From Neil LaBute mainstay to romantic lead and brainy action hero, versatile screen presence Aaron Eckhart has the talent to convincingly portray everything from the most despicable misogynist to affable love interests with equal zeal. How many other actors could purposefully and gleefully crush the soul of an innocent deaf woman before successfully charming one of the '90s most notable onscreen feminists with equal conviction? Born to a computer executive father and a mother who wrote children's books in Santa Clara County, CA, Eckhart spent most of his childhood in Cupertino before moving with his family to England and Australia in his teens. Although he dropped out of high school before graduation, Eckhart eventually earned his equivalency before taking a few years off to hit the waves in Hawaii and the slopes in France. He later attended Brigham Young University as a film major, and it was there that he made the acquaintance of a young, aspiring director named Neil LaBute. Eckhart eventually moved to Manhattan and found himself swimming in a virtual sea of unemployed actors, though he did land a few notable commercial parts before returning to L.A., where he worked in a series of small supporting roles.
He had done well enough on his own to this point, but it was only under the direction of his old college friend that he truly broke out of the mold and crafted one of the most despised cinematic characterizations of the decade. Cast in the lead of LaBute's pitch-black debut In the Company of Men, Eckhart's performance of a woman-hating, low-level executive was a cruel, but three-dimensional, villain that both repelled and fascinated moviegoers. After sticking with LaBute and gaining 30 pounds for the role of a sexually frustrated husband in LaBute's follow-up, Your Friends & Neighbors, Eckhart branched out in 1999 with a pair of memorable and entirely unexpected performances: Molly and Any Given Sunday. Cast as a caring brother of an autistic sibling in the former and a gridiron giant in the latter, his versatility began to attract casting agents. By the time he romanced Julia Roberts' eponymous character in Steven Soderbergh's acclaimed drama Erin Brockovich, Eckhart had become one to watch. He re-teamed with LaBute for Nurse Betty and Possession, but by this point, the rising star was gaining quite a reputation on his own. In 2001, Sean Penn tapped him to appear opposite Jack Nicholson in the searing drama The Pledge, and soon Eckhart was plunging headfirst into the center of the Earth alongside Oscar-winner Hilary Swank in the big-budget summer disaster flick The Core. By this time, the actor had truly established himself as a diverse talent capable of donning many hats, and following his role in Ron Howard's brutal thriller The Missing, the action flew fast and furious in John Woo's Paycheck. Eckhart next appeared in Suspect Zero (2004), which was experimental filmmaker E. Elias Merhige's eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2000's acclaimed Shadow of the Vampire.