Aaron Eckhart on BYU and Mormonism
by Christian Y. Cardall
Required to be in the car around midday, I had the good fortune to notice two Mormon connections on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air. Audio available here.
(Image: Katie Holmes as a reporter, left, and Aaron Eckhart as super-lobbyist Nick Naylor in the upcoming Thank You for Smoking.)
The first half hour was an interview BYU alumnus Aaron Eckhart, who has been in a number of films, including four directed and/or written by fellow BYU alumnus Neil LaBute. LaBute was a graduate student in, what, I guess Theater and Film or whatever they would call it, and Eckhart was an undergrad in the same department. I’m a fan of Eckhart’s; his relatively brief performance in LaBute’s Nurse Betty was particularly riotous.
(I also like LaBute’s work, though I’m not sure how to read his In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, both of which he wrote as well as directed. The two films explore similar dark and twisted emotional territory, with the emotional sociopath ending up with the sweet girl in both cases. What I can’t tell is whether these are intended as tragedies/dark comedies, intended as cathartic depictions of unusual pathological cases; or as realistic depictions of the typical state of human relations. The title Your Friends and Neighbors seems to suggest the latter, but if so I have a bit of a hard time relating to it. But then, I often find depictions of human interactions in literature or movies unrealistic or unconvincing—“What is this? People aren’t that petty and mean in real life,” I often find myself thinking. Perhaps I have simply lived a sheltered existence.)
Anyway, in today’s interview (occasioned by his new film Thank You for Smoking), there is some discussion of how LaBute’s work didn’t fit in well at BYU, how they were locked out of the theater and had performances cancelled, how they did single unauthorized performances at like 8am, how he took a film ethics class from LaBute, how neither he nor LaBute—the department’s two most famous alumni, at least before Napoleon Dynamite came along—have ever been invited back. He did express warm feelings towards his Mormon upbringing, saying that it taught him certain values he appreciates, and something along the lines of ‘once a Mormon, always a Mormon, something that’s always a part of you that you can’t get away from’ and so on. Oh, and sisters, he said he’s 38 and childless, and joked about not getting too old to have children (whether or not he’s single did not come up).
The second half hour had an interview with journalist Elizabeth Weil, who recently wrote about the issue of ‘wrongful birth’ in The New York Times Magazine. Weil spoke of spontaneously answering her daughter’s question about where she was before birth with an answer like, ‘floating up in the sky,’ together with her sister—which seemed to be a great comfort to her daughter, but it was also an answer that distressed Weil in connection with her abortion of a fetus expected to have severe disabilities. Anyway, I found it interesting that the notion that a pre-mortal life may be as naturally imagined and desired as a post-mortal life, and I wondered why it doesn’t come up more often.