Edgy, smedgy–Eckhart just wants you to laugh

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      NEW YORK CITY–Aaron Eckhart never sought movie stardom. In fact, looking back at the roles he took in Neil LaBute's early films, one would expect him to have had a short shelf life. He started acting at Brigham Young University in fellow Mormon LaBute's college plays. When his classmate moved into films, Eckhart followed. LaBute hired him to play an unrepentant misogynist named Chad in In the Company of Men, and then gave him roles as a promiscuous married man in Your Friends and Neighbors and as a wife beater in Nurse Betty. Eckhart managed to survive those controversial roles, but his mainstream break, the action film The Core, proved to be a box-office disaster and his career appeared to be stalled.

      He turned things around last year with the low-budget critical hit Thank You for Smoking. Director Scott Hicks saw the movie and decided to cast him in No Reservations. The film, which opens Friday (July 27), has Eckhart playing a Manhattan sous chef who goes to work for a chef (Catherine Zeta-Jones) with a reputation for being difficult.

      In a New York hotel room, Eckhart says that although he had fun making the movie, he is not convinced that the romantic comedy will help him escape the stereotyping of his earlier roles.

      "There were a lot of times on this film where it didn't feel like working. You just go there and you do your thing and you make people laugh and cook some food. That is why I liked this script and wanted to do the movie. It was also because I know that [this role] is not how I am perceived as an actor. But I would just like to go to work and try to make people happy as opposed to [playing a character who is] backstabbing someone. Whether this film will take off the edge, I'm not sure, because it seems like I can't get away from Chad or things like that."

      Eckhart says that he is not unhappy to have played questionable characters during his early years in film, but he would say no if a similar role were offered to him now.

      "I was just talking to Gary Oldman about this. I said, 'Gary, would you do Sid and Nancy now?' And he said, 'No, because I don't want to climb that mountain right now.' As I get older, I would just like to make people laugh and feel good when they come out of the theatre. When people came out of Thank You for Smoking and were smiling, it made such an impact on me. This film is a family film that deals with issues of mourning, loss, love, food, happiness, and laughter. I am happy to be a part of that, and I hope to be a part of it so much more. If I am offered a romantic comedy or whatever it is, it doesn't matter. As long as it makes people laugh, then I am in. And that is how I have changed in my life."