He came roaring into our consciousness on a Harley, with a full beard, a ponytail and Julia Roberts in tow. Aaron Eckhart's memorable turn as the supportive boyfriend in Erin Brockovich won him critical kudos -- and our hearts. Now the ruggedly handsome 36-year-old actor is back -- clean shaven -- starring opposite Matrix maven Carrie-Anne Moss in the new psychological thriller Suspect Zero.
The day we talk to Aaron by telephone, he begins by professionally fielding questions about Suspect Zero. But soon enough he reveals another side of himself: "Women.com, huh? I just love women!" His taste is well honed -- after all, he's starred opposite a breathtaking roster of Hollywood's top leading ladies.
Born in California in 1968, the blond surfer boy underwent culture shock when he moved to England with his family at age 13. But soon after, young Aaron realized the advantage of living so close to continental Europe, and was bitten by the travel bug. He later surfed and skied his way through stints abroad in Australia, Hawaii, France and Switzerland.
Back in the U.S., Aaron enrolled as a film major at Brigham Young University, and forged a friendship with classmate Neil LaBute that would change his life. "He cast me in my first leading role, in In the Company of Men," Aaron says. The actor's controversial yet celebrated performance as an office sleaze helped writer/director LaBute win the Sundance Festival's Filmmaker's Trophy in 1997. More critical acclaim followed as Neil and Aaron next collaborated on 1998's Your Friends and Neighbors, an ensemble film with a top-notch cast that included Ben Stiller.
With those two indie successes under his belt, Aaron made the leap to big-budget films, starting with a part under renowned director Oliver Stone in Any Given Sunday (1999), starring Al Pacino.
The actor then found himself appearing beside four marquee-name leading ladies, all of whom have now won Academy Awards. He took on his first romantic role, opposite Julia Roberts in her Oscar-winning turn, in Erin Brockovich (2000). Next, he reunited with LaBute for Nurse Betty (also 2000), playing the shady salesman husband of Renée Zellweger, who was honored with a Golden Globe for her performance. LaBute then paired Aaron with Hollywood royalty -- Gwyneth Paltrow -- in Possession (2002), which features a number of steamy love scenes and positioned Aaron in his first leading-man role in a big-budget film. He continued his stint playing opposite A-list leading ladies with The Core (2003), featuring Hilary Swank.
After a part in the science fiction thriller Paycheck (2003) with Uma Thurman and Ben Affleck, Aaron seized the opportunity to try something different, and crossed the pond to act onstage in London. Of course, it didn't hurt that his costar was the gorgeous, talented young actress Julia Stiles. The two spent the spring and summer of 2004 costarring in a revival of the controversial David Mamet play Oleanna, about a student who develops a destructive relationship with her teacher. Aaron's favorite thing about the show -- other than working with Stiles -- was the interactivity of the performances. "While we were onstage," he says, "audience members shouted at our characters, even taking sides with one of them. It was an experience like no other."
In his latest film, Suspect Zero, Aaron plays a troubled FBI agent who, while investigating the case of a murdered serial killer with his partner (Moss), finds a trail that leads him to a renegade former agent (played by Sir Ben Kingsley). "It was great working with Sir Ben -- I mean, he was Gandhi," Aaron says, a little starry-eyed.
When asked what role Tom Cruise played in bringing Suspect Zero to the screen (Tom's film company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, produced the film), Aaron quickly shoots back, "Role? A Tootsie Roll." While it takes a second for that pun to sink in, the playful star has jumped far ahead, successfully skirting the Cruise question by complimenting Paula Wagner, the film's executive producer.
Gwyneth, Uma, Julia, Renée and now Carrie-Anne? How does Aaron prepare himself to star opposite these incredible women? "Actually, they're all in the room with me right now," he says, "...and they're all naked." Ahem! Perhaps a fantasy of his own -- and thanks very much for sharing, Aaron. There's another taste of that delicious provocativeness.
But just when it seems we're going to continue down that slippery slope, Aaron offers a full-on dose of wholesomeness: He brings his mom to premieres. He's given up smoking, drinking and "brawling." So what vices does a guy have left? "Coffee," he laughs, with a resigned sigh that makes us want to rush out and buy him a double shot of espresso, just so he can enjoy his lone indulgence to the fullest.
Although he was once engaged (to actress Emily Cline, from whom he separated in 1998), Aaron is currently single. The steady love in his life is yellow Labrador retriever Dirty, who's been his companion since he was a struggling actor in New York City.
So he's good to his mom, he doesn't have bad habits and he's single... Hey, Aaron, why don't you appeal to the producers of The Bachelor to put you on next season? "The Bachelor? What's that?" he asks, at first confused, until he's reminded of the intricacies of the reality TV show -- and the fact that he'd get to choose from a bevy of beautiful women. He quickly warms to this line of questioning. "Sure, sign me up!" And before we can say "rose ceremony," he's turned the charm factor way up and is unabashedly flirting. Auditioning for The Bachelor or revealing his true colors? It's unclear, but resistance is futile, and soon this buttoned-up reporter is responding to his inquiries about her hair color and expressing regret over living on the opposite coast from the former surfer boy. Yes, he's that good.
We conclude what's become a tête-à-tête with a spontaneous discussion on what's sexy about Suspect Zero. Much to the chagrin of women everywhere, Aaron concedes, "I keep my shirt on in most of the movie." But any disappointment fades quickly when he reveals the flick is stocked with exciting action scenes -- and some romance! "I kiss Carrie-Anne. And give her a hug. And then--"
Who could resist?