Aaron Eckhart has always wanted to do a war movie – in Battle: Los Angeles he finally gets his chance as a Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, leading his platoon against an invasion of aliens.
The actor first became known to audiences as Julia Roberts love interest in Erin Brockovich and went on to star is such successful movies as Thank You for Smoking, The Missing, The Black Dahlia, Rabbit Hole and The Dark Knight.
He spoke of his role in Battle: Los Angeles recently at the press day for the movie.
What excited you about this movie?
Jonathan [Liebesman, the film’s director] hadn’t got the job yet, and I got the script and I thought, ‘Oh, an alien movie, I’m not sure.’ And my agent said, ‘Get in the room with this kid.’
I got there and he had this presentation that he had done of all the aliens himself on his own software with no money, and it was very impressive.
I said, ‘I just want to make a war movie, I don’t care who the foe is.’ And he pulled up YouTube and showed me a bunch of Marines going house to house in Fallujah [Iraq] and he goes, ‘This is what the movie is going to look like.’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And that was at least a year before we shot it.
And we filmed it that way. I felt like, with all due respect to our brave Marines and our soldiers, we cinematically went to war, and I think it shows up on the screen.
We did boot camp, we lived in rank and ate in rank and showered in rank, and all that sort of stuff, which created an immense bonding process with the young guys.
Can you tell us a little about Staff Sergeant Nantz?
He’s pretty burnt out. He’s leading a bunch of young Marines into a battle with aliens in LA He’s doing it reluctantly, but that’s just the type of hero that I love to watch.
What was the boot camp like?
Boot camp was interesting. I’m glad we did it, because it was essentially a three-week rehearsal period. We had three Marines put us through boot camp and we all slept in the same big tent and ate together. We were regimented.
We ate rations and had all our courses during the day. We acted like a squad of Marines – I was the staff sergeant, so I bossed them around and they hated my guts.
It was invaluable, particularly when it came to weaponry – to know how to hold it, what you’re looking at, how to walk with it and how to be a cohesive unit going down the street. It really helped us, because when it came time to shoot, Sergeant Major Dever would just say, ‘Okay, you guys are patrolling this area,’ and we’d know how to act.
What were you looking at when the aliens were not really there, and did they show you photos of what you were supposed to be seeing?
We had Jonathan with the bullhorn about two feet from us going, ‘They’re coming now, they’re loud!’ We did have some guys in funny white suits with black dots on them running around.
But this is not a green screen movie, this was a movie where we shut down freeways, we crashed helicopters, tanks over turned, bombs going off, we used real bullets without the rounds in them so you’re really shooting.
We really learned our weapons, and they were loud. You put all that into the mix, and you don’t need any aliens, you feel like you’re at war.
Were there any mishaps doing the action sequences?
I broke my arm on this movie. I tried to get fancy on a stunt, it’s at the end of the movie when I’m on a rock and the thing is going to come out and I have to run and jump off it.
There was going to be a beautiful explosion [behind me], and I had the full pack on, it was miserable and I slipped and I fell about seven feet right on my arm and my head, just barely missing some rocks, and broke my arm.
I kept on going and finished the scene. But the doctor didn’t put a cast on it and we finished the movie. We had two or three weeks of filming still to go.
This is your first war movie of any kind?
Yes, not my last, I hope. I’ve not made a career out of being physical in my movies, but I love sports. I’m a very physical guy, and I just loved running around and pretending things were firing at me. (he laughs)
I want to do another war movie, I want to do a western and I’d like to do an alien movie. I guess with this we hit two birds with one stone. You’ve got a whole fantasy of make-believe.
What’s good about this movie too is in reality there are a lot of ugly things happening in the world, this is an alien foe, yes there are some deaths but it’s an entertaining movie, and I did like that too.
This movie is not politically insensitive, it’s not nationalistic or anything like that, it’s just a good, fun war movie that I think anybody can get behind, which I liked.