“They’re going to be judged based on your performance by millions of people.” – Aaron Eckhart on Playing a Real Person
Though Bleed for This — the biopic of Vinny Pazienza, a boxing champion that made a comeback after breaking his neck in a car accident — hasn’t performed well in theaters, one of the most praised aspects of the film is Aaron Eckhart‘s performance as Kevin Rooney, Paz’s trainer. In a conversation with Interview magazine, Eckhart spoke about how he became interested in acting and why it’s so important to do justice when playing a real-life individual in a film.
Eckhart caught the acting bug when he was in his early teens, though his first significant roles didn’t come until more than a decade later. He explains, “[When] I was about 14, I was going to rugby practice and they had auditions for a Charlie Brown musical. Because there was no competition I got Charlie Brown. It all started there. I knew I wanted to be an actor then. I just started doing plays in high school. No one in my family is in the business. Nobody encouraged me. I went to school and then went to university and got a film and acting degree. I moved to New York and didn’t get my real first film role until I was 27, which was In the Company of Men. It definitely was not in my family zeitgeist for sure.”
Two important aspects of the role that Eckhart felt compelled to do justice to was Rooney’s physical and vocal attributes — which included gaining weight, shaving his head to look as if he were balding, and even stuffing tissues in his nose to help sound like Rooney. He reveals, “Anything I improvised it came from Kevin’s language verbatim. I listened to so much tape of him talking that anything I said in the movie that wasn’t scripted was actually what Kevin would say. That really helped me out. To this day, I could just start talking [like Kevin]and do entire interviews that I listened to of him. I always had him in my ear, in my phone. I was always watching, always talking in his voice.”
Paying that much attention to Rooney’s voice was essential to Eckhart’s respect for the character — especially since it is based on a real person. He explains, “You have respect and reverence for your characters and the fact that you’re going to epitomize that person for the rest of their lives. They’re going to be judged based on your performance by millions of people. You have a certain responsibility. I tried to match what Kevin looked like at that time, which was overweight. It wasn’t something I did because I wanted to show off. It wasn’t about ego; it was about how do I look like this guy? I’m a relatively skinny, in shape or whatever. I quit working out and started eating cheese pizzas and just gained the weight.”