up, it’s impossible to divorce yourself from them,” he says. “I have good tools, a good foundation. I’m not so good about going to church every week. Plus, I’m probably not the poster child for Mormonism. But it’s still in me, definitely. What I’m talking about is being a good person, living by a certain code.”
RECOGNIZE WHERE YOU COULD BE HEALTHIER, AND ADJUST ACCORDINGLY
“I always look at people who seem like they have it together and think, What’re they doing? How do they do it? Usually, they’re smiling. And usually they’re going someplace with a purpose. You see it in their walks. It’s all about their spirit, how they conduct themselves, carry themselves. If you’re going to investigate your physical health, you’re more likely to investigate your mental and spiritual health, too.”
MONITOR YOUR MOOD
One of Eckhart’s most important rules: “I won’t do it if it’s not fun, and if I have to do it, I’ll make it fun.” Sounds simple, but how exactly do you make a mandatory activity fun? “I play games with myself,” he says. “You can completely change your mood. If I have to crawl out of bed to take my dog for a walk, then I make that as enjoyable as possible. I tell myself, Hey, I can read a photography magazine while I do it. I’ll climb out of bed and by the time I see my dog, I’m a totally changed person.”
SKIP THE CHEMICALS
Eckhart quit drinking and smoking 7 years ago. “There was a definite moment. I woke up, somehow got up, I don’t know how, and just said, ‘That’s it.’ And it was.” Not that there isn’t temptation. “People are constantly saying, ‘Have a couple beers.’ So I think, What’s a couple beers going to get me? If I don’t have any, will it be the same? So if two’s not going to do anything to you, why have them at all? I love the taste of beer. But I can live without it.”
Source: Men’s Health