Unlike most actors who bemoan life in the limelight, Aaron Eckhart yearns for more. The actors talks to Susan Griffin about his timely new blockbuster and what it may mean for his career.
If rumours are true then Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator who's currently threatening America with talk of a nuclear attack, is a bit of a film buff.
It would be interesting to know what he makes of the new movie Olympus Has Fallen, a big-budget action piece in which North Korean terrorists tear down the White House and take the President and his staff hostage before Gerard Butler's Secret Service agent steps in to save the day.
Bizarrely the North Korean propaganda trailer released on YouTube shows the White House being blown up and is eerily similar to the movie trailer.
"We have a big Hollywood machine," grins Aaron Eckhart, who plays the handsome President Benjamin Asher in Olympus Has Fallen.
"It's a little weird but on the other hand who do you pick for the bad guy these days?" shrugs the dimpled Eckhart in his jeans, leather jacket and a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck.
"Hollywood's no longer an American event," he explains. "These movies are funded by India, China, Russia, Venezuela - and one of their stipulations is, 'We're good guys'."
He expects to experience this sentiment first-hand before long. After 20 years in the business, the 45-year-old is preparing to produce his first movie in Colombia.
Based on Stuart Woods's novel White Cargo, the film depicts a father "who has to go into hell and get his daughter back", and Eckhart and his team are hoping for funding from the troubled country.
"We'll see what they say about us going in and just trashing [them]," says Eckhart.
As with White Cargo, 2012's The Expatriate and now Olympus Has Fallen, the actor appears keen to explore the father-child relationship. "I'm becoming an old man with no children," says Eckhart, who's not married, laughing.
He'd like to think Olympus Has Fallen differs from other action movies in that "there's a lot of heart in the movie".
But if it's true that movies are a mirror of our times, then what statement is Olympus Has Fallen, and White House Down, another film soon to be released, making?
According to insiders who worked on the film, a direct attack on the presidential manor isn't a matter of if but when.
As Eckhart puts it: "Before, the White House was sort of off limits. After 9/11, it's on the table now.
"But then this movie is about the unseen heroes behind the President who keep us safe."
Having starred in the likes of alien epic Battle: Los Angeles and Chris Nolan's Batman reboot The Dark Knight, it didn't take Eckhart long to agree to sign up.
He loves a good action movie, and he also respects the director Antoine Fuqua, who led Denzel Washington to Oscar glory in 2001's Training Day. "He's a deft filmmaker," says Eckhart. "He really pushes actors and content."
While Olympus Has Fallen is a good old action yarn with plenty of explosions and a seemingly indestructible hero with talent for one-liners, don't expect any damsels in distress.
The women are just as brutal, tough and deft as the men. Take Oscar nominee Angela Basset's tough-talking Head of the Secret Service or the Oscar-winning Melissa Leo, who plays the Secretary of Defence and is fearless even when taking a pummelling from the terrorists.
"She's very tough, noble and takes no bull," says Eckhart of Leo. "When I'm working with actors like that I just say, 'God bless' because that's what it's all about."
As two of those taken hostage by the terrorists, he and Leo spent almost three weeks of filming chained to a rail.
"Gerry's doing his thing, running around and trying to save us and the movie is so exciting and energetic that our job was to counter-balance that," says Eckhart.
"But it was an acting challenge to be tied to a rail and try and keep energy up and try and keep it real.
"I couldn't feel my arms for three weeks but it all works for what we had to do I guess," he adds, grinning.
Despite a cold, Eckhart is on good form and the Californian-born actor admits he loves coming to the UK, especially London, where he lived with his family when he was 13.
"I learned to drive here and used to go surfing in Cornwall," he says. It was at his school in Cobham, Surrey, where his interest in acting was sparked after starring in a production of Charlie Brown.
He later moved to Sydney and travelled to Hawaii where he enrolled on a film course before transferring to Utah University, where he met the writer and director Neil LaBute.
In the early Nineties, Eckhart subsidised TV stints with bar and building work. Then in 1997 La Bute offered him a role in the big screen adaptation of his play In The Company Of Men.
The film, along with Eckhart's depiction of a merciless white-collar worker who seduces a deaf woman only to dump her, earned critical success.
In 2000 he was cast alongside Julia Roberts in the box office smash Erin Brockovich, followed by Sean Penn's The Pledge with Jack Nicholson.
He was ready to reunite with Penn on another movie and then 9/11 happened. "I basically called Sean and said, 'Sorry, can't do it'. I thought the world was going to hell and I needed some dough so went and did The Core."
It bombed critically and financially, and Eckhart says with candour: "I wish I was smarter and had a better idea about what the future was going to bring and what was going to be popular."
The film he says he's "most appreciated for" is 2006's Thank You For Smoking in which he played a tobacco lobbyist.
"People just can't help but smile. They love [my character] Nick Naylor, the audacity, his Machiavellian spirit. I think I'm best at doing those kinds of roles where a guy is moving forward like a shark and he leaves all the debris behind him and he doesn't apologise."
The role earned him a Golden Globe nomination and there has never been any doubt that his peers rate his talent.
The problem is he isn't the household name he deserves to be. "That stuff [fame] sounds like a distraction but it's kind of like the stuff that allows people to put down 10 million dollars, 20 million dollars [to make a movie]," says Eckhart, who makes no secret of the fact that he wants to direct and is actively looking for the right project.
"I'm not so keen on working for other people's point of view and vision any more. I want to do my own thing and be responsible for my own performance.
"I have a saying: 'I can make a bad movie as good as anyone', so that's what I'm going to go do."
He's decided it will be a small project - "a very human movie about relationships". He adds: "I'm less concerned about green screens and aliens and more concerned about real, raw human emotions."
Unlike the Secret Service agents depicted in Olympus Has Fallen, he's not putting his life on the line, but he agrees with their belief that 'almost' doesn't exist. It's either 100% success or 100% failure.
"When you strive to be the best and hone your craft and have respect for your craft, you want to do your best," he says.
"I try and have an acting experience every time I do a movie but sometimes people are like, 'Dude, it's an alien movie'," he says referencing Battle: Los Angeles.
"It felt like it was life and death for me. When someone dies in a movie, they die, whether it's an independent movie or a blockbuster and I have a responsibility as an actor to the audience to give everything I have."
Extra time - Aaron Eckhart :: Aaron Eckhart was born in California on March 12, 1968.
:: In 2006 he was voted one of People magazine's most beautiful people.
:: Eckhart recently starred alongside Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary.
:: He next appears in I, Frankenstein, a modern tale of Frankenstein searching for his soul, love "and kicking ass at the same time".
:: Christopher Nolan reportedly cast him as Harvey Dent/Two Face following his duplicitous roles in Thank You For Smoking and In The Company Of Men.
:: Olympus Has Fallen is released in cinemas on Wednesday, April 17