Last week, Aaron Eckhart agreed to sit down for an interview at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan to talk about his upcoming movie “Olympus Has Fallen.” The movie is an action thriller that takes place in the White House and opens this Friday, March 22, 2013. Eckhart plays the president of the United States during a terrorist takeover by North Korean extremists. The film is jam-packed with A-list stars including Angela Bassett, Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and Dylan McDermott. The film is directed by rising star Antoine Fuqua (Training Day).
Examiner Dorri Olds: Was the physical part of your role strenuous?
Aaron Eckhart: It was difficult. As an actor, you want to feel that you’re actually in the circumstances they put you in. So I had to be up in those cuffs for eight hours a day. I didn’t like to take them off. I lost feeling in both of my arms. At the end of a day filming, I’d go home and my arms would be numb. I had to question a doctor about it but it helped develop my character. It got me into the mindset of being president of the United States.
Were the strenuous physical demands what you’d expected when you signed on?
No. On the first day, when they put me up on the rail, and said, “Put your arms up,” I was like, what? [Laughs] I put the cuffs on but, hey, that’s the name of the game. My imagination starts to work, and I begin to think of ways to use it to my advantage. I’d think, ‘What can I do with my legs? I can head butt him. How can I help the drama of the movie in these cuffs, in this stationary place?’ There’s a lot my character could do so we started figuring those things out. I came up with ways to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. It was exciting.
Was it tough watching Melissa Leo being beat up?
Melissa’s commitment to her craft was an inspiration. When she was getting the crap beat out of her, it was tough. When she was being dragged, she had absolutely no self-consciousness about whether she looked good or not even when she was being dragged and her skirt was up around her waist. When you’re in that situation, you’re not looking at her as an actor; you’re the president of the United States. She is a true inspiration.
Did you feel up to the challenge of being shot?
The thing about being shot in this film was when Antoine said, "Cut!" He came up to me and said, “Aaron, when you get shot, you get real dry in your mouth, and you start to hyperventilate, and your eyes roll up.” I said, “How do you know?” He pulled up his shirt and showed scars. He said, “I got shot twice right here.” On the next take I did it better because that was invaluable information. It’s amazing when you know the people around you can guide you. My mother doesn’t like when I get shot. She has prohibited me from getting shot or dying in movies anymore.
How was it working with Finley Jacobsen, the young boy who played your son?
The son is a critical character. You’re reminded of not only the responsibility the president has for the country and the White House and the world, but also his son. His wife just died in a horrific car accident, and she was ripped from his hands. How do you go back to work and make good decisions, and listen to yourself and trust your instincts? How do you look your son in the eye? How do you make the right decisions for the country when you don’t know where your child is in the house? That’s tough, and I think you have to be stone cold in order to do that. There are so many interesting questions that Antoine brought up in the film.
Rated R. 100 minutes. Release date in New York City is Friday, March 22, 2013.