Rabbit Hole - Aaron Eckhart interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
AARON Eckhart talks to us about some of the challenges of playing a grieving father alongside Nicole Kidman in the Oscar and BAFTA -nominated Rabbit Hole, and why it was important for his father to have a voice in the film.
He also talks about the reactions to the film, going to grief counselling and some of his forthcoming projects such as The Rum Diary with Johnny Depp and Battle: Los Angeles.
Q. Rabbit Hole is an amazing film in so many ways, but particularly in the way that it takes a very difficult subject – the death of a child – and doesn’t over-sentimentalise or become too heavy-handed…
Aaron Eckhart: That was one of my first concerns upon being offered it and something that Nicole [Kidman, as both co-star and producer] and John [Cameron Mitchell, director] were aware of too. Often, this type of material can get too oppressive but I felt with this that Jonathan and Nicole found a good balance.
Q. And what appealed to you about the character of Howie in particular?
Aaron Eckhart: I loved Howie from the beginning, especially because he participated in the relationship. The thing that initially drew me was Nicole because she’s an actress I’ve long admired and I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with her. She’s producing it as well as starring, so I thought she would be totally invested in it and I wanted to go along with her on that ride. But I also liked how Howie played… he was both a compassionate husband as well as a sort of upset and confused husband. He sort of felt misunderstood and I liked that as well. Some of my favourite times in the movie involved getting to explore that side of him… when he has a voice. But I think Howie needed a voice or else he was going to be too much of a rollover. Howie had a place in the relationship, even though Nicole’s character drives the film.
Q. I know that you’ve been fortune in not losing anyone so far in your life, so did you speak to people who had experienced grief in their lives?
Aaron Eckhart: I attended one grief counselling session of about 10 people who had very recently just lost a loved one. It was a gruelling experience. I went in as my character and shared things based on my character’s circumstances, which was very uncomfortable but very enlightening… and probably unethical at the same time. I also used the Internet and watched video blogs of people talking about their grieving process. If you go to YouTube and look up ‘grief’ you can find them and it’s just an unbelievable tool for an actor to be able to access, without being unethical. It’s like accessing the deepest, most painful parts of a person.
Q. Did that give you an extra sense of responsibility when it came to playing the role?
Aaron Eckhart: Absolutely. And people come up to you afterwards and share their experiences with you. I think I’ve become much more compassionate as a result of doing this film, and I’m certainly a little bit more fearful about my loved ones dying. I dread that experience even though I’m sure it makes you stronger.
Q. Speaking as someone who has undergone a traumatic experience last year, you do however show that life goes on and that it is possible to find laughter after something like that? And to grow in your relationship with the one you love…
Aaron Eckhart: That’s the purpose of the movie and of the story… to show that having children after that is a natural process. Even in life’s darkest moments, we find humour. Sometimes it’s gallows humour, but we find a way. The body needs to release itself.
Q. Was it a welcome relief to be able to tap into humorous scenes… I’m thinking of those you share with Sandra Oh’s character?
Aaron Eckhart: Absolutely, both on and off screen. I tried to find moments in every day where I’d laugh with Nicole, or John, the director… whoever was there. You’re in that aura, in that energy all day, and one day goes into the next [for 28 days of shooting]. So, you have to make a point of releasing it.
Q. Was Howie a difficult character to shake off at the end of the day?
Aaron Eckhart: He was a hard character to shake off, yes, but I didn’t want to shake him off. Once I got into that place, I wanted to keep him there. I don’t think I went out when I did film. I just stayed in.
Q. So what was it like when you did finally wrap? Was there a sense of relief?
Aaron Eckhart: It was good. I drove across country. I drove from New York to LA. It was nice to find the freedom of the road and to be able to listen to the radio. I did three movies that year, so I was coming from Rabbit Hole into my next movie. But it’s good to have sort of a dream into between films… to release one and bring the other one in. The road trip enabled there to be a good transfer.
Q. Which was the most difficult scene to film?
Aaron Eckhart: I think because of the energy involved, the one where I accuse Becca of erasing our child… just because it was a page [in the script] that got earmarked when I first read it. You always go to the biggest scene as an actor and sort of work up to it. And that scene marks sort of a crescendo, or climax. But, for the sake of the audience, it was always important to us to make the marriage believable. We wanted audiences to believe that she and I were once very much in love and were building a life together. So, it was important to establish an intimacy in our home.
