Playback: Aaron Eckhart on ‘Sully,’ ‘Bleed for This’ and Working With Legends

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

On today’s episode Jenelle Riley and I discuss this year’s crop of 10 Actors to Watch, being honored at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” is also opening this weekend, amid a torrent of controversy and a 60 Minutes special that appeared to just make things worse. And Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” is around the corner, its formerly embattled director looking to find purchase within the industry after his own highly publicized controversies.

Later on I’m talking to Aaron Eckhart, who has a pair of films in theaters this fall: Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” and Ben Younger’s “Bleed For This.” Both movies saw their world premieres at the Telluride Film Festival, which Eckhart attended and adored, and both projects see him taking on real-life characters. In “Sully” he stars as Chesley Sullenberger’s unsung co-pilot Jeff Skiles, while in “Bleed For This” he plays famed boxing trainer Kevin Rooney.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

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It’s always interesting to talk to actors who have worked with Eastwood. As a director, the icon has a unique and thrifty workflow, popping off one or two takes and then moving on. But does that instill self-confidence in performers, or self-doubt?

“Clint is a whole different animal,” Eckhart says. “He’s been working in this business for 60-plus years. He’s an Academy Award-winning director. There’s an admiration for him built in that other directors just don’t have. So you go in very compliant. You want to please him. His whole thing about rehearsal and takes is, ‘I’ve hired you. I have total trust in your ability to give me what I want. So just do what you do.’ Clint said to me many times, ‘I know what I have and I know when you’ve given me what I want.’ And you just don’t question that.”

Venturing out a bit, we’re coming up on 20 years since Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men,” which was Eckhart’s real coming out party in the business. He plays a misogynist so thoroughly detestable that you have to wonder if he had trouble getting dates after the movie came out. The answer is yes.

“People that saw it [in Sundance] came out, and there I got the reactions, just — if they could have spit on me they would’ve,” he says. “I did have one experience where a girl comes up to me and she was working with me in some way and she says, ‘I don’t know why but I just had this anger toward you,’ and she realized it was ‘In the Company of Men.'”

Meanwhile, the actor has been trying to get a directorial debut off the ground of late. He’s very interested in working behind the camera because of the lack of demands he sometimes witnesses filmmakers place on actors, how something akin to fear of the performer can keep an artist from pushing the talent and then getting to a fresh place with the work. He’d like to take a shot at it.

“I want to tell stories and have my own voice out there,” Eckhart says. “I want to be free. I want to do what I want to do in the movies and not have anybody telling me that I can’t do it. I also want to work with actors. What I’m looking for in a director is, yes, the atmosphere of trust, but I want a director to say, ‘It’s not good enough. Go further. You can do better.’ And push me, even if it hurts, so that afterwards, when we see the product I say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I was capable of that. Thank you.’

For all of that and more, including stories from Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” check out this week’s show at the streaming link above. And remember to subscribe to “Playback” below!

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