Eckhart, Rodriguez star in “Battle: Los Angeles” March 11


Aaron Eckhart stars in Columbia Pictures’ “Battle: Los Angeles.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Amy Cooknick

On Feb. 26, 1942, the Los Angeles Times reported an air raid over Southern California. Still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor two months earlier, the U.S. military opened fire on unidentified aircraft, failing to hit a single one. No nation ever claimed the attack, and the event became one of the nation’s most overlooked unsolved mysteries.

In “Battle: Los Angeles,” invading the big screen March 11, actors Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez portray a modern interpretation of an untold story.

The Daily Kent Stater had the opportunity to talk with Eckhart and Rodriguez during a college conference call last month.

Eckhart plays veteran Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, whose platoon is called to defend Los Angeles, the last of the world’s major cities, from aliens looking to colonize Earth.

“My squad of Marines goes in to rescue some civilians, and we find Michelle (Rodriguez),” Eckhart said. “Her unit has been dispersed and she’s on her own, so she joins ours.“

Rodriguez plays Technical Sergeant Elena Santos. She and Eckhart trained with real Marines for their roles, going to boot camp with them and learning how to use authentic weapons.

“These guys made me run two miles every day for three weeks with about 30 pounds of gear,” Rodriguez said about the trainers. “I hate running. It was gnarly. We also learned how to pick apart an M4 and put it back together with a pen, which was sick.”

Besides the workouts and mock building infiltrations, Eckhart said he and Rodriguez were taught Marine mentality.

“These guys made me run two miles every day for three weeks with about 30 pounds of gear. I hate running. It was gnarly. We also learned how to pick apart an M4 and put it back together with a pen, which was sick.”-Michelle Rodriguez, on training with Marines.

“I learned a lot about the Marines, what it means to be a Marine, what they believe in,” Eckhart said. “I learned the training, the psychology of a Marine, the tactical aspects of warfare. I got in really good shape for it, so I loved all the physical aspects of making the movie, but basically, I was a kid in a candy shop. I just love playing war.”

The intense Marine training and military aspect of the film led Eckhart to call “Battle: Los Angeles” a war movie, rather than an alien movie. He said he got inspiration for his role from films like “Black Hawk Down” more so than alien flicks.

“I felt like this was a war movie that had aliens as their foe,” Eckhart said. “It’s filmed in a documentary style, so it’s very realistic. You’re gonna feel like you’re in the action. It’s got great graphics, you know, that ‘Call of Duty’-style filmmaking, and it’s just a kick-ass story.”

Both Eckhart and Rodriguez praised their crew, trainers and director Jonathan Liebesman. Although Liebesman is new to blockbuster directing, Eckhart said he doesn’t let inexperience show.

“This is a big job and Jonathan, he’s a general out there,” Eckhart said. “This guy knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. He was mature enough and professional enough to allow all of our ideas, to incorporate them, but also to make the movie as he wanted to make. He’s gotta make more films, but he is a very, very capable director who’s gonna have a great career.”

Rodriguez said Liebesman helped her develop her character and step out of her comfort zone as an actor.

“(Liebesman) was really adamant about being different than what I’ve done,” Rodriguez said. “He feels like I’ve established so well this kind of, I’d like to call her a witch-bitch. That’s pretty much what I’ve done with my career, is played those like really hardcore chicks. I mean, it’s what happens when you say, ‘I don’t want to be the girlfriend. I’d like to empower this woman.’ You kind of close yourself into this one little corner of work, and usually, it ends up in the violent field of military or police officer or agents of some sort.”

While Rodriguez was pushing the boundaries of character study, Eckhart was doing the same in his stunt work.

“Three weeks before we wrapped (filming),” Eckhart said. “I did one of my own stunts and fell 7 feet off a rock and landed on my arm and fractured my left arm. But I kept on going and didn’t miss any work, didn’t miss a minute and finished the scene, and I think this scene’s actually in the movie.”

Scenes like that didn’t take much imagination to act because the emotion was already there, Eckhart said. However, fighting aliens becomes more difficult when there aren’t any aliens to fight. In combat scenes with the aliens, Eckhart said he and his fellow actors had to rely on director’s cues and the occasional alien costume to know where they were aiming.

“They had a couple guys running around in costumes out there that we could fire at,” Eckhart said, laughing. “Otherwise, it was a bullhorn in the director’s hands about 2 inches behind our ears, saying ‘They’re there! They’re there! They’re to the left! They’re 30 degrees!’ All that sort of stuff for 12 hours a day.”

Battling aliens all day every day for 13 weeks got the actors thinking about how they would fare personally in a real alien invasion. Rodriguez joked she would hide in a bomb shelter before changing her mind and saying she would like to aid the police in helping others.

“One thing I love about the movie is that it is a family movie. It’s a movie that the mom and the dad and the son and the daughter can all go see. They can all get something out of it and feel like they saw a great, entertaining film together.” – Aaron Eckhart

Eckhart laughed at the idea but said it was something he had thought about often during filming.

“If aliens came down, I would probably go crawl under a rock,” Eckhart said. If something like this happened in reality, it would just be mind numbing. Obviously, you have to fight, you know. If a force from outer space is going to come down and take over your town, you gotta fight for it. Hopefully, you can do the right thing and be heroic and try to save others and save yourself and go back to normal.”

Filming for “Battle: Los Angeles” wrapped in late 2009, and in July 2010, the film received its first major promotion with a 6-minute preview at Comic-Con in San Diego.

For Eckhart, the experience was completely new. He said he had never been to a convention like Comic-Con and didn’t know what to expect.

“Everybody’s dressed up in their favorite costume and getting really into it,” Eckhart said. “I totally dig it because there’s a lot of love that goes into these movies. So when you see people who care as much as you care about the movie, then it’s very gratifying. That people incorporate these movies into their lives, that’s reason enough to make these movies.”

Unlike her co-star, Rodriguez, a self-proclaimed sci-fi and comic book fan, said she knew what she was getting into at Comic-Con.

“That’s my world,” Rodriguez said. “I just love the imagination of the geek. It’s awesome. There’s a way you can really dive into science and try to explain the reality that you’re creating. There’s nothing more intriguing. I love just creating an entire world from scratch. It makes you feel God-like. It’s a human talent that should be exercised every day at all times, in my opinion.”

Rodriguez met success among geeks and other movie fans in 2009 with her portrayal of Trudy Chacon in James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Despite the Marines-meet-aliens theme of both films, Rodriguez said “Avatar” and “Battle: Los Angeles” are entirely different films, with all political undertones left out of this new film.

“You have one with a kind of metaphoric message, and then you have another that’s entertainment,” Rodriguez said. “This one’s for fun. You go for a ride. (In) “Avatar” you go for a ride, but there’s this whole other element to it. You can’t compare the two. To me it’s like apples and oranges.”

Eckhart added that not only is the film pure entertainment, but it’s meant for all audiences to enjoy.

“One thing I love about the movie is that it is a family movie,” Eckhart said. “It’s a movie that the mom and the dad and the son and the daughter can all go see. They can all get something out of it and feel like they saw a great, entertaining film together. When people see this movie, I feel like they will think that we gave 100 percent to this film, that we did everything that we could to make you believe that this was happening to us, and I think that’s our job. I’m proud of that. I love my character, I love the director and I felt like we set out to make a different kind of war movie — a different kind of alien movie — and I think we succeeded.”

Audiences can decide for themselves if Eckhart is right when the battle begins in theaters Friday.

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].