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Aaron Eckhart: 'I don't think about being a star anymore. I've given that up'

Actor Aaron Eckhart has accomplished a lot in his career. He’s been in numerous blockbusters including “The Dark Knight.” He was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his starring role in “Thank You For Smoking.” 

Most recently, he plays co-pilot Jeff Skiles to Captain Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks, in the film "Sully." And he plays famous boxer Vinny Pazienza's coach in the film, "Bleed For This." 

His big break came in 1997, with Neil Labute’s film “In the Company of Men.” But, like most actors with a 20-year career, he hasn’t always picked great films. For instance, his 2014 film "I, Frankenstein" made less than $20 million domestically and currently has 3 percent on RottenTomatoes

The Frame's John Horn spoke with Aaron Eckhart about being directed by Clint Eastwood in "Sully," how Hollywood prepped him to be a movie star, and how he realizes that he's not trying to be a leading man anymore.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On how he reacted when he got the part in “Sully”:

In this business, every single day of your life can change on any given day. So I just got a call and somehow Clint Eastwood wanted to meet me. It was one of those moments. It's been years since I jumped around in my car and fist pumped and yelled. I remember where I was when I did it and I went right back to 20 years ago when I started making my first film in the sense that I was just overjoyed to be making a movie with such professionals. 

On the realities of being a movie star:

It's hard to get into these films. There's a handful of actors who are consistently getting into "blue chip" films that are about something, that are meaningful, that have great directors and have the studio behind them. In my career, sometimes I've been in and sometimes I've been out. I feel like I'm just getting out of prison after six years and it feels good. 

Horn: A prison of what? 

You know, maybe questionable choices of taking a shot here that didn't work out and having to work myself out of it. I count myself lucky to be in the business after 20 years. And for me to still be kicking around and still be a viable, recognizable commodity in this business is a huge achievement. 

On choosing parts that are mature and right for his age:

Especially when you get older in this business and the directors are getting younger. Do they know who you are or do they feel like you're still energetic enough and marketable enough to put you in their movie? 

If somebody's gonna put money behind your movie you have to go out there and get the pieces that are going to mean something so that the director can go on and have a directing career. It's that cut throat and it's that important. 

On when he said "no" to a big director: 

I made a couple mistakes—I won't call them mistakes—but things that I probably wouldn't have done had I been more seasoned and experienced. The time that I said no... Oh, man. I wish I could tell you guys the filmmaker. 

Horn: You don't remember or you're not gonna say? 

Well, I want to work again! I remember telling a very big director "no" and he was shocked, and it's not that I didn't like it. I was just scared. When you come out of the box hot, and everybody wants their beginning of their career to be Sean [Penn], or Marlon Brando, or Monty Clift or whatever you have. You're just out of school and [acting] is this deep, dark thing. 

Hollywood wants to make you a star but the material's not as good as what you're expecting. So you have to make decisions. 

On how he doesn’t consider himself a movie star:  

Hollywood really pushes you to be a star. There is a lot of pressure, and if they think that you could be a leading man, everything is pushed into the studio system, into being that leading man. That usually means romantic comedies, action movies. As you're coming out of your twenties, you're thinking about your heroes and that's not always in your action movies. 

In my forties, I'm much more thinking about what do I want to portray as a man? What can I teach younger children? What's my world message? How am I going to influence the world around me? I don't want to say that it's out the window, but I don't think about being a star anymore. I've given that up. I'm 48, I don't need to look perfect. 

It's taken me a lot of years to give that up because you hold on to that and you see a lot of actors in their late-forties and fifties still trying to be the young man. I think it's better if we evolve into the mature roles and be the men and women that our age dictates us to be. 

On how he defines himself as an actor:

I'm an actor and I want to push myself as an actor. I think the guys that make it, and the young guys especially. If you look at Leonardo DiCaprio who started young, these kinds of guys, and have evolved into men and doing leading roles—they're smarter than I am. Because, to be 20 years old and to have the business acumen as well as the acting chops and to be able to work your way around this system in Hollywood, you have to be very mature to do that. 

I wasn't there. I didn't read "the book" about how to do this business. I'm only coming into it as a 48-year-old. When people approach me, I still can't own my own success or talent. I'm constantly putting myself and self-deprecating in that because it's hard to be believe that you're actually worthy of being here. I'm still working my way through that and it's gonna take me my entire lifetime, but I'm getting better at it. 

So I'm defining myself as a hungry actor that has something to say.