Aaron Eckhart stars in director Philipp Stolzl’s suspenseful action thriller, “Erased,” playing former CIA agent Ben Logan who moves to Belgium with his estranged 15-year-old daughter, Amy (Liana Liberato), to start a new life working as a high-tech security consultant for a multinational corporation in Brussels. Suddenly Logan and Amy are propelled into an all-out, frenzied run for their lives after they discover they are targets of a wide-ranging international conspiracy. Thrust into the most inconceivable danger, Logan must account for a lifetime of secrets and lies as he battles to regain his daughter’s broken trust.
At the film’s recent press day, Eckhart talked about the extensive training he did in jujitsu and MMA to prepare for the intensely physical role, why the father-daughter relationship was important to him, how he tapped into the emotions of playing a father, what it was like working with Olga Kurylenko and shooting on location in Montreal and Brussels, and why he approaches every role, no matter how big or small, with the same level of commitment. He also discussed his upcoming movie, “I, Frankenstein,” in which he plays another physically demanding role as Mary Shelley’s monster and draws on his proficiency in the Filipino art of Kali stick fighting.
Question: It’s interesting to compare this film to “Olympus Has Fallen.” In “Olympus,” you’re the guy they’re trying to save and protect, and in “Erased,” you’re very proactive and out there kicking ass.
Aaron Eckhart: “Olympus” was a lot of fun to play, but to sit on your butt tied to a railing for an entire movie while somebody else is saving you [doesn’t give you a lot to do], so it’s good to get out. I trained real hard for this movie and to fight. I just saw Liana for the first time since we did the film. She’s grown up so much into a young lady. The reason why I wanted to do the movie was that father-daughter relationship because I don’t have kids. I thought it was a fun premise to be in close quarters in a strange country having to deal with all the problems of a teenage girl liking boys, trying to get her to school, the grades, and then to have to go out and do what we do.
Q: Can you talk about how you trained for the action sequences?
Eckhart: I trained real hard. I did jujitsu and MMA. I had a French Special Forces crazy man named Olivier train me who inflicted great pain on me and taught me everything I know about jujitsu and all the fighting. It’s very important that I do all the fighting in the movie, and that it be real, and that I know what I’m doing because this is a smaller movie. When I got there, we had to get into it real quick. We didn’t have the time to choreograph these fights like you usually do with a huge film. I had to know the language coming in, the submissions, the hand holds, all of that, which was fun but very dangerous. I peeled my thumb all the way back and ripped all the ligaments in my hand two days before we started filming. Can you believe it? I just heard it rip, and I had to do the whole thing with my thumb like that. The training was a big part of it. After playing the president and doing other movies that don’t have action, you’ve got to sell right off the bat that you can do this and you’re capable of it, and that it comes naturally to you. That was important to me.
Q: One thing that I loved with “Erased” is how Ben is constantly thinking. He’s a very intelligently written character.
Eckhart: And also, he has more to do. In “Olympus,” it’s tough because you’re number two in the movie and you’re a subplot. They don’t really have the time for you to think. They don’t want you to think. (laughs) You’re trying to do as much as you can, but the movie doesn’t live and die on you having thoughts. In this movie, it’s important, which I liked about doing this. Plus, there’s the fact that this movie doesn’t rely on green screen and computer generated images. This is us out there in the streets of Europe in the cars. I’m doing the driving. I’m doing the fighting. I’m running with Liana, and Liana is there. I think the only thing I didn’t do was go through the glass. That was the only thing I didn’t do in the movie. And so, that’s rewarding for me. Hopefully, I’ll do more of these kinds of movies because I like action. I also like it because it’s not just a meathead movie. It’s a movie with my daughter, and we have to deal with our feelings towards each other and misunderstandings.
Q: You have a great chemistry with Olga Kurylenko and the relationship between your characters is very duplicitous. How did you two work together?
Eckhart: She came in late to the movie, so there wasn’t a lot of time there. I tried to make that character as sexy as I could. My impression was this girl and I were in Beirut together under very difficult situations in a shack with a candle and a can of tuna for three months. That’s how I saw us. We fell in love and basically had a mad love affair under insane conditions. That’s what I wanted in this movie. I thought that was pure Hollywood romance, but it wasn’t written in the script. And so, how do you take Olga’s character with this pretty cut and dry dialogue and try and make it sexy? I wanted it to be sexy. So, we tried that. We didn’t have a lot to work with in this case. They didn’t develop it that much. I liked Olga a lot. She came in and is a total pro. She’s very beautiful and a very good actor, and so, it was very natural.
