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’.”