Director Bruce Robinson said that if Aaron Eckhart hadn't agreed to play ambitious real-estate developer Sanderson in 'The Rum Diary,' "we'd still be casting." In the movie, lots of rum is swilled and cigars are smoked. Turns out Eckhart only indulges in one of those vices in real life: "I got addicted to cigars while making this movie," he admitted to Moviefone. Interestingly, he was one of the few who wasn't lighting up at the movie's press conference, where Johnny Depp smoked five hand-rolled cigarettes in quick succession, moderator Elvis Mitchell sucked on a huge stogie and Robinson smoked and drank a beer. By comparison, Eckhart says things were pretty tame on the Puerto Rican set.
Your character has a very nice spread on the beach in this movie.
We filmed it in the beach in Puerto Rico, which is great because that's where it actually takes place. Often these days, you go somewhere like Eastern Europe and that'll double for New York or Los Angeles or whatever. It's nice to go to a place because the story takes place there.
Did it seem like a lot of Puerto Rico is unchanged since Hunter S. Thompson was there?
You could go both ways. When you go inland, you can certainly say that. We were in San Juan. On my days off, I would drive my car and go surfing and just randomly go through towns. You wouldn't know that those places had been inhabited. On the other hand, you'd be driving along and you'd see this huge corporation and you'd be like, "What is that?" Out in the middle of nowhere, IBM has set up this huge place and it has its own runway and all the locals work at IBM. It's sort of a surprising little island because it has the American influence and it has the indigenous and they have a little war going on there between the two.
And in this you play an evil developer.
Yes, I'm an evil developer. [Laughs] And they're getting their own way. I think Puerto Rico's being... of course I don't know what it was like before, but you see sand and water and blue sky and they're trying to get some tourists over there. It's sort of the polar opposite of what Johnny's doing. It's like oil and water. I find it interesting that he has a problem with my corruptedness and my coercion, but he has no problem stealing my woman. [Bursts out laughing]
So who's less principled?
Right, it's like, 'So much for your morality!' There's a little hypocrisy there.
What's it like making a movie with Johnny?
I didn't know him before this. I got a call and went and met Bruce and I think that they had seen some of Sanderson in some of my other movies. So I was happy to go along and work with them.
Did the set ever get as crazy as anything in the movie?
No, Johnny and Bruce kept a really cool, even set. But everyone had worked for Johnny for like 10 years. He brings the same guys on, makeup, crew. Everybody was totally indebted to Johnny. They're saying things like, 'Johnny put my kids through school,' serious stuff. The first day we came on, Johnny was like, ' Hey John, how's Betty? How's the kid?' I started feeling bad about myself that I didn't know who everyone was, but then I realized that they've all done six movies or so with Johnny.
Is this a goal of yours, to have your own crew now?
God, I'd love to, because you have to go to sets sometimes that are in these desolate places. It would be so nice to make movies with people you know. Clint Eastwood does it, Johnny does it. It's just not feasible in this day and age unless you're number one.
Did you hang out much with him?
We hung out during filming. We had a lot of good laughs. I enjoy Johnny's company. No, I don't hang out too much afterward and I get the feeling that he doesn't either. It's sort of awkward when that happens. For me, I'd rather just go home and lead a normal life, because the expectations are that you're all there just for work. But I've always been a solitary kind of dude.
So do you have a favorite rum drink?
Well, when I drank, I would drink rum and anything you wanted to pour. I always liked ... before I said Piña Colada, but I got in trouble for that. They thought it was too fruity. They wanted me to say Cuba Libre. What's the drink with the mint?
Yeah, I've had one of those before. Those are good.
You don't drink anymore?
No, it's been eight or nine years.
Good for you, that's great.
But I did start smoking cigars during this movie. I started smoking them for this movie and I haven't stopped. I've been smoking cigars every day.
Do you plan to quit? Or does it fit it any of your upcoming roles?
I play Frankenstein next, so maybe Frankenstein will have a cigar through his throat [like the classic neck bolt that Karloff had], and I won't even have to inhale. That'll be hot. [Laughs.]
Read our exclusive interview with Eckhart about his role in 'I, Frankenstein.'
[Photo: Film District]
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