Q: How did you find it shooting on location in Montreal and Brussels?
Eckhart: I loved it. Montreal was tough because it was winter going into spring, but very cold and very beautiful. I lived in France for two years, so my French is a little bit sketchy. I tried to speak French the entire time, plus I speak French in this movie, so I wanted it to be passable. The main worry was the crews. How do you split a movie up and then work with European crews in an American action movie with a German director? Everybody was all over the place, but it was absolutely seamless. When you’re working in those big, huge train stations and out on the street and having all the different languages and the cafes, it just works for the movie. On that train, we had three hours to shoot the movie. That means to get on, not three hours to act. It’s three hours to get our stuff on, to set up, and shoot it. It was interesting working in that way, but it only enhanced it. Plus, it’s important to play the place for the place. We were playing Europe and Montreal, but that was all interiors. But in Europe, we were playing Europe for Europe.
Q: When you were in Brussels, did you see a lot of diversity within the population with people from all parts of the world?
Eckhart: Oh yes. In fact, there’s a huge Arab population there, and I was living right in the middle of it when we were there. I don’t know where they’re from, if they were Tunisian or Algerian. I don’t know the specifics, but North African. And then, there were a lot of Southern Africans there as well. So they had all that population, all those restaurants, all those shops and that flavor. We filmed in it, which was really nice. And then, you had the traditional Belgium. And then, you had all the tourists on top of it, and they were in the movie, too. And then, on top of that, Brussels has the whole international U.N. community. You had everybody that was from there, and then you had the fact that Belgium doesn’t even have a government. It’s a fractured government. And then, you have two people living in the same country that really don’t like each other. You have the Flemish and the French. And so, it had a lot going on there. And then, the fact that I was American and everybody was speaking French. That kind of stuff keeps you on your toes. The thing that I liked the most was that I had an Italian driver living in Brussels. He wouldn’t let me drink expresso unless he made it, because he thought that they were inferior expresso makers, and that since he was Italian and only Italians know how to make expresso, that he would go to great lengths to give me my expressos whenever I needed them. I very much appreciated that, and I couldn’t tell a difference.
Q: Has that now ruined you for life?
Eckhart: No. I like diner coffee. (laughs) I’m a man of the people.
Q: Did they let you smoke a cigar inside the car?
Eckhart: No. I never would, but I do smoke cigars constantly, unfortunately.
Q: I can think of a few movies you’ve been in where you’ve had a supporting role and the movie doesn’t work arguably except for that supporting role. Isn’t it like, to use a sports analogy, you doing the assist and you get a different level of satisfaction?
Eckhart: The movie that you might be talking about is an exceptional movie by an exceptional filmmaker, like “The Dark Knight,” for example, or something like that. Antoine Fuqua is an exceptional filmmaker. Everybody is important and every role is. I approach every role I do, no matter how big or small, as if the movie rests on me, my character. So, I become the individual. It’s not an ego thing. It’s so that I’m a well-rounded character. Everybody should play that, even the day players. They should believe that the movie could be made on them. It’s very important. The level of commitment hopefully is always the same, but when it comes to making a decision about who’s in the movie and how much and who stays on the cutting room floor, number 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are going to get the hit every time. Your arc or your journey through that movie invariably is a bumpier one because they’ve cut you up. You’re taking ten seconds from the beginning of the scene and then ten seconds at the end of the scene, and you’re putting them together, and then you as an audience member are supposed to believe that this scene was written that way. Well, it’s not. All the meat of that scene was taken out of the movie, so now you’re getting the beginning and the end. How can you then judge performance when the performance isn’t there? This is behind-the-scenes stuff, and nobody cares about this kind of stuff. But, for an actor, you’re looking at that movie going, “Wait a second. That’s not my performance.” I can remember a movie right now that they took out my best stuff. And then, I’m supposed to go and support that movie and say, “It’s a great movie.” Well, you killed my work in it. And now, the audience and the critics who write about it are going to say, “Aaron was so-so in the movie,” or “I didn’t see the importance,” or “He didn’t do everything with the movie,” or “He had nothing to do.” Well, I did, but it’s just that it’s not in the film. That’s the tough part about moviemaking, and you have to accept it and move on. I guess what I’m saying is you have to protect yourself, and the way you protect yourself is by being number one or working with the best filmmakers you possibly can.
