- Associated Press - Monday, November 1, 2010

ROME (AP) - Aaron Eckhart, who plays a father in mourning in the drama “Rabbit Hole” opposite Nicole Kidman, said Monday he prepared for the movie by going to a “harrowing” session of a grief group, but turned to the Internet to avoid intruding on others’ private pain.

Eckhart said he can’t even pretend to come close to the feeling of someone who has lost a child, as his character experiences in the film, but he and Kidman tried to show how a couple can be intimate but unable to communicate with each other at that point in their relationship.

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, “Rabbit Hole” looks at how each of the parents copes with the loss of their 4-year-old son and what impact it has on them as a couple. Eckhart’s Howie holds on to reminders of his son; Kidman’s Becca tries to throw them away and seeks to sell their house.

“I don’t pretend to even come close to that feeling,” Eckhart told The Associated Press at the Rome Film Festival, where the movie was presented. “As an actor if you haven’t experienced it first hand, then you make substitutions.”

One day Eckhart went to a grief group _ as his character does in the movie _ under the pretext that he was a grieving parent. He said he found that “harrowing and somewhat unethical” and didn’t go back. Instead, he watched video blogs posted by people after suffering a loss.

“They are very intense and very heart-wrenching,” he told a press conference in Rome. “It’s easy to be an actor after you’ve watched those video blogs because the pain just permeates them.”

Filming was intense, he said, and at one point some of the cast was sharing a house in Long Island to get to know each other. On set, the actors tried to keep the tone light, but still “there were times we were all crying all during the day.”

The 42-year-old actor also spoke of his relationship with Kidman, who produced the movie, and of the main challenge he faced in the role.

In the movie, the two characters are grieving at different paces and are unable to connect emotionally or sexually. They seek connection with other people _ Becca with the boy who killed her son in a car accident; Howie with a fellow parent who attends his grief group.

“What I wanted to achieve in this movie with Nicole was the intimacy _ a relationship over 10-20 years, having the physical and emotional intimacy and yet not being able to connect with each other,” Eckhart said. “On a daily basis, that was the challenge.”

“Rabbit Hole” also stars Dianne Wiest as Kidman’s mother and Sandra Oh of “Grey’s Anatomy” as the grieving parent in Eckhart’s group.

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