How is it that Aaron Eckhart hasn’t been in EVERY single war film for the paste decade? I mean look at that face, THAT CHIN! His looks just scream war hero and though they haven’t been pounding down his door for those kinds of roles, he was not only happy but ready to put in the work once given opportunity. He didn’t wait for Battle: Los Angeles to get funded, he worked on a short film with the director to prove that he and this film were worth making. He wasn’t about to just wear the Marine fatigues, he was going to become as close as he could to actually being an actual Marine.
It was clear when sitting down with him and his co-stars that not only is Aaron a serious actor, he’s serious about everything he takes on. From breaking his arm and running around the set like a bad-ass to being able to deliver some pretty awesomely cheesy action-hero lines, Eckhart delivers on this performance and he’s how…
Getting the Project Started:
I know you shot the short version of this with Jonathan Liebesman that he used to take in for the pitch. How did you first get interested or attracted to this and why was it so compelling to you that you’d put in all that time effort beforehand?
Eckhart: That’s a very good question. I got the script from my agent and it was kind of like an alien movie and she said, ‘Go meet this guy Jonathan.’ Jonathan didn’t have the job yet, but he was making a play for it. So I met him and he had done all these sort of mock-ups with the aliens on his computer, just using kind of generic software and it was very impressive stuff. At the end Jonathan showed me a page on youtube.com and that was some Marines going house to house, going through them in Fallujah and it was both organized yet chaotic. It was unpredictable. These guys were showing their training and they showed their youth. And Jonathan said this is what the movie is going to look like and right then I said, ‘I’m in. I’ll die for this part.’ I feel like through the filming to the final cut that we achieved that goal. The goal was that this is a war movie, a documentary kind of war movie with aliens in it. For me I was like a kid in a candy store.
Why do you think these kinds of stories, alien invasion stories, stay fresh for audiences? We’ve been telling these stories for a while now and you guys have found a new spin.
Eckhart: Well, I feel, and I’m just an actor, but I feel that the question hasn’t been answered about space yet and there’s a lot of questions that haven’t been answered. That leaves our imaginations to run free. This movie can be a non-judgmental, you can have a non-judgmental foe, a foe that comes from another place. It’s a completely imaginary foe whereas that works for us in this context because it is a war movie and we are going to war and we’re shooting and killing things, but we have no personal relationship with them other than our imagination. So I think it can be pure entertainment which is good. Nobody is really getting hurt in the movie. I mean, there are some deaths, but they’re understandable. It just continues to fascinate people. What’s fascinating to me about it, not only as a war movie, but that it’s also about the coming of age of a group of young Marines. It’s about coming together and sticking together. It’s about personal survival. It’s about learning and helping each other. I think there are a lot of themes running through the film that are very positive and that I think are good for young people to see.
Taking on the Role of a Marine:
How much back story did you sort of develop for this character or how much did you have to absorb to plug into the situations in the movie?
Eckhart: Well, I thought that first and foremost the training was the most important thing. So I trained for months before, working with weaponry and with the physical aspects of being a Marine in this situation. Also, it was about getting to know the Marines, getting to know the hierarchy, the mentality, the psychology and then as you guys know we went through a boot camp. We did three weeks in the middle of Louisiana. It was hotter than hell and we lived in a tent. We slept next to each other and we ate and drank and all that sort of thing. We showered. It was the whole deal which was interesting because it went from a bunch of actors that didn’t know each other, some who had experience and some who didn’t, and all of a sudden now we had to forget that we were actors and go into a pretty regimented workout scheme. It was interesting how far some actors would go and how much they would buy into it and believe it because when you’re out there and I’m yelling at you in character and the actor is like, ‘Dude, I’m just an actor.’ It was a good way for us to erase our sort of real lives and get into character which helped immensely in the movie.
Question: What sort of research did you do into PTSD and people coming back right now from Iraq and Afghanistan?
Eckhart: Well, I read a little bit about it. It’s a very difficult subject to read about because there is PTSD. There’s also a feeling of the loss of camaraderie. There is loneliness. There’s this whole idea of being misunderstood. There’s a lot of psychological things going on around here, and then plus the fact of then to fit back into civilian life. I think that’s very scary for these guys.
I went over to Afghanistan and I was out with them, with the FOB’s way out in the mountains of Afghanistan with forty Marines protecting a hill in the middle of nowhere. It was two hours on a helo to get there. There’s no doubt that these guys are bonded in a very real way. They depend on each other for survival and I don’t think that they can come back here and find that same sort of bond here. I think it leaves them sort of without an identity. As far as stress and trauma, I tried to get to know what it would be like to be in a shit shell and all the noises and the stress and the bombardment and all of that sort of stuff. It takes a toll on you.
Having Fun With Broken Limbs!:
There’s a great deal of appreciation for the emotional and political realities for war in the film. But lets be honest, you get to do a lot of great, cleft chinned heroic, John Wayne things. How much fun is that, to know you’re making an agreeably flag waving, corny war movie?
