Aaron Eckhart: Simply “Smoking”
Celebrity scoop by Joel Fowler

As a budding heartthrob, actor Aaron Eckhart is hardly a household name. You’ll never confuse him with George Clooney or Brad Pitt in a leading man line-up.
Aaron Eckhart (right) with Thank You
for Smoking writer Christopher Buckley
Thank You for Smoking

While his first big role was in a film called In the Company of Men, if you do happen to recognize Aaron, it’s probably because of the company of women he’s kept on screen. Name a famous Hollywood actress and he’s probably worked along side them. Julia Roberts (in Erin Brockovich), Cameron Diaz (Any Given Sunday), Renée Zellweger (Nurse Betty), Gwyneth Paltrow (Possession), Hilary Swank (The Core), and Uma Thurman (Paycheck) are just a few of the more high-profile damsels that have caused Eckhart a fair amount of distress. These co-stars are so talented that they allow the audience to totally forget about Aaron as soon as the final credits roll.

With this lengthy but limited career history, it’s no wonder that the comment that raised the most eyebrows at the Washington D.C. premiere of Eckhart’s new political satire Thank You for Smoking (opening in area theaters March 17th) was director Jason Reitman’s labeling of Aaron as ‘this generation’s Robert Redford’ while introducing his film to a packed house of politicians, lobbyists, and reporters. That certainly is incredibly high praise, especially coming from Hollywood royalty (Jason’s dad Ivan directed such legendary comedies as Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Legal Eagles that starred the aforementioned and photogenic Redford), but is this recently-turned thirty-eight year old native Californian worthy of such an accolade? What does Eckhart have other than his chiseled good looks, his strong imposing physique, and… did I mention his good looks?

When I was able to track Reitman down during a VIP after screening party held at the trendy Georgetown nightclub Blue Gin, a further explanation of his obvious throwaway compliment was in order. As Jason sees it, “Aaron has this almost indelible charm. It goes beyond him being so handsome and so All-American looking. He has this charisma that allows him [while portraying his character Nick Naylor] to say the most subversive things and get away with it. He’s sooo likeable – it’s the same sort of screen aura that Redford commanded in his day.”

As for Aaron’s take on the leading man comparison? “Hey, look, it’s very flattering, but wow! I just try to do my own thing when it comes to acting.”
Director Jason Reitman
Thank You for Smoking

Paired again along side attractive starlets in Katie Holmes and Maria Bello, Eckart is so dominating and so captivating as the slimy but smooth public relations communication specialist who’s paid to protect the image of the fictional ‘Big Tobacco’ (a conglomerate of all the major cigarette manufacturers), critics are already calling this Aaron’s ‘breakthrough performance.’ It’s a term the free spirit scoffs at. “Hey, I though I broke through a long time ago!” Aaron giggles.

So, what attracted him to such a seedy character? “Nick Naylor is such a powerhouse part,” states the sandy blond thespian. “He’s a character with so much energy and charisma in the way he speaks. It’s just a dream role for an actor in the way it’s written.”

While Naylor may have been a part tailor-made for Aaron, it was only after Mel Gibson (whose production company Icon Pictures held the rights to the Christopher Buckley novel for seven years) finally turned the part down that the pairing of actor to role could be consummated. But, according to producer Dan Dubiecki, “once Jason and I officially came on board, Aaron really was not only our first, but our only choice to play Nick.”

With Thank You for Smoking being followed by more ‘smaller’ films like Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia (co-starring Scarlett Johansson) and a still untitled Scott Hicks project where Eckhart and Catherine Zeta-Jones play competing chefs / lovers, does Aaron worry that he’s being pigeon-holed as an arthouse actor? “No, the only difference [between a studio and an independent film] is that you may spend more money. As an actor, you just go with the great writers, the great directors, and the great producers and let the chips fall where they may. You still need the best material to work from, and Thank You for Smoking definitely qualifies in that category.”

Photography credit: Thomas Huff
©2006 Thomas Huff and Joel Fowler,

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