Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
February 23, 2011

Blending the classic genres of war films and alien invasion sci-fi, Battle: Los Angeles follows a group of U.S. Marines as they engage an extraterrestrial threat in the streets of Los Angeles. This satisfyingly action-heavy blockbuster is directed by Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, the upcoming Wrath of the Titans) and features an ensemble cast headed up by Aaron Eckhart and featuring Bridget Moynahan, Ramon Rodriguez, Michael Pena, and Michelle Rodriguez.

In this interview, Aaron Eckhart talks about working on the project, from making his first war movie and getting serious with the stunts, to delving into his character's life and being the veteran amongst his peers.

MEDIA: You were onboard for this project at a very early stage. What sold you on the idea?

AARON: Jonathan. Jonathan hadn't had the job yet, and I got the script, I thought, "Oh jeez, an alien movie, I'm not sure." And my agent said, "Get in the room with this kid." And I got there, and he had this presentation [in which] he had done all the aliens himself on his own software with no money. And that was very impressive. And I said, "You know what? I just want to make a war movie. I don't care who the foe is--if it's an alien, whatever. I want to make a war movie." And he pulled up YouTube and showed me a bunch of Marines going house to house in Fallujah, and he goes, "This is what the movie's going to look like." And I said, "I'll do it." And that was at least a year before we shot it. And we did it: we filmed it that way. With all due respect to our brave Marines and our soldiers, I felt like 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, which I thought helped in the film immensely.

Now that you've gotten to make your first war movie, what did you think of the experience?

I loved it...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 are firing at me. [laughs]

Is it sort of like living out a childhood fantasy?

There's no doubt about it...And what's good about this movie, too, is that in reality, there are a lot of ugly things happening in the world, [but] this is an alien foe we can all get behind. Yes, there are some deaths, we can understand them, but it's an entertaining movie...It's 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 like.

Since the aliens are mostly computer generated effects, what tools did you have on set as a point of reference?

We had Jonathan with a bullhorn about two feet from us going, "They're coming now, they're loud!" [laughs] I mean, we did have some guys in funny suits running around out there...They were white suits with black dots on them. I don't know what they call them. But you know, I'll tell you what: this is not a greenscreen movie. This was a movie where we shut down freeways, we had crashed helicopters, tanks overturned, cars, 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 of that into the mix, and you don't need any aliens. You feel like you're at war. For example, we were shooting on the freeway, and there was smoke and everything. You can't see 100 feet in front of you anyway. So if you were just behind a car or whatever, you would think that you were at war. And since we all basically come from Los Angeles and this area, all these landmarks--Venice, the coffee shop, the laundromat--[are] very believable. So we felt like it was real without having the actual enemy.

Any accidents or mishaps amongst all the stunts?

I broke my arm on this movie. I tried to get fancy on a stunt. It's at the end part when I'm on that rock, and I have to run and jump off it. And I said to the cameraman, because there was a beautiful explosion back here, this great ball of fire, "Hey, what happens if I do this...?" He goes, "Try it." And he was down low, because I wanted to be [like Michael Jordan jumping] through the ball of flames. [laughs] And I had the full pack on, everything...And I just went, slipped, and I fell about seven feet, boom, right on my arm and my head, just barely missing some rocks. Broke my arm, kept on going, finished the scene. I went two days without [getting it examined]. I went to the doctor and [found out I] broke it. But they didn't put a cast on it, and we finished the movie.

How heavy was the military gear you had to wear?

Now, I've put on the real gear, so those guys have 40 pounds on us. [But] in terms of the weight, it was pretty good--you have your vest with all your MOLLEs and all that sort of stuff on it. And I don't know what the weight was, but it was significant in that weather. Because it was basically summer in Louisiana, [where] we shot the movie. So by 9 o'clock in the morning, we were sweat through and exhausted. I don't think there was any make-up on the movie. I mean, people were getting their teeth knocked out, because when you have your weapons and you're swinging them around like that...I can't remember how many people went to the dentist. [laughs] But it was fun.

So do you believe in aliens?

Well, I heard you guys had a seminar about that this morning...

We did.

I think we'll all kill each other before something outside gets the [chance]. [laughs] Yeah, I think we need to be looking a little closer to home...You know, it's interesting, I could say that I've had one of those experiences myself. I feel like I was out in the desert of New Mexico, and I saw something weird. That's all I know. I won't go into detail, but something was moving fast. So, you know, I don't rule it out. Why would I rule it out? What I feel that is interesting about the human psyche is that we always, right off the bat, consider it to be malicious and threatening to us, as opposed to being something benevolent and useful. I think that's just human nature. We always are threatened by things that we don't know. But there's definitely some weird things going on.

It probably wouldn't be a very interesting movie if the alien visitors were friendly...

[laughs] No, there's no drama in that. Unless, like, we killed them--you know, they come in and we destroy them.

Your character Nantz is sort of stuck at a crossroads in his life. Do you ever feel like you're in that situation?

Yes. [laughs] Oh my gosh. I feel like I have those all the time. You know, Staff Sergeant Nantz is stuck in his career--he's got to go on and live the rest of his life. This is all he's known. If we just isolate [that idea] and talk about the movie business, I certainly feel that now. I'm an older guy in this business. Not "older" older, but I'm up there. I could say that I'm a veteran. I've been doing it for 15 years, I've made 30 movies. And now where do I go? Am I stuck? How do I reinvent myself? What am I going to do now? What if I retire? What if I do something else in my life? So I feel like those are very real questions that I ask myself as well. And like for Staff Sergeant Nantz, sometimes things take care of themselves, and maybe [I should] stop asking the question and just roll with it.

One of the lighter moments in the film is Nantz feeling old compared to the soldiers under him. How did you feel about poking fun of his age in that way?

I liked it. You know, I look at these guys and they don't have any wrinkles. [laughs] It's funny, because I feel like I'm their age, you know? I feel like I'm as strong as they are and everything, but I look at them, and they're different than I am. I look at my face, and it's falling off. And I never thought I'd get to this stage. I always call myself an old man with them. [jokes] But of course, I would always be beating them while I was doing it. You know, I like that because a lot of those guys...I could be their dad. And what's interesting, too, about that relationship is I always asked them, "When you look at me, what are your thoughts? Do you think I'm an old man? You ever think you'll get my age?" [laughs] And it's interesting to hear their answers.

Some people would say you're too young to be talking like this...

Well, I'll be 43 next month. I know it's not that old...But the reason why I say that is because I am at a different point, and I do look at these kids, and like, they're 19 years old. And I want to know what's going on. Because what I think is, "What was I like when I was 19?" I wasn't smart enough to be in the movies at 19 like these kids were. So I guess psychologically, it's interesting for me.

Thanks for your time.

All right, guys. Good-bye.

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