Eckhart: I love it. I absolutely loved it. In fact, this is the first character that I’ve ever had in my movie making experience where on the last day I was sad. I really love this character, as you can see. I usually wear green. I keep my hair short. I can’t wait if this movie has a sequel because I loved my M4. I loved the guys. I loved the weaponry, the tanks. I loved the bravado. I loved the companionship and I do love war movies. I mean, every kid, I still have to do a western in my career. I’ve done a kind of war movie now. I’ve got to play in a poker movie, a guy who plays poker. I always say that an actor should be able to do three things, shoot a gun, ride a horse and play cards. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’m a physical guy. I love sports. So, to jump around, run around…
[And this my friends is what makes Eckhart the bad-ass that he is...]
I broke my arm on this movie doing a stunt. I was doing a stunt and I jumped off a seven foot thing and landed and broke my arm and kept on going. I did the whole last half of the movie with a broken arm, which again, I thought was fun.
It’s a lot of ludicrous and agreeable fun, but at the same time, in the script, the aliens don’t have vaporization rays. They don’t have teleporters. Was it important to have that kind of connection to real world physics?
Eckhart: Yes. When you talk to Jonathan he’ll answer that question better, I’m sure, but we made a concerted effort to make these guys tactical. They have a similar way of fighting war. We led the audience to believe that it was an equal force, that they arranged their men in the same way, that they attacked in the same way, that they outflanked in the same way and retreated in the same way so that we could be in a sort of real war movie. That’s opposed to them being so strong that they just come, and like you said, vaporize the entire town. What’s the drama in that? So that was a concerted effort.
Were there any equipment mishaps that ruined takes?
Eckhart: God. Ruined takes? We did a lot of takes. I’m sure that us actors ruined more than the equipment did. There are a lot of misfires and stuff like that, a lot of jams with equipment. You had to take care of it. Tap, rack, bang. Tap, rack and then shoot. A lot of that got on film.
It sounds fairly satisfying, actually.
Eckhart: Yeah. I thought about it while we were making it. There were just humvees everywhere and I thought, ‘If anybody was coming into Shreveport that night to just stay for a day and go to a business meeting or whatever they would’ve thought that this town was at war,’ and I loved that. We shut down freeways for the movie. We shut down a whole overpass that was riddled with, for hundreds of yards, over turned tanks, crashed helicopters, all this sort of stuff. We just had a blast.
Battling LA (not just the landmarks):
In the film my neighborhood gets destroyed, How did your neighborhood fair? And was it interesting to see that rather than blowing up L.A. archetypes that it felt intimate? I see streets that I drive on and it wasn’t just the Capitol building.
Eckhart: Yeah, no. It was right down here in Venice and that was nice, too. You see the surf shop. You see the coffee shop. You see things that are uniquely Venetian. So, that was nice because the scale of the movie is so big that I think in this case you have to find ways to make it real and that was one way to do it, even with the Lieutenant getting married and these kids. We just found little ways to be human. My neighborhood did pretty well, but we were in imminent danger.
How was it going all the way to Louisiana to shoot a movie that takes place in Los Angeles?
Eckhart: It’s better than Bulgaria, man. I’m going to do a movie next month in Brussels and then Montreal. It’s supposed to be over there so that’s good. First of all, you couldn’t have made this movie here. It would’ve just been a two hundred million dollar movie and the citizens of Santa Monica would’ve killed us.
Was there a lot of CG that you guys had to build sets into, in watching the movie, or were there pretty faithful recreations of actual locations?
Eckhart: Oh, no. It was all pretty…I guess the big plates and certainly when the camera goes up here it’s all CG, but no. Those streets, we had the real smoke. We had the real fire which was really good for the actors because we felt like we were at war. I mean, these guys just had their things like this, just exhausted like this. I got in the car every morning and I said, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get through this day.’ I got into the car in the evening and I said, ‘I don’t know how I got through that day.’ It was one of those movies. It was the hardest physically and mental movie that I’ve ever done. But again, I loved it.
Taking it Global:
You mentioned that you’d be more than agreeable to do a follow up to this. During the shooting did you and John Liebesman turn to each other during the shooting and go, ‘What’s next? Arizona? Las Vegas? Where do we go?’ Have there been discussions in the abstract?
Eckhart: Oh, yeah, but I think that we’re thinking bigger than that. I think we’re thinking Paris, Tokyo, Rio. We’ve got to pick a place that we all want to go to.
And then you end up in Vancouver –
Eckhart: Yeah, then we’ll go to Vancouver, exactly. ‘How are we going to dress Shreveport, Louisiana to look like Paris?’ Of course you couldn’t shoot this movie in Paris.
A lot of baguettes.
Eckhart: Yes. A lot of baguettes. You couldn’t shoot movie like this there. It’s the same thing with ‘The Dark Knight’. Chris [Nolan] uses green screen, but the movie doesn’t rely on green screen. You always get that feeling with Chris, like, ‘This movie is real.’ That’s why I think it adds that depth and texture and I think it’s the same thing with this film. It definitely did not rely on green screen.
Check out the film in theaters March 11th!