Much like Dist. Atty. Harvey Dent, the comic book character he'll be playing in next year's Batman movie, The Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart's film career has a shady side. Nearly a decade after his breakthrough role as a sociopathic misogynist in Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men, he earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role as a debatably crooked tobacco lobbyist in 2006's Thank You for Smoking. This July, Eckhart lightens up in No Reservations as a cocksure culinary bon vivant. The 39-year-old had no reservations about discussing his undeniable "bad guy" appeal and Mormon upbringing -- just don't ask him to dish on Lindsay.
The Advocate: Did you know you had a big gay following?
Aaron Eckhart: No! Honestly, I didn't think I had any following, so this is great.
Which of your film roles do you think won us over?
Hmm, I don't know. Maybe the one in Erin Brockovich, because he rode a motorcycle?
Well, we are suckers for a rugged, handsome man. Are you comfortable being a sex symbol?
I'm happy with how I look, but I really don't think that's how people see me -- as this good-looking guy. I've just made a lot of movies, you know? So I guess that means I'm not comfortable with it. [Laughs]
How did your Mormon upbringing affect your views on homosexuality?
It was something that really wasn't talked about. It just wasn't something I even thought about, because I wasn't really around it until I came to New York City and lived in Chelsea. Now I have a lot of gay friends. At the end of the day, I pick my own views and beliefs.
Who was the first gay person you met?
I'll always remember. I was working in a restaurant in California with a guy who was gay, and I asked him, "What do you feel when you look at a guy?" And he said, "Well, Aaron, what do you feel when you look at that girl over there, and she's beautiful and you really want to be with her?" That's when I got it: It's the same thing.
Do you have any celebrity man-crushes?
There are definitely a lot of actors that I admire, but I wouldn't say that I'm head over heels for any of them.
Have you ever played gay?
I almost did, but the movie never got made. I was going to do the film version of David Rabe's play A Question of Mercy, which is about a man dying of AIDS. Sean Penn was directing. But before we started filming, 9/11 happened, so it just fell apart. I was already out spending time in San Francisco, doing research, talking to people who had been affected by the disease, asking questions, exploring that dark side.
Some have suggested that your character Chad in In the Company of Men is such a misogynist because he's actually a repressed homosexual. What are your thoughts on that theory?
Well, I think that's right there in the film when he asks that guy to drop his pants. It's interesting because I didn't play him that way, but I definitely think an argument can be made there.
Like, in the Batman movies, maybe Two-Face will actually be an evil manifestation of Harvey Dent's repressed homosexuality?
[Laughs] Now, that's interesting. Sure, maybe so.
Let's talk about No Reservations, in which you play a chef opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones. What was she like? Did she get you a good deal on a cellular plan?
Hey, I tried. I wondered why I didn't have a little gift at the end of shooting. But seriously, she's so warm, and she always had her family around her. I'm a fan.
Did you know how to cook before filming?
Well, I called it a co-lan-der, so I guess the answer is no. [Laughs] Actually, I'd worked in a few restaurants doing line- cook stuff, learning how to chop, make sauces. So I knew my way around a kitchen a little bit.
Do you ever use your celebrity to get VIP treatment in fancy restaurants?
No, but I think maybe I get special treatment without me really knowing it. Like, we went to Graydon Carter's restaurant [The Waverly Inn] the other night without a reservation, and they seated us right away, so I don't know. The thing is that I never think anyone's going to know me. I'm always afraid if I say my name, they'll say, "Who?" And then I'll be humiliated.
You've played nice guys, but you're most commonly associated with your "asshole" roles. Have any asshole qualities rubbed off on you?
Well, we all have our moments. Look, of course the asshole parts are the ones that people remember. You want to be remembered for the good roles too, but the assholes are so much fun to play.
Out of all of your characters, whose fictional life would you like to lead?
Wow. I think it would be fun to be Nick in No Reservations, actually. But, you know, I kind of like my life.
In your next film, Bill, Lindsay Lohan was replaced by Jessica Alba. In light of recent tragic events, is it safe to say you dodged a bullet there?
Um...well, Lindsay and I have the same agent. So...we were all very happy to have Jessica Alba in the film. How's that for a safe answer?