Newsweek – Aaron Eckhart is instantly recognizable. His blonde-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed good looks are that of the prototypical Hollywood star. He is the kind of actor who, when you see him on screen, has a strong, dependable presence and the ability to bring gravitas to a movie, whether it’s an action blockbuster as overblown as Olympus Has Fallen or, like his latest work, Sully, a subtle drama based on real events. But even with those all-American features and a commendable array of credits, Eckhart has never quite broken through as a leading man. He is perhaps Hollywood’s most valuable supporting player.
I present this theory to Eckhart when we meet in London’s famous Claridge’s hotel. He isn’t in the least offended. Rather the opposite, in fact. He wears it as a badge of honor. “I’m happy to take that title,” he says. “I’ve always been a solid guy for [leading women]…for Julia [Roberts in Erin Brockovich], Catherine Zeta Jones [2007’s No Reservations]. I’m proud of that. I’m proud that I can contribute in my own way.”
Eckhart, 48, might be the leading man of this interview, but we’re discussing two more films in which he comes second to the protagonist. In the Clint Eastwood-directed Sully, about the 2009 emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, he plays first officer Jeff Skiles opposite Tom Hanks’ Captain Chesley Sullenberger. In Bleed for This, the biopic charting U.S. boxing champion Vinny Pazienza’s comeback from a life-threatening car accident, he portrays Pazienza’s trainer Kevin Rooney (Miles Teller plays the Pazmanian Devil).
Both movies have had significant awards chatter leading into next February’s Academy Awards. Having Eastwood and Hanks, both perennial Oscar favorites, on the marquee alone makes Sully a contender, but its chances are boosted further by Eckhart’s conviction as Sullenberger’s first officer, a beautifully understated script from Todd Komarnicki, and positive reviews across the world. The power of Bleed for This, meanwhile, lies in the one-two punch of Teller and Eckhart’s performances and their ability to bounce off each other. In an eerie coincidence, or fate, depending on how you look at it, the two films are released on the same day, Friday, in the U.K.
“The biggest challenge [on Sully ] for me—and the most excitement—was playing off of Tom,” says Eckhart. “A supporting character is very important because you’re defining the protagonist. Not everybody knows how to do that. If you’re trying to be the star of the movie, you’re taking some of the shine off your hero…that’s not the job of the supporting character.”