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In Depth

People In Film | Eric Bana

Eric Bana | A Hero for Modern Times

In John Crowley’s CLOSED CIRCUIT, Eric Bana plays Martin Rose, a London attorney attached to a knotty political trial which is being watched carefully by both the media and that powers that be. The film, which was inspired by the vast changes being made to the judiciary system in the wake of the government’s ongoing war on terror, was at once a legal thriller and an engaging testament to the times we live in. For the leads, the filmmakers needed actors who were not only smart and assertive enough to appear credible as high-powered English professionals, but also performers with enough emotional range to take the audience on the long complex journey from feeling in control to finding themselves at sea in a brave new world of government secrets and police surveillance. For Bana, it was this topicality that drew him to the project: “The story we’re telling is extremely relevant now, to how much we’re watched and how much information is being controlled, and to the reduced lack of privacy in society in general.” For the filmmakers, it was Bana’s complexity that drew them to him. “Eric is playing a man who is king of his game; at the start of the film, he is cocky,” explains producer Tim Bevan. “But then two things happen: the ‘powers at play’ of the establishments and institutions start to bear down on him, and the woman he has feelings for becomes mortally endangered