Aaron Eckhart has always been a chameleon. Not many actors can go from playing a brawny, bearded biker in Erin Brockovich to Gotham super villain Two-Face so seamlessly.
So when his role as real-life boxing trainer Kevin Rooney in Bleed for This called for him to gain 40 pounds and shave his head, the actor didn’t hesitate. “It’s definitely more of a challenge to play an actual person because they are, in some ways, going to be defined by it for the rest of their lives,” says Eckhart. “It’s your responsibility as an actor to get as close to the real thing as you possibly can.”
To play Rooney, that meant Eckhart had to swap his usual arugula salads for pizza—and lots of it. “It was hard to gain the weight, especially because I’m usually really active,” he says. “About three months before the film, I completely stopped working out. I also changed my diet and started eating tons of pizza. Gaining 40 pounds really changes your headspace. It helped me get to the place I needed to be to play a character that is a drinker, a gambler, and generally down on his luck.”
The film itself is based on the true story of World Champion boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), who mounts one of greatest comebacks in sports, just 13 months after a head-on car crash leaves him with a broken neck. As Pazienza’s trainer, Rooney becomes the force behind a recovery that many thought wasn’t possible. “Both of these guys have been on top and have taken a fall,” says Eckhart. “But they are able to come together and support each other. And they never give up. This movie is about scratching and crawling your way back to the top. You can have as many chances as you have the imagination for.“
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Though this is Eckhart’s first boxing film, it was his role in another real-life drama that helped trigger his passion for the sport. “I’ve loved to box ever since I was in Erin Brockovich,” he says. “I started boxing in 1999 to get in shape for that character and now I do it almost every single day, in one form or another. I figure you don’t learn anything from just going to a regular gym, so why not learn a skill at the same time.”
The other thing that attracted him to the project? Working with Teller, whom he also shared the screen with in 2011’s Rabbit Hole. “Back then, Miles was just out of school and now he’s a seasoned professional,” says Eckhart. “It’s been great to see how his process has changed and his evolution as an actor.”
Bleed for This is in theaters starting today, Nov. 18.
Watch the trailer above.