Backstage.com – Aaron Eckhart doesn’t shy away from misgivings about his acting abilities. He relishes them.
In the months leading up to the performance that would leave him unrecognizable, he prepared alongside top boxing trainers and fighters, studying their techniques and strategies. Their track records meant any skepticism was warranted, he says.
“Nobody really believed that I was going to be able to do this part,” he says of his casting as trainer Kevin Rooney in the upcoming Vinny Pazienza biopic “Bleed for This.” “When I talked to the old trainers in Vegas, the fighter guys and the promoters, when I told them I was doing Kevin Rooney, they gave me time, but they didn’t have any belief in their eyes.
“But that’s the fun about being an actor,” he continues. “Whether you’re playing a Marine or if you’re playing this [or] that, actors know they can get to places because of their experience and their technique. We can transform if we’re willing to go to those places.” Looking at Eckhart’s handsome features and lean, 6-foot frame, it’s evident why some might’ve felt he was miscast to play an overweight, middle-aged boxing trainer past his prime. But the actor’s commitment to the role sparked a complete transformation.
To star in the against-all-odds success story opposite Miles Teller as the world-title-holding champion Paz, Eckhart put on 40 pounds, shaved his head to appear balding, and began a meticulous study of the man who trained Mike Tyson before he aided in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport.
At the start of his now 20-year acting career—he initially came to New York City with $1,300 in his pocket and no contacts—Eckhart admits the doubts of those who knew Rooney would’ve thrown him off his game. But that was before he started studying at the William Esper Studio between waiter-bartender shifts at famed French brasserie Les Halles, landed a Miller Lite commercial, moved to Los Angeles, and grabbed Hollywood’s attention. His first major film came in 1997 with Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men,” which was shot in under two weeks and funded with money from the car accident settlement of one of LaBute’s friends; he followed it up with “Erin Brockovich,” “Thank You for Smoking,” and his blockbuster breakthrough playing Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) in “The Dark Knight.”
These days, lack of faith fuels him.
“I have such a technique and a strategy now for my process, and I’ve done it so many times that I know what I can do,” he says of his nearly 40 acting credits. “That’s not to say that I’m not scared when I take a movie, or [ask myself], ‘How am I going to do this?’ But it’s almost fun for me now to take disbelief and go, ‘You guys, it’s going to be OK. I am going to do this!’”