Actor Aaron Eckhart quickly gained his indie street cred thanks to a trio of well-received film collaborations with pal/
Eckhart's latest on-screen outing is as a troubled FBI agent hunting down a mysterious could-be serial killer (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) in the New Mexico-shot Suspect Zero. The low-budget thriller, financed partially by the State of New Mexico, marks director E. Elias Merhige's long-awaited follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Shadow of the Vampire.
Suspect Zero had its world premiere in Albuquerque on Wednesday night at the Century Rio Theater. Alibi took the occasion to chat with Eckhart about his experiences.
Suspect Zero was the second film you shot here in New Mexico after The Missing. What was your impression of our fair state?
I loved it. I was at the Hilton when I was in Albuquerque. I was right in between that freeway interchange. I found that fascinating. I would sit in my hotel room and just watch, silently, the traffic go up and over and out. I just thought that was a huge building process.
We spent about four years waiting for that thing to get done. I'm guessing on The Missing you were in a slightly different part of the state.
Yeah, I was in Santa Fe and all up near Los Alamos. Just unbelievable country. So beautiful. We were up in the pine country. We were, for The Missing, in a place that was just unbelievable. I can't remember the name of it.
You shot a lot in the Valles Caldera.
Yes. Oh, God, it was so beautiful.
How was working in New Mexico, how did our local film professionals stack up to Hollywood?
I think one of the conditions on filming there was that they hire locals from New Mexico. We had a lot of the same people working on both films. They were great. They were just wonderful. I mean, total pros. You wouldn't know if they were from New Mexico or Los Angeles.
That's good to know. We've had so many productions come into the state lately. There's real concern whether tax incentives are entirely behind it or whether we really have the talent and the facilities to keep Hollywood coming back.
Well, lemme tell you something. I've made three movies and going on my fourth in Vancouver. And there's no reason why these movies have to go to Vancouver. If the states will give them the same tax incentives or help them out enough to get these films in the states, the pool of talent will grow and become more experienced.
You've had some pretty good luck, or good whatever you would call it, in your career to work with interesting directors. How was it working with Elias?
He was great. He really has a unique vision.
Suspect Zero is incredibly visual. I imagine that's hard to grasp on the set.
Absolutely. I just saw [the finished film]. I was looking at this film going, “I didn't know they did that. I didn't know it was gonna look like that. I didn't know they were gonna cut it like that. I didn't know they used different types of film stock.” This [film] is Elias up and down. It was a pleasure for me to see, but I was seeing it for the first time as well.
You also spend some of the movie acting opposite Sir Ben Kingsley. I've met him and, nice a guy as he is, I must say he's an intimidating personality. How is it working with him?
He was a sweetheart. He's loves actors, he loves to act. He's so experienced and confident and trusts himself. He couldn't have been nicer, more supportive of the whole process.
Still, he's got this aura about him. He seems like the kind of guy you wouldn't want to piss off.
OK. I'll agree with you there. I mean, I've never really seen him mad. But, just based on Sexy Beast, I wouldn't get the guy mad.
Speaking of directors, you've had a close association with Neil LaBute. You're working with him again soon aren't you?
That's an IMDB [Internet Movie Database] mistake. Well, it's not absolutely correct. Vapor fell through. And I don't remember ever saying “yes” to Vapor. They kinda throw things up there to be first, I guess. But Neil and I will do something. We're talking and can't wait to work together again.
That must be nice to have a director that you trust and know that if he ever has another project, you'll probably be involved.
Yeah. That is very nice, because I can, you know, buy a pair of shoes and not worry about it. But we both really are anxious for each other's success. Because success for me means success for him and vice-versa. So we're very supportive of each other.
How long have you known him? Did you meet him casting In The Company of Men?
No, I knew him in college. So I've known him for coming up on almost 15 years. We were doing plays together in college. He was getting his Ph.D. and I was getting my undergrad.
You're known for some pretty intense roles. Is that what you look for or is that how people cast you?
No, I think it's what I gravitate towards. Although I want to branch into the romantic comedy genre sometime. I feel like I have a funnybone in me, and a romantic side, so I want to do that too.