Focusing on a character's humanity allows actor to tackle even Frankenstein

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJanuary 23, 2014 

Aaron Eckhart plays Adam, who's also the title character, in I, Frankenstein. It's set in the future, and the monster is 200 years old.


ORLANDO, Fla. — Aaron Eckhart has some advice for monster movie and Mary Shelley purists who might quibble with I, Frankenstein, a movie that casts Eckhart as the monster almost 100 years in the future.

"Get on Twitter," he chuckles, suggesting it's the best place to complain. "They already are. Believe me."

None of that 19th-century piecing together human body parts, harnessing of lightning, and jolting a creature to life in this Frankenstein. The monster in I, Frankenstein is 200 years old and called "Adam." He's survived into a future dystopia where he gets caught up in human/zombie wars.

Sure, it's a genre picture, Eckhart says, laughing. But if he were to take to Twitter himself to try and sell it, here's his 144-or-so characters.

"It's a monster movie with a human soul. Fans of this genre may care about that, but a lot of people just don't. They care about the action, the effects. If I'm selling this movie on a tweet, it's 'Man in search of his purpose.'"

Eckhart found that something he could relate to. At 45, he's never broken out as a headliner, a box office attraction who can open a film based on his name alone. His screen presence is formidable, thanks to a deep voice, soulful eyes and a face Seattle Times critic Moira Macdonald once said "looks as if a computer designed it. ... His jaw is absurdly square, his nose long and aristocratic, his eyes are small but glitter intelligently." He broke into movies with the help of playwright-director and friend Neil LaBute in 1997's In the Company of Men and has had scattered success in the 15 years since.

Supporting roles in blockbusters from Erin Brockovich to The Dark Knight films (as Harvey "Two-Face" Dent), leads in more daring fare such as Thank You for Smoking, Towelhead and Rabbit Hole have never added up to an escape from B-movies or actioners (Olympus Has Fallen). Still, he takes on even the genre pictures with as much good humor as he can muster.

"I've never been an actor who lets himself get shoved into a corner," Eckhart says. "I don't really have a body of work that shows me as who I am and what I believe. I'm not showing that. I've never been one of those actors."

He's serious enough to work out a back story to his character, even if that character is as iconic as Frankenstein's monster.

"He's been rejected by his father and has to work out his place in the world. He's a survivalist, made that way by being cast out by his father to live in the mountains. He basically learned from the animals.

"In Mary Shelley's novel, he's always on the edge of society, on the periphery looking in. In our movie, he's had 200 years of learning and gaining skills and becoming articulate. I needed to delve into Mary Shelley's version of him, figure out why she created him. What does she want to say? Is that still relevant today? It is.

"This is an archetypal man's journey through life asking himself those same questions every man must ask — 'Where did I come from, why am I here and where am I going?'

Eckhart is one of those character actors who turns up in several films a year, most years. And "I'm making a lot more movies in 2014. Hey, it's not like I love to work or anything. I just can't afford not to."

There's a sequel to the hit Olympus Has Fallen with Gerard Butler, tentatively titled London Has Fallen. And "I just finished Incarnate, another genre movie. I play a wheelchair-bound alcoholic exorcist. That was a lot of fun."

If he's forced to find a connection, a through-line to a career that takes him from cynical villains (The Rum Diary) to stoic soldiers (Battle Los Angeles), sad-eyed romantics (Love Happens, Rabbit Hole) to characters-with-a-message (Towelhead), it is this — a shared humanity.

"If I'm going to go to all the trouble of making the movie and you're going to go see it, is there a lesson to be learned from the film about how you can become a better person?

"Movies are about entertaining, first of all, the fantasy that we lose ourselves in. But they're also about storytelling and growing. So I look for the humanity in the character, the lessons we can learn from his journey." Even if it's is a 200 year-old monster.

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