BEVERLY HILLS, California — Has there ever been an actor quite like Aaron Eckhart? The guy rose to fame playing one of the greatest jerks in cinematic history for “In the Company of Men” and returned to that territory again for 2005’s “Thank You for Smoking,” but spent the near-decade in between establishing himself as one of Hollywood’s most amicable personalities.
Now, after all these years of surprise successes (“Erin Brockovich”) and poorly conceived failures (“The Core,” “Paycheck,” “The Black Dahlia”), he utilized his unusual duality to great effect playing Harvey “Two-Face” Dent in “The Dark Knight” and has never been hotter. It only makes sense that once again he’d throw us all for a loop with “Love Happens,” a Jennifer Aniston romantic film that is far darker than you’d expect .
Cast as grief-stricken motivational speaker Burke Ryan, Eckhart spends much of the film hating life and longing for Aniston. When we caught up with him recently, he said that although his master plan is working for him, he doesn’t plan to go all Tony Robbins anytime soon.
MTV: Aaron, “Love Happens” is coming to theaters this weekend. In your opinion, what does that title mean?
Aaron Eckhart: You know, that whole thing when you’re looking for love and somebody says, “Don’t go looking for it. It just happens.” It’s that sort of thing. It comes at an unexpected time; love surprises you.
MTV: I ask mainly because most romantic movies have two people looking for love. In this one, neither person is — especially your character.
Eckhart: Yes, it is unconventional in that I play a self-help guru, a grief counselor. My wife has died three or four years before, and I help others heal from their loss — yet I haven’t come to grips with my wife’s death. Then I meet Jennifer’s character, Eloise, and she helps me do that.
MTV: Your character in this is a motivational speaker. Did you enjoy channeling your inner Tony Robbins?
Eckhart: Yes, I did very much. I can see how Tony Robbins would feel very empowered by what he does and that he’s affecting people. Because that energy coming from the people who are listening is intense, and their desire to believe and to want to believe to change their lives, it really empowers the speaker. I loved being up there.
MTV: Would you ever want to do that sort of thing in real life?
Eckhart: I don’t know if it’s for me — it’s a little bit too much responsibility for me. I feel like if you’re a politician, or if you’re somebody who’s helping healing people, you really have to be beyond reproach yourself. And I think that’s hard these days. You really have to watch yourself; it’s such a hard life — and if you’re a religious leader or something like that, you have to walk the walk. And I don’t think I’m ready to do that.
MTV: There’s a scene in the movie where you do walk across hot coals. Did you really do that?
Eckhart: No, that is the light-and-magic show of the movies.
MTV: Would you ever do it?
Eckhart: I have never. However, I will say that I would like to, and I’m not afraid to. If I went through the whole process, the psyching-up process, I think it’d be cool. I like rituals where you have to go to an unconscious state and get out of your head.
MTV: By our unofficial count, Jennifer Aniston has fallen in love on screen 20-25 times now. And that’s not even counting “Friends.”
Eckhart: [Laughs.] How many movies has she made?
MTV: Pretty much the same number. But there’s a small percentage of stars who people would pay $10 to watch them fall in love again and again and again. Why do people love watching Jennifer fall in love so much?
Eckhart: Because she loves it — that’s the answer. She’s such a lovely person inside, she’s so sweet, and she’s got this face and unique personality. People find joy in her finding joy.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Love Happens.”
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