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Finding a monster’s soul

Eckhart in “I, Frankenstein.”
Eckhart in “I, Frankenstein.”

For Eckhart, ‘I, Frankenstein’ is a human exploration

Aaron Eckhart has some advice for monster movie and Mary Shelley purists who might quibble with “I, Frankenstein,” his futuristic movie version that features Eckhart as the monster 100 years in the future.

“Get on Twitter,” he chuckles, suggesting the best place to complain. “They already ARE! Believe me.”

None of that 19th-century piecing together of human body parts, harnessing of lightning and jolting a creature to life in this “Frankenstein.” The monster in “I, Frankenstein” is 200 years old and called “Adam.” He’s survived into a future dystopia where he gets caught up in demon-gargoyle wars.

Sure, it’s a genre picture, Eckhart laughs.

“It’s a monster movie with a human soul. Fans of this genre may care about that, but a lot of people just don’t. They care about the action, the effects. If I’m selling this movie on a tweet, it’s ‘Man in search of his purpose.’ “

Eckhart found that something he could relate to. At 45, he’s never broken out as a headliner. His screen presence is formidable, thanks to a deep voice, soulful eyes and a face Seattle Times critic Moira MacDonald once said “looks as if a computer designed it. … His jaw is absurdly square, his nose long and aristocratic.” He broke into movies with the help of playwright-director friend Neil LaBute (“In the Company of Men”) and has had scattered success in the 15 years since.

Supporting roles in blockbusters from “Erin Brockovich” to “The Dark Knight” films (as Harvey “Two-Face” Dent) and leads in more daring fare such as “Thank You for Smoking,” “Towelhead” and “Rabbit Hole” have never added up to an escape from B-movies or actioners (“Olympus Has Fallen”).

He’s serious enough to work out a back story to his character, even if that character is as iconic as Frankenstein’s monster.

“He’s been rejected by his father and has to work out his place in the world. He’s a survivalist, made that way by being cast out. … He basically learned from the animals. In Mary Shelley’s novel, he’s always on the edge of society, on the periphery looking in. In our movie, he’s had 200 years of learning and gaining skills and becoming articulate. I needed to delve into Mary Shelley’s version of him, figure out why she created him. What does she want to say? Is that still relevant today? It is. This is an archetypal man’s journey through life asking himself those same questions every man must ask – ‘Where did I come from, why am I here and where am I going?’

Eckhart is one of those character actors who turns up in several films a year, most years. And “I’m making a lot more movies in 2014. Hey, it’s not like I love to work or anything. I just can’t afford not to.”

If he’s forced to find a connection, a through-line to a career that takes him from cynical villains (“The Rum Diary”) to stoic soldiers (“Battle Los Angeles”), sad-eyed romantics (“Love Happens,” “Rabbit Hole”) to characters with a message (“Towelhead”), it is this – a shared humanity.

“If I’m going to go to all the trouble of making the movie and you’re going to go see it, is there a lesson to be learned from the film about how you can become a better person?

“Movies are about entertaining, first of all, the fantasy that we lose ourselves in. But they’re also about storytelling and growing. So I look for the humanity in the character, the lessons we can learn from his journey.”