SPOILER WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for "The Dark Knight," released July 18.
Gotham City believes in Harvey Dent, having elected the crusading lawyer to the office of District Attorney as reported in the most recent edition of the Gotham Times, another in a myriad of artifacts associated with 42 Entertainment's groundbreaking alternate reality game for Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Dark Knight." Despite not actually existing, Dent's popularity is remarkably real, with actual campaign buses touring cities throughout the United States in support of the DA's fictional candidacy while DC Comics fans slap Harvey Dent bumper stickers on their cars, placards in their storefront windows and banners on their blogs.
The man who would save Gotham from chaos in director Christopher Nolan's new film will be Aaron Eckhart, the acclaimed "In The Company of Men" and "Thank You For Smoking" actor, who's more than eager to portray comics' most conflicted villain. In this third in a series of interviews with the cast and crew of "The Dark Knight," CBR News along with other members of the press talked Two-Face with Aaron Eckhart, who discussed with us how one plays a psychopath, his character's relationships with Bruce Wayne and the Batman, his admiration for his co-stars, what exactly happens to Harvey in the new film, and how comic books helped him prepare for the role.
What level of familiarity did you already have with Harvey Dent prior to taking this part? Hopefully you didn't see the Tommy Lee Jones/Joel Schumacher version in "Batman Forever."
I did, years ago. I've seen all [the Batman films]. Christopher [Nolan] comes at ["The Dark Knight"] with such a different take on Batman, I didn't feel I had to be true to any other actor playing this role. Of course, I read the comic books. I think Harvey is portrayed very well in those comic books; his relationships with Lieutenant Gordon, with Batman, with Gotham City. Those really helped me the most.
Chris and his brother [Jonathan Nolan] have written this brilliantly. It gives all the characters a lot of range. As you know, there are fantastic actors in this movie and everybody has great things to do. I feel like my character is fresh. I think he's new, I think he's important to Gotham City. It's going through a dark time, and I think that my character helps to give hope to the city. I would say he's a positive role model for the citizens of Gotham City. I think that's important. There are a lot of mirrors to what's going on today in society, which helps make these movies important and takes them beyond comic books -- of course comic books also mirror our times.
What made you want to take this role?
Well, there are so many reasons to do this part. First, to work with Chris is a huge if not the main reason. And to work with all the actors. I mean, this cast is amazing. Batman has such a history, it's a worldwide phenomenon. It wasn't the prospect of being in a huge juggernaut of a movie, it was more for the artistic and creative aspects of this movie. And I have a really good part! [laughs]
Were there specific comic books or comic book eras you looked at?
I think I've read everything on Harvey. And if you haven't read [a particular story], there are plenty of people out there who are willing to help you out. It's surprising how many people know every aspect of Harvey's character. I had a lot of help in that way.
Because you're familiar with the comic books, you know that Harvey has an arc. Presumably we'll be seeing a development of what you're laying down here in subsequent films. How do you complete in one film what is in many respects the foreshadowing of another performance?
I think with the other [Batman films], you were looking at pretty much -- I don't want to say the denouement, but you're looking at the climax of each character's arc. Where does he go after that? Each character has a beginning, a middle and end. I think right now we're showing who Harvey was before he was scarred. It's an interesting role that he plays. We're looking at Gotham City trying to get out of its darkness. And that's why Harvey's important. That's why Maggie [Gyllenhaal's] part is important. Helping to get out of the darkness. And that's why Batman is important. But I think this movie helps us to understand that the citizens are trying to do,what they can -- as we should in our lives -- to help the world come out of darkness.
Does Harvey become Two-Face in this movie?
I can tell you the answer to that. Harvey Dent does turn into Two-Face in this movie.
Have you tried on make-up yet?
Yeah. I have done scenes as Harvey and as Two-Face. It's interesting. I won't tell you exactly what we're going for, but I think that I can say that it will use all of today's technology to create this character. He's going to be interesting and I think that's what makes this character important in the movie because you see who he was before. As in the comic books, Harvey's a very good guy. He's judicious, he cares, and he's passionate about what he loves. And then he turns into this character and things happen. You wlll see that in this film.
Have you flipped the coin yet?
I have flipped the coin. And it's a real coin.
It must be one of those very sentimental moments, like putting on the bat suit for the first time, flipping the coin for the first time?
Yeah, I think that's a real big part of Harvey, this coin. And so I think we're giving it its due and being true to the comic books in that respect.
As an actor, can you talk about the opportunity to play split personalities? What's your inspiration for playing other personalities?
Well, I just talk to my other selves! [laughs] I think it's interesting about human behavior that under certain circumstances, in one minute you can believe in one thing and then the world can change and you believe another thing. I think 9/11 is an indication of that. I mean, the world can turn on its axis in a second. I think Harvey is not such a bad person. He does bad things but hopefully we'll see the reasons why Two-Face is doing was he's doing. I think it's important that you know he just didn't become Harvey Two-Face in a vacuum. It's interesting to show that there are reasons for his behavior and I think the comic books show it. It depends on which character you think is more attractive and exciting. I mean, obviously, a guy who goes out and murders people, that's vigilante justice really, and is probably more cinematically exciting. But I think knowing why he got there and that he was a cool dude before is important as well.
