Aaron Eckhart sat for a live interview at East Hampton’s Guild Hall Friday afternoon, then hopped off the stage and chatted with fans for so long that ushers had to shoo him from the venue to prepare for a screening of his latest movie, “Bleed for This.”
“A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘You’re the first celebrity I’ve ever met.’ And I always try to make that experience as good for them as I can,” Eckhart said. “It’s their dream of what Hollywood is, so I have to represent that in the best possible light.”
Eckhart was a last-minute addition to the series “A Conversation With . . . ,” part of the ongoing Hamptons International Film Festival, now in its 24th year. Eckhart’s mingling with fans stood in marked contrast to the way past celebrity guests have typically finished their interviews and then disappeared into the wings. Over the course of his hourlong talk with Variety features editor Jenelle Riley, Eckhart cast himself as a hardworking actor who, even after 20 years of working with stars like Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”) and directors like Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”), still felt awestruck in the presence of Tom Hanks and director Clint Eastwood on the set of their recent drama, “Sully.”
“I’m always going, ‘You’re a lucky dude,’ ” said Eckhart, 48. “I’m always going, ‘That’s Clint right there.’ ”
Though now famous for his athletic physique and square jaw, Eckhart said he went on “hundreds, if not thousands, of auditions” as a young actor in New York and never got a single role. Eckhart’s big break came when the playwright Neil LaBute, a classmate from Brigham Young University, called with an offer to make a film version of his play “In the Company of Men” (1997), about two men who cruelly manipulate a female co-worker. Eckhart played Chad, a handsome but heartless lady-killer, and his performance was so convincing that it continues to define him today.
“I met a woman five, 10 years later,” Eckhart recalled, “who said, ‘I didn’t know why I hated you when I saw you. But now I know.’ ”
In “Bleed for This,” directed by Ben Younger and co-starring Miles Teller, Eckhart plays the very different role of Kevin Rooney, a real-life boxing trainer. To prepare, Eckhart shaved off his hair, gained 45 pounds and spent countless hours trying to learn a Staten Island accent.
“I want a director to push me beyond my limits,” Eckhart said. “Ben said to me, ‘Do you want to be great again?’ And I said, ‘Hell yeah, I want to be great again.’ ”