Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight is the ace up director Christopher Nolan’s sleeve. While most of the attention has been focused on the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, moviegoers will find Dent plays an unexpectedly significant and important role in the film, which opens July 18th.
“Harvey has a lot of levels to him,” says Eckhart, who has appeared in such film as Thank You For Smoking, The Black Dahlia, and No Reservations. An upstanding crime fighter and crusading politician, Eckhart says Dent has an especially interesting relationship with both Bruce Wayne and Wayne’s secret alter ego, Batman. “(These are) two crime fighters — one in law, one without the law — so there are a lot of dynamics going on in there.”
There also a lot of dynamics going on within Dent, who romances Wayne’s former love interest, Rachel Dawes, and eventually succumbs to his dark side as the scarred, demented villain Two-Face. Eckhart says he enjoyed giving depth to Dent as both a crime fighter and a politician in order to make his tragic fate all the more affecting. “You had to be slick but on the other hand you had to have a lot of heart — and Harvey had a lot of heart,” he says. “I thought it was good because then when he’s Two-Face you can empathize with him. I thought that was important and fun to play.”
While Eckhart says he thinks fans expect to see Dent become Two-Face, the actor says he prefers to keep it a mystery how the effect was achieved. “I don’t want (the audience) to know if it’s makeup or CGI, so I’m not saying anything,” he says. The final result works, he says, because it retained some subtlety. “It wasn’t over the top and I appreciate that.”
Two-Face previously was played by Tommy Lee Jones in 1995’s campy Batman Forever. Eckhart says The Dark Knight version is a completely different character, thanks to the more realistic tone set by director Christopher Nolan. “If you look at the Batmans, you can really tell which director directed it,” he says. “Chris has really brought an excitement to Batman and a reality to it.”
Eckhart says his biggest challenge was finding the right tone for his character. With both Joker and Two-Face appearing in the film, he relied on Nolan’s instincts to keep his performance from going too far over the top. “With your face half ripped off, you can do a lot of funny things,” Eckhart says. “You can do slurping, that was brought up. But Chris said no, play it right down the middle.”
While he was a fan of the Batman TV show as a child, Eckhart says he didn’t refer much to the comic books in preparing for the role, though there were discussions of how dedicated the film should be to replicating Two-Face’s appearance in the comics. “One time, we were discussing if we were going to split the suit in half or not,” he says. “So everything was explored.”
Eckhart says his scenes with Ledger, who died in an accidental prescription drug overdose in January, were few but exciting because of their importance to the film. On the last scene they worked on together, Eckhart says Ledger impressively stayed in character to maintain his performance through a long day’s shoot.
“He did what he needed to do to keep the Joker alive, by talking to himself and other things an actor does,” says Eckhart, who next stars with Jennifer Aniston in the romantic comedy Traveling, and then in the Alan Ball drama Towelhead. “Whenever I’ve done that, the crew thought I was crazy, but I felt like the crew was so with Heath. Everybody was. Everyone was watching him as a fan. He was electrifying the room all the time.”