He’s been an enemy to Batman, fought aliens attacking Los Angeles, represented the tobacco industry, went to the center of the Earth, and can be seen leading the upcoming comic book movie I, Frankenstein – but not until he plays President to an America under siege in Olympus Has Fallen. Yes, Aaron Eckhart surely has quite the diverse background of characters, but he always delivers – and does so yet again portraying the leader of our marvelous country.
This weekend at the Olympus Has Fallen press day I had the distinct honor of sitting down with Aaron and a few other journalists where we were allowed to pick his brain about a number of topics concerning the film and his career. Read on to hear Mr. Eckhart discuss the physicality of his role, what it’s like to play the president, and the gritty nature Olympus Has Fallen so properly shoots for.
To start things off, we asked Aaron what drew him to the part of President Benjamin Asher. Could it have been the politics, terrorism, action? Let’s find out:
Aaron Eckhart: Well, it was more like Antoine [Fuqua] – the director. Antoine called me up, we went to his office, and he explained what he wanted to do. Of course I’m a huge Antoine fan, I love his movies, and I have a huge confidence in Antoine where whatever he can do, he’s going to set out and make a kick-ass movie no matter what.
Then again, being the president is always fun. I’ve always, well, not always wanted – I don’t know what I’ve thought about as an actor. I have immense honor for the office of the President, I never thought that I would actually play the President, but then to be in the room with Morgan while I’m playing the President going “Wait, who are you. Is he the President? Is he God?” [Laughs]. It was fun to be in the Oval office, and it was actually kind of special to be there with Morgan, and Melissa, and so on.
I like action, and I really like what Antoine did. What really sold me in the beginning was the fact that Antoine said “I want this President to be youthful, I want him to be physical,” because Gerard Butler has to do so much physical fighting in the movie, you don’t want to see the President of the United States be taken captive and just lay down. That’s why they establish the boxing scene in the beginning, he’s very physical, he gets his in. I was saying to Antoine all the time “Why can’t I do a left here, kick him in the balls there,” I was always trying to come up with ways of the President being more physical – we got the headbutt in and stuff like that.
I think it’s fun for the audience to see me being physical, so that’s really what sold me – Antoine and me being able to get mine.
We then asked Aaron about the replicated White House set that was built in Louisiana where Olympus Has Fallen was shot, because I guess destroying the real one was out of the question:
Aaron Eckhart: We’re so familiar with the presidency because of the 24 hour news cycles. We see the President both personally and professionally so much, we feel like we really know the President, so being in [the White House] and the history of it – look, I’m a guy that’s lived all over the world my whole life, and I’ve come to have tremendous respect for my country and the responsibility of the President, especially the decisions he has to make on the fly.
Here you have the President of the United States, he’s just [gone through an event], and then he has to go and deal with the people of the United States of America and all that entails, and then having these bad guys take over the White House? You have to think fast, you have to compartmentalize, and you have to be mentally strong – that was a challenge for me, how do you do that? You want your President to be strong, but you don’t want him to be Rambo – not that I have anything against Rambo. That’s what the Secret Service is for, that’s what Gerard is for, that’s what the film is about. It’s about the people that you have around you, who facilitate the office of the Presidency and all of the politicians, and how invaluable they are.
You want to have confidence in the President, but you also want to feel that he’s a real human being.
Playing off confidence we then asked Aaron how it was working with such a strong ensemble cast:
Aaron Eckhart: Getting back to Antoine real quick, he creates an atmosphere of trust, so everybody on that set believes they can do what they want. So here you are with Melissa who’s just firing off eight cylinders of V8, as you look at her going “What did you just say?” [Laughs]. When she’s singing “God Bless America” while she’s being dragged across the floor – that was hers. I remember sitting there as she’s singing [starts laughing heartily] – it’s just fantastic.
A lot of that stuff, like when Dylan had the camera in front of my face, when I first saw that it was like “You’re going to put that in my face?!” Everybody had ideas that heightened the drama in the movie, and it was unexpected so you really didn’t know what you were going to do, and Antoine was like “Yeah, do it,’ like the headbutt, when I headbutted Dylan or whoever it was. Plus it was like three weeks we were in that little room, so by the end we were pretty crazy, and I couldn’t feel my arms for most of the movie [raises arms overhead to mimic the pose in which he's tied to a railing for most of the film], they were just vibrating.
It was fun, we came up with stuff, I thought we infused it with some energy which I think was needed.
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