Independent – Aaron Eckhart is recounting a tale that, you feel, he’ll be telling his grandchildren in years to come – the time he first met Clint Eastwood. He spotted the 86-year-old actor-director a few years ago at the Golden Globes. “He was surrounded by [Steven] Spielberg and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie… I just made my way up to Clint, who doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall, and I said, ‘sir, I just hope to work with you one day.’ He looks at me, kinda like Dirty Harry, and he says, ‘yeah, we’ll see what’s shakin’.”
To be fair to Eckhart, he’s a tad more than “a hole in the wall”. His 20-year career has seen him directed by the likes of Sean Penn, in The Pledge (2001), Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight (2008), and Brian De Palma The Black Dahlia (2006). But the 48-year-old can’t help but flush with the memory. “I was like, ‘oh fuck’. I was embarrassed, I was humiliated. I was in front of everybody. I walked away saying, ‘that’ll never happen’.” He takes a sip from his cup of tea. “And it happened.”
Eastwood’s Sully is one of two new movies Eckhart stars in. The other is Bleed For This, Ben Younger’s boxing drama. In both, he plays a real-life person. His character is Jeff Skiles, co-pilot on the infamous US Airways Flight 1549 – on 15 January 2009, the jet was forced to emergency-land on New York’s Hudson River after a flock of birds hit both engines shortly after take-off.
“Playing a real person, if they’re alive, is daunting – because they have to live with the results of your efforts,” says Eckhart, who stars alongside Tom Hanks – Hanks plays Chelsey ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the pilot who heroically landed the plane. “There are some people on Earth who are only going to know Sully as Tom Hanks. And Jeff Skiles, certainly, as me. Now that’s a big responsibility. Jeff still flies. I want people to come up to Jeff and go, ‘hey, that was an awesome movie’.”
Huffington Post – For the latest in our WISE WORDS interview series – where stars from a whole range of fields share the important life lessons they’ve learned along the way – we’re posing some of the big questions to Aaron Eckhart.
Following his breakthrough roles in ‘Erin Brockovich’ and ‘Thank You for Smoking’, Aaron found blockbuster success as attorney Harvey Dent in ‘The Dark Knight’. He’s also starred in ‘The Pledge’, ‘Rabbit Hole’ and ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and its sequel.
His latest film, ‘Sully’, sees him share screen-time with Tom Hanks, co-starring as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, the co-pilot sitting in the cockpit of US Airways Flight 1549 alongside Captain Chesley Sullenberger in January 2009, when a freak flock of geese few into the engines, and swift decisions had to be made, to save hundreds of lives, and create one of the most memorable visions ever to be seen on the New York landscape, the sight of a jet plane full of passengers sitting on top of the Hudson River.
To celebrate the film’s release, Aaron spoke to Huff Post UK about some of the lessons he’s learned along the way, how Harrison Ford gave him the words that secured his success, and how a spontaneous act of kindness by Nicole Kidman filled his heart …
What do you do to switch off from the world?
I have a ranch in Montana and on that ranch there is very little relaxing going on. I mostly chop wood, move large rocks, cut dead wood, cut trees down. Till the land, that’s what I do. It’s not at all Hollywood. It’s very redneck. I grow my beard and spend the day in mud. That’s the real me.Or I would be on my bicycle, going up a hill. It’s the left-right motion of the brain, just like walking, puts you in a trance. Your biggest inspiration comes when you’re in that hypnotic state. That’s why people get their best ideas on long walks, riding bikes, anything with that left-right motion. I love quiet.
How do you deal with negativity that comes your way?
I’m working on that quite hard. What I’m working on is that, you cannot control anybody else, the sooner you accept the person without changing them, the better off you’ll be. Instead of trying to impede the sound of others, whether it’s a dog barking, or a traffic noise, if you can train your mind not to engage with that sound but to protect yourself within, then you can have peace and tranquillity in the midst of chaos, then that to me is the biggest evolution of life.I’m not perfect about it, but even if you’re cognisant of it, then you can start to switch. I’m a light sleeper and I have an issue with a neighbour with a dog. I don’t want to fight with him, engage with him, bring him into my world. I want to inoculate myself so that it doesn’t matter if there are 15 dogs barking. That’s a daily pursuit that I have.
Words of wisdom the actor received via Harrison Ford
In Sully, one man saves 155 lives. Has anyone ever saved your life?
In fact, Rosie Perez (White Men Can’t Jump) saved my life one time. In New York City, a bus was going to hit me and she pushed me out of the way. I have angels around me that I believe are saving my life – I fell off a cliff 60ft onto rocks when I was 11 – it should’ve killed me. Saving lives was Sully’s number one concern – he still laments the fact that there was one flight attendant on the plane who got hurt.
Is Tom Hanks really the nicest guy in show business?
He’s damn nice. I don’t know everybody in the business – but to be Tom’s stature and still have time, attention and focus for all the people around him, regardless of stage or station, is amazing. He loves to tell stories and that’s how you figure out where he is on set – where is there a conversation about some obscure play that happened in Middle America in the ’50s? Oh, that’s where Tom is.
What about Clint (Eastwood)?
He’s a part of movie history and he knows stories that nobody else knows. Like: during the Spaghetti Western era he used to smoke cigarillos, and because I smoke cigars I said: “Clint, what was your cigar?” He said: “I hated cigars and I hated smoking.” He used to go down to Mexico and get these cigarillos – they were the worst tasting, harshest ones and so that’s what gave him the grimace on his face. So there’s Clint right there – Method actor.