This Frankenstein monster is a Filipino martial arts expert
LOS ANGELES—What do you know—in his latest incarnation, Frankenstein’s monster is an expert in kali, the Filipino martial arts that uses rattan sticks as weapons. “I didn’t know anything about kali,” admitted Aaron Eckhart who plays Adam, the present-day creature in “I, Frankenstein,” directed by Stuart Beattie.
“I never heard of it before. Stuart is a martial artist. At one point in his martial arts exploits, he trained with kali sticks. He said, “That would be great to put in a movie one day because of its sound, and how fast the sticks are.’”
Six months before he reported on the set of “I, Frankenstein,” Aaron underwent crash kali training with martial artists Ron Balicki and his wife, Diana Lee Inosanto, daughter of Dan Inosanto, renowned Filipino martial arts instructor.
Aaron, memorable as Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight,” Nick Naylor in “Thank You for Smoking” and George in “Erin Brockovich,” said, “When I read the script, I looked at all the emotional content—Adam is rejected by his father, he’s cast out, called names, unloved—and that’s what I gravitate toward as an actor because I can grab onto that.”
Flashing a smile, Aaron added, “Then afterward, you go, so what’s this stick stuff? So I went from one day, knowing nothing about kali, to meeting and being taught by Ron and Diana Balicki. Diana’s father trained Bruce Lee throughout his career. Ron goes over to the Philippines. He also does knife fighting, which is crazy. I learned the whole art of it and I did it for six months.”
“Every day, for three hours, we trained,” he said of learning from the Balickis, who also act and perform stunts. (Diana also directed a film, “The Sensei.”) “Then I went to my trainer to get in shape, run and do all the weights. Because this incarnation of Frankenstein is much more active, dynamic. He’s a fighter. I really got in good shape.”
On what he learned about kali (which also uses knives), Aaron said, “The key to this whole fighting thing is not only where to hit the sticks and how to defend yourself but it’s how to turn and take on multiple opponents at the same time, which is a lifelong pursuit if you really want to become good at it. It is very beautiful and effective.”
As Frankenstein’s creature, Aaron’s character is caught in the age-old battle between angels and demons in the adaptation of Kevin Grevioux’s graphic novel of the same name. Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto and Yvonne Strahovski costar.
Aaron, who said he believes in angels, explained why Frankenstein’s monster finally has a name. “Stuart is a religious man. This movie is full of religious references. The name (Adam) denotes the first man as in Genesis. He was named by Queen Leonore and she is the representative of good, or God, on earth.”
“This was the hardest movie I ever made physically because I did all the fighting and the stunts myself,” Aaron pointed out. “There were just a few falling stunts that I didn’t do.”
On whether there were accidents, Aaron answered, “We hit each other all the time. It was very dangerous because if you are off [by a few inches], if somebody can’t remember the dance, then you could get hit in the face. I got hit in the back of my neck one time. I thought I had broken it. I fell to the ground, knocked unconscious. They were like, ‘Okay, take two.’”
Will Aaron continue to practice kali? “Yeah, I would definitely,” he remarked. “I have sticks in my house.” Breaking into a chuckle, he quipped, “I have them strategically placed throughout my house so if anybody comes over…”
“It’s interesting because you have to learn physical skills from movies,” Aaron said. “What you learn—mixed martial arts, boxing or kali, it’s all the same footwork—it comes in handy. So I always say to young actors, ‘You should know how to ride a horse, shoot a gun and play poker.’
“My fourth thing now is, ‘You have to throw a punch.’ Because so often in movies, you have to fight. And young actors, in general, don’t know how to throw a punch… I am so grateful that when I was doing ‘Erin Brockovich,’ I decided to start boxing. I have been boxing since then. It has helped me immeasurably in kali fighting or whatever.”
Still on “Erin Brockovich,” which marks its 14th year since it was released to acclaim, Aaron shared his memories: “The first thing that comes to my mind is my beard and the babies because when I was doing ‘Erin Brockovich,’ they were afraid to give me the twin babies because of the way I looked. One baby would sleep while the other worked. I said, ‘Give me the baby.’ The baby was asleep on my shoulders for three or four hours that whole time and never made a sound. It was the most beautiful baby.”
He added, “I remember somebody trying to talk me out of doing that movie. I asked, ‘What do you think about this ‘Erin Brockovich’ with Julia Roberts?’ They said, ‘I would never do it.’ I am glad I did the movie because it was a big movie in my life.”
At 45, Aaron candidly assessed his career: “It’s been hit and miss. I am still trying to figure it all out. I am trying to find my place, continually searching. There are some actors who have found their niche, what they are supposed to do in Hollywood and their type of movie. I have never found it. Maybe one day, I will find it. Or maybe, I will never find it. So my career is like going fishing, every single time. I still haven’t found what I am looking for.” Cue the U2 song to that last line, Aaron.
(E-mail the columnist at email@example.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.)
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