BEVERLY HILLS — With all the attention surrounding the late Heath Ledger's chilling portrayal of The Joker in "The Dark Knight", Batman's other psychotic nemesis, Harvey "Two Face" Dent, gets a bit lost in the film's Joker-heavy deck.
But there is no ignoring actor Aaron Eckhart's face time in the film — he has two, after all. One good. One very nasty.
For crime-fighting prosecutor Dent, Eckhart's hair was lightened and styled with a blow dryer to make the 40-year-old appear even more Ken-dollish.
"I kept on thinking about the Kennedys," Eckhart says of his characterization. Particularly Robert Kennedy Jr., who was similarly "idealistic, held a grudge and took on the Mob."
Dent doesn't get killed, but does end up lying in acid until half his face is burned away. The look he is left with is far more grisly and realistic than the comically colorful Two Face portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in 1995's Batman Forever. No pink hair. No split designer suit, though Eckhart says, "There was a great debate over whether or not to do the suit."
Ultimately, he and director Christopher Nolan decided on a half-burned suit with no flashy colors. "You have to give the audience what they know, but it's still very real," Eckhart says.
Nolan commissioned a prosthetic cock-eyed mask and employed CGI to create Two Face's grotesque tendon-exposing grin, but Eckhart's significant contribution in achieving the look is verified when he effortlessly distorts the left side of his smile into a macabre grimace.
(Warner Bros. is not yet ready to release photos of Eckhart as Two Face.)
Eckhart says Nolan instructed him not "to make Two Face jokey with slurping sounds or ticks. He said, 'You just act, and I'll take care of the face for you.' "
Eckhart showed his appreciation by spooking Nolan's children when they visited the set. "It was like Halloween for them," he says.
Co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal, who takes over from "Batman Begins'" Katie Holmes as Batman's love interest Rachel Dawes, says Eckhart is "dashing and smart" with a "loose" acting style that's similar to hers. "Harvey has so much to say about political ethics in Gotham, and Aaron put emotion and desire behind everything he said," Gyllenhaal says. "He made that all believable."
Eckhart is pretty new to the blockbuster world, as much of his career has been spent in low-budget art-house productions.
His next film, for instance, is "Towelhead", opening Sept. 12. It's the story of a 13-year-old Iranian girl's sexual awakening in America. Eckhart plays the girl's next-door neighbor — and lover. He says he never would have accepted the role had he not had confidence in director Alan Ball's (Six Feet Under) commitment to handle the potentially scandalous parts with sensitivity.
Such roles tend to get Eckhart more recognition in award competitions than in the pages of Us Weekly. The photography buff far prefers taking photos to appearing in them. Still, the U.K.'s Daily Mail had him involved with Catherine Zeta-Jones on the set of their 2007 romantic comedy "No Reservations". And more recently the Daily Mail reported he had taken up with Jennifer Aniston, his co-star in the upcoming "Traveling". (Neither one true, he says.)
In the "romantic dramedy," Eckhart plays a grief counselor who, upon his wife's death, tours the country giving seminars. He and Aniston meet and fall in love — but only on-screen.
"I was so happy when she agreed to do the movie," he says. "I can see why she is who she is."
And why "she gets mobbed all the time. One of these days I might make a move and date someone famous — just to see what it's like."
Contributing: Donna Freydkin