The actor discusses his role in Jason Reitman's new satire

Aaron Eckhart is at his best in Jason Reitman's savagely funny satire, Thank You for Smoking. Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, a smooth talking tobacco lobbyist at odds with Congress, his family, and the world in general. The film is a brilliant debut from Jason Reitman and a stellar performance for Aaron Eckhart. He's a great actor that can play a jerk better than anyone in Hollywood today.

Do you smoke?

Aaron Eckhart: I did smoke for a few years. I gave it up like three and a half years ago. So, there's no smoking in this movie. I was never freaking out in my trailer trying to find a cigarette.

What was it like working with Jason Reitman [Ivan Reitman's son]?

Aaron Eckhart: I was actually shooting in Canada. Jason flew up there and talked to me about doing the movie. I knew within the first few minutes of meeting Jason that I wanted to do this movie and he was going to do a fantastic job. He's so composed. He had a great vision of it. I think he is pretty exceptional.

Is your character a bad guy? He's basically screwing over the whole country.

Aaron Eckhart: (Laughs) I think Jason really grounded this movie with the father-son relationship. I think this movie has heart, which is important for a comedy. Because ultimately you have to laugh, and walk out of this movie feeling good about yourself. I think it achieves that for being so politically incorrect and having such a difficult subject matter.

Nick Naylor shares some personality traits with your character "In the Company of Men". That role has sort of defined your career. How do you feel about it now?

Aaron Eckhart: Yeah, I think that's just been the strongest one. I think that was the most visceral character I've ever played. I think it was so out of the box. Nobody knew who I was; they had no expectations on the performance or the film. So that was seared into people's minds. I think the role that people most remember me from is Erin Brockovich.

Do you like playing insidious characters?

Aaron Eckhart: Not everyone can pull off material like this and not everybody wants to pull it off. As exhilarating as it is for the audience to watch it, it's even that much more exhilarating to play it. There's something special, there's an energy, there's a spark.

You feel like you're on the edge?

Aaron Eckhart: Yeah, I guess because it is dangerous.

There's a great scene where Nick rants to Congress about the other things that kill you.

Aaron Eckhart: Yes, there are other things besides cancer killing us. In New York City, we ingest about a pack of cigarettes a day. So, we're all sick here. It's a smart movie. It doesn't take sides. It makes fun of everybody. I think that's smart of Jason not to have chosen sides.

Are you worried that you might be misinterpreted as promoting smoking?

Aaron Eckhart: Yes, you have to be careful. I personally think this movie is a comedy. And I look at it only as a comedy. This was never a political movie for me. This was never about tobacco. It was about this character who I would love to play, who really is spinning things and loves to talk and gets himself in these crazy situations and gets himself out. That's fun to play as an actor.

There's a lot of father - son bonding that happens in this film. Was that something else that attracted you to the part?

Aaron Eckhart: I like what the father can teach the son. I like the mirroring image. I like the problems that arise in family circumstances. I like the conflicts, the tension, and also the resolution of family. I also think that the audience likes to see that. The scene where we are doing our homework together, I'm doing my homework and he's doing his, I just got choked up. We're both affecting each other; we both have something to say.

Do you have any children?

Aaron Eckhart: No, I don't have children. I would like children. I'm working in a movie now with a little nine-year-old girl.

What's this movie?

Aaron Eckhart: It's right now called the untitled Scott Hicks project. It's a remake of Mostly Martha, which is a German film about good cooking; Catherine Zeta-Jones and me. Kids are so sweet. They're much more intelligent.

Was there a lot of improvisation involved in Thank You for Smoking?

Aaron Eckhart: No, there wasn't, not that I couldn't have. I mean, I do my own form of a little like shake and waddle and I get my energy up.

Did the script change much during filming?

Aaron Eckhart: No, it was pretty solid. And that's the way Jason is as a person, that's the way he directs his movies. So its not like I couldn't throw something in, and I did throw some things in, but he had a very good idea of how he wanted the pacing to be. I learned pretty quick to trust him and to trust that his set-ups were right.

What's your personal opinion about tobacco lobbyists?

Aaron Eckhart: Lobbying for tobacco is not against the law. People are doing it for alcohol and firearms. You cannot dislike your character. If you do, you're doing a disservice for the audience. Tobacco is not illegal. Millions of people do it every single day, and if you try to take cigarettes away from this country or Europe, they'll kill you. So there is an argument there.

How is working with Jason contrast to working with Brian DePalma?

Aaron Eckhart: I loved Brian. I loved working with him. We did a movie in Bulgaria together called The Black Dahlia with Scarlett Johannsen and Hillary Swank. Brian's another great pro. He knew what he wanted. He was working with professionals. He showed up and expected us to be ready and we were. That's the way I like to make movies. I think Jason, having been around his father, and been on set and been around great actors, is very prepared. I fully expect Jason to become a major American director.

What was it like working with Katie Holmes?

Aaron Eckhart: Terrific.

Seems like you had good experiences with all your cast mates.

Aaron Eckhart: I did. We were concerned about the sex scene, how it was going to fit into the comedy. We had serious discussions with Jason. Neither Katie nor I wanted to get unclothed and have this kind of huge sex scene. I don't think the script called for it. That was probably my main concern about the script. Jason was like, 'trust me; this is how I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it from across the room. Its going to be okay'. Katie and I became pretty good friends and had a pretty good attitude about it. It ended up being funny, as opposed to scary.

What's become of your film "Conversations with Other Women"?

Aaron Eckhart: Thank you for asking that. It really is a great movie. It's directed by a first time director who lives in New York. Another guy who is going to be going through the roof. It's a movie I'm very proud of with Helena Bonham Carter. It's a little romance, I won't tell you the story because you'll figure it out.

Thank You for Smoking opens in limited theaters tomorrow.

Cinemark Movie Club
Julian Roman