Observer – The unlikely career of America’s most attractive character actor
Aaron Eckhart wants to show me some skin. We’re tucked away in the back of L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills in the early afternoon, where Eckhart is nursing a Diet Coke, despite engaging the sommelier for a good 10 minutes in fluent French. The 48-year-old actor—known for his roles as charming if morally ambiguous characters, like Harvey Dent (or Two-Face) in The Dark Knight, a slick tobacco lobbyist in Thank You for Smoking and the sociopathic Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men—sticks his arm out for me to inspect. He’s smiling in a way that underlines the basic premise of his appeal: With that cleft chin, that matinee idol swoosh of blond hair, the rugged stubble, who could resist taking Eckhart up on the chance to touch him?
“My skin has been stretched out as I’m getting older,” he says as he pinches and pulls a couple centimeters off his forearm, not unlike a batwing. This isn’t just a statement about his age, by the way, but also an example of why he’s getting too old for the Christian Bale school of acting. In his latest film, the biopic Bleed for This, opening at the Toronto Film Festival next month, Eckhart plays the failed boxer Kevin Rooney, an overweight, balding alcoholic who is grudgingly roped into training Vinny Paz (Miles Teller) after a car accident leaves him with severe injuries. Eckhart tripled his body fat percentage for the film…and it’s not the first time he’s done so for a role.
“A lot of guys do it,” he says of his packing on the pounds. “Obviously, it’s helped Christian [Bale], and Nick Cage when he did Leaving Las Vegas. But you just can’t help but feel bad about yourself.” Eckhart withdraws his arm but then leans forward, conspiratorially. There is no trace of the bloat he carried around during Bleed for This’ production on his currently lean frame. He tells me that halfway through the shoot, he’d noticed one of his co-stars (he won’t say which) was wearing a fat suit. Eckhart was stunned. “[Director Ben Younger] let you wear a fat suit?” he exclaimed. “Son of a bitch!
I’m a good little soldier,” Eckhart continues. “If somebody tells me to get fat, I get fat. If somebody tells me to lose weight, I’ll lose weight. I never think of things like that.” I ask him if he feels like he gets typecast because of his—and there is no getting around this—general handsomeness.
I do have a handsome face,” Aaron Eckhart admits. “But I have not used it well.”
Is he being self-deprecating or boastful? It’s hard to tell: When you are as conventionally good-looking and suave as Eckhart is, matters of modesty and sincerity tend to be transmitted with an undercurrent of irony. It’s truly hard, in other words, to take the man solely at face value.