Aaron Eckhart channeled spirit of famous coach in new film

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NEW YORK — For actor Aaron Eckhart, 2015 has been something of a landmark year for his career. “I finally am playing real-life people — and I’ve played three of them this year. Along with Coach [Darrell] Royal in ‘My All American,’ I’ve played a trainer and now I’m playing another real-life guy in ‘Miracle on the Hudson.’ ”

The latter is currently filming with Clint Eastwood directing and Tom Hanks portraying airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously landed his US Airways plane on the Hudson River in New York.

He’ll next be seen on the football field in “My All American,” opening Friday. Since Royal died in 2012, Eckhart never had the chance to meet the famous head coach at the University of Texas, who led the Longhorns in the 1960s when talented player Freddie Steinmark lost his battle to bone cancer.

However, if Eckhart could have had the chance to sit down with Royal, he would have liked to talk about the pressure of being a head coach of a team at a major sports-focused university.

“It’s tough to be a taskmaster. It’s tough to expect excellence all the time and to remain firm in your beliefs and what you believe is needed to find the formula for success.”

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Eckhart noted that “Coach Royal was not liked by his players, because he was so tough, but he had the winning recipe. You can’t replace that. It would have been fun to talk to him about that.

“Plus he was a music lover and was best friends with Willie Nelson. He had a very, very interesting life that went far beyond football.”

In the beginning of the film, he is made-up to look like Royal near the end of his life. In other words, Eckhart got a bit of insight into his future.

“First of all, you really get to see how good those makeup people are. I did get a glimpse of what I’m going to look like — and, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s a lot like my dad. … We’ll just have to see if I make that long,” added Eckhart with a sly smile.

In playing Coach Royal, Eckhart said he learned two things he hadn’t thought much about earlier in his life. “I really became aware of the pressure those [head coaches] go through. They’re constantly under pressure from the university, the boosters in town and the alumni and student body. It’s always all about winning, and that’s a constant pressure one has to deal with.”

Eckhart also said he “was really surprised to learn that head coaches generally don’t have really strong personal relationships with their players. They are the teams’ CEOs. They’re kind of like politicians in that they spend so much time raising money and recruiting top players.

“It’s all the specialty coaches — like the offensive line coaches, etc. — who are the guys who get to know the players on a personal level.”

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