Q: With “Erased,” it sounds like they kept it pretty much intact.
Eckhart: Oh yeah, definitely. When you’re looking for something like that, you’re looking for a story that is linear and everything depends on what just happened. You can’t deviate from that too much. It’s like the John Ford way of moviemaking. He shoots only what he wants in the movie.
Q: Assassins who have a conscience are rare, but you played the ultimate assassin who developed a very strong conscience. Can you talk about that?
Eckhart: The movie only works if the audience believes that my daughter and I are developing and sharing a bond that is worth dying for and worth living for, and that’s the thing. All the killer aspects of it, the martial arts, the CIA is nothing, unless the audience sees that after fifteen years of living away from my daughter, I finally get her back. I’m finally getting to know who she is, and she me, and I’m not going to give her up for anything.
Q: What makes the character work so well is that he grew this conscience and he had to stop what he was doing, but now here’s something that’s pushed him back over the edge and he’s going to do whatever he’s got to do.
Eckhart: Absolutely one hundred percent. Easily. It makes me into an animal. It makes me ferocious. And the fact that she’s not helpless, but she’s my daughter. Having to protect her is a great quality for an assassin. That’s not something you get every day. And then, too, it’s not my girlfriend. It’s not my wife. It’s my daughter. You look at her now, she’s a woman almost. I don’t know how old she is, but when we were making the movie, she was a 15-year-old girl. I think the movie makes it clear that before it was all about corporations and spy stuff, and now you’re dealing with flesh and blood, and that makes it all too real. That’s the reason why I wanted to do the movie.
Q: You said that you didn’t have any children. What did you tap into in order to get that emotion and develop that connection?
Eckhart: I thought I would have children by now. I did. It’s not planned that I don’t have children. Family has always been very important to me — the role of a father, my dad to me, how I would teach my children, developing their minds, and their formative years. And, these are Liana’s formative years when we made this movie. I’m always fascinated with how a person becomes a good quality person, a productive person, and how it happened to me, because I was a terror.
Q: A good terror?
Eckhart: No, not always. I come from very good parents, very smart, dedicated parents, who just had their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and they’re good people. I think it’s the rudder there, that rudder in those turbulent waters, because they picked up and took us to England when I was thirteen. I’d lived Liana’s character in this movie. I used to hate my parents for that, hate them vehemently, and I told them. It was very difficult to do. And then, I came to love them for doing it. I’ve always been fascinated with that, and how you deal with issues today if you’re a parent, and this whole drug issue, rebellion, cell phones, texting, the music and the fashions. And so, I like that. That is the most important thing in this movie. I don’t know what people like in this movie, but to me, that’s the most important thing.
Q: Has the desire for parenthood changed as you’ve gotten older? Is it stronger? Is it different?
Eckhart: I was talking to somebody about this last night – a girl who would also like to have children. You know when people say to you, “I just always have known I want to have kids,” well I’ve never thought about it. I still feel like I’m dealing with issues myself and my job. I’m so ambitious in my job. There’s nothing in me that’s pushing me to have kids, I have to say. It’s weird. It’s not how I thought I was going to live my life, but I would love to have kids, because now I have a ranch in Montana. The last time I was in Montana at my ranch, I was with my mom, and we were walking around. It was sunset and there’s the crick and all that sort of stuff. I turned to her and I said, “I have to have kids now.” So that’s the closest I’ve come. I just have to find the right person.
Q: What do you have coming up next?
Eckhart: I have a movie coming out called “I, Frankenstein.” I play the monster Frankenstein. It’s a different look at him. It’s a movie about good and evil, and I am proficient at the Filipino martial art of Kali stick fighting. (laughs) I know, I know. Mary Shelley was ahead of her time. And then, I’m producing movies.