Q. Did you both have long to work with that?
Aaron Eckhart: No, I went from one film, flew into New York and was in rehearsals the next day and shooting the following week. Right away, I met Nicole, she said: “You and I are husband and wife, and we can do anything to each other. I trust you, you trust me.” What we were trying to create is that most difficult thing… as you well know, when you’re in a relationship that’s as long as theirs you don’t have to speak in fill sentences, you don’t have to ask permission to get close to her, you don’t have to answer her question – which sometimes would appear rude to outsiders. But you have a short-hand… but to get that as actors, you have to say: “This is what I’m doing…” And then just do it and work with it. You can’t keep asking permission to do things because you just have to say we’re married and that’s it.
Q. And I bet it helps to have an actress as skilled as Nicole during those moments, to be able to rise to any given challenge?
Aaron Eckhart: Nicole is a special actor… she’s up there as a world class actor. She knows what it takes. And her interests in this movie ran very deep as both producer and star. All the actors felt very safe around Nicole. And that was paramount.
Q. What’s been the most satisfying reaction you’ve had to Rabbit Hole?
Aaron Eckhart: When people share their experiences after they’ve seen the film. Just the fact that they share their story… you’ve had an experience and you felt the film was authentic and that’s a very gratifying thing to hear.
Q. You’ve had a long and diverse career, so have you had a career plan or is it about being as diverse as possible?
Aaron Eckhart: You know what? Every time I get a career plan, somebody throws a wrench in it [laughs]. I think I know what I’m doing but then something happens to change that… I’ve re-invented myself and my interests so many times. And I keep doing it again as my interests change. I’m an actor and I love to challenge myself as an actor.
So, if I’m set on one course and something comes in that doesn’t fit that paradigm but is good material, I just can’t say ‘no’ to that. Rabbit Hole is a prime example… I had been making a film called The Rum Diary with Johnny Depp in Puerto Rico and I was then scheduled to make Battle: Los Angeles, but then Nicole called me up and said: “Would you like to do this?” At first I said I didn’t have the time because of the preparation that would be needed, but in the end I couldn’t turn it down. So, we played with the dates a little bit and I did Rabbit Hole, which turned into an amazing experience.
Q. How was working with Johnny Depp?
Aaron Eckhart: That was great. And like Nicole with Rabbit Hole, he produced The Rum Diary too. So, he had all of his people, his crew, who had done the last six or seven movies with Johnny. It was like making a movie with his family. And he was great. We got along really well. I’ve always been a big fan of his.
Q. And didn’t you get to work with Richard Jenkins on that too? What’s it like going toe to toe with him?
Aaron Eckhart: It’s all mind blowing. I don’t think too much about it because if I did, I’d get scared [laughs]. I’ve been lucky, though, because I’ve also worked with some great English actors too, and I hope to again in the future. But it can be really scary when you think about it. On the other hand, when you’re on the set, you have a job to do and you’re so wrapped up in that… everyone is on the same team. But it always amazes me how these established older actors, who have such brilliant careers, put you at ease. They’re so self-deprecating and they’re so willing to work. They’re very gracious and I’ve always appreciated that.
Q. Can you talk a little about Battle: Los Angeles? What can we expect?
Aaron Eckhart: The greatest thing about Battle: Los Angeles is that it’s a documentary style war-alien movie. It features house to house urban combat. And it’s the real thing. This is a movie where you see Marines at work in a very unstable environment. Obviously, the special effects are amazing, but it’s really about a squad of young Marines trying to deal with an impossible situation.
Q. Did you have to undergo any special training?
Aaron Eckhart: We went through boot camp and did all sorts of weapons training. We also did clearing… of rooms and buildings. We did it as real as we could… as if we were Marines. When I first talked to director John Liebesman about doing the movie I asked him what it would look like, and he pulled up a YouTube video that showed Marines going door to door in Fallujah. He then told me it was going to look like that and I said: “I’m yours.”
Q. So, did you gain an even greater respect for what our Forces are doing on a day to day basis in places like Afghanistan and Iraq?
Aaron Eckhart: Oh god, the depths of my appreciation and respect are now ocean deep. I have such tremendous respect for what they do. I’m too old, apparently, to join the Marines but it’s something I’d jump in and do if I could. They’re a great bunch of guys. I went to Afghanistan on a USO tour and visited troops in Kandahar, and that deepened my respect for them.
Q. They’re in an impossible situation and often given an undeserved hard time…
Aaron Eckhart: Totally undeserved. Politicians and soldiers have nothing to do with each other. They [the soldiers] are trying to figure out how to stay alive while the politicians are often saying and doing things they don’t understand. And then the media plays games too. But when I was there, they were in very good spirits. I actually met a lot of British forces as well. I sat down and had meals with them and let me tell you they were some mean mofo’s [laughs]! But I cracked them. I got them to smile. It took me a bit but I managed it.