Are you saying Two-Face is a vigilante, as opposed to the classic psychopath, robbing banks and blowing shit up? Is he out to impose his view of justice?
Well, in terms of villainy in the movie or anybody's motivation in the movie, you're always trying to improve your lot in life and exact your own code in life. And I think Harvey Two-Face has a code and his code is killing people for reasons that will remain secret!
What do you draw out of yourself as an actor to play a psychopath?
It's that code. It's the code of saying, "How can I justify this? Under what circumstances would I go kill somebody?" You hear people say, "If my child was this, that or the other, I would kill or do that." I think you have to put yourself in those situations. Obviously, I haven't killed anybody, but you have to make that as real as possible for yourself. And if you can't make it real, you put it under imaginary circumstances. That's where the fire comes from. That's why, when we see great performances, you have to justify your behavior as an actor. And that's what the fun of acting is, whether it's exacting your code or it's falling in love. You have to make it real for yourself.
How do you emote through the Two-Face makeup? Have you ever worn anything that heavy and how does that affect your craft?
Any advantage you can gain, in terms of a physical advantage, helps you act because it takes you out of yourself. It also helps the other actors act. When you look at yourself and you are scarred beyond belief, something happens inside of you where you can trick your mind really easily and all of a sudden you believe that you're scarred. If I were blind in a movie and playing a blind man, I would have those feelings of being blind, and it helps me. It helps me because all I have to do is go look in the mirror between takes and I get all those feelings and I look at the guy across from me who I'm acting with, and I want to kill him.
Or if my wife died or whatever it is, all those little things help you because you can believe in something like that [snaps fingers]. If you see your face is caved in, or your eyes or your guts are ripped out or somebody's bleeding on the floor, your body takes over after that you just do what you do. So the scarier part about it is if I didn't have that.
There's a lot of different ways you could go with Two-Face. In the cartoons, he's a cold-hearted gangster. With Tommy Lee Jones, he's a cackling mad man. Where are you taking Harvey?
It's early days but I believe that it's stronger if you have a heart. If you can relate to a character if he's a villain or not, it's always better. If I can help you to relate to my character, I think that I am more than likely to keep your attention.
What's the relationship between Harvey and Bruce?
That's a very good question. That question will be answered in the movie! [laughs] There are dynamics that are being shown. The citizens of Gotham and law enforcement doesn't know that Bruce is the Caped Crusader. There is a marked difference between how Bruce is treated and how Batman is treated [by Harvey].
In "Batman Begins," Christopher Nolan connected the adversaries of Batman in terms of his mythology and his personality. How is Harvey and/or Two-Face either reflected in Bruce Wayne or his Batman persona?
That's a good question. I would like to answer that better for you. I can only say that the two of them are contemporaries, and you can make your own conclusions about what that means. In other words, the one could look at the other as himself. That holds a lot of energy because you have Bruce Wayne who is this particular person and you have Harvey Dent. Who are they in society? What do they mean to each other? They are basically physically similar. They've a lot of qualities and characteristics that are similar. What they want for the world is not totally dissimilar. One has taken it to another level, but who says the other one doesn't want to take it to that level as well?
Chris has in my opinion helped to really humanize Batman. And I think he's doing that with all the characters. I think it's going to be powerful. I'll you guys, what Heath is doing is going to blow you away.
Just by virtue of the fact that Harvey is the District Attorney and presumably sanctioning or even working with the Batman, would you agree that indicates a moral flexibility to begin with?
I didn't say he was working with Batman.
Well, it seems to be in the plot.
In the plot, well there you go! [laughs]
In the comic books, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon and Batman decide, "We're going to fix Gotham."
I think that in times of trouble, extraordinary means have to be taken sometimes. And I will say that sometimes -- and I think we've grown up with cinema like this -- that people have to do what they have to do to rid themselves of cancer. And Gotham City is, I think, going through chemo.
Playing a character opposite of Batman, an icon, does it intimidate you as an actor?
First of all, the responsibility of being in [a Batman film] is pretty big. For one of these blockbusters, it has so much heritage. The daunting thing is really working with Gary Oldman and Michael Caine -- and it's not so much "daunting" as it is "pretty big" for me because I love to act and I respect actors. And I respect those actors in particular. But Batman, I mean how many years has Batman been around? 70 years. How many lives has Batman touched? That is daunting. I was talking to Eric Roberts about this -- he's playing Maroni -- and he's just so happy to be involved in something this big that has so much energy involved in it, that has so much heritage. I believe that to be true as well. I'm going to be in [a Batman movie], which I never in a million years that I would ever do, acting with a guy in a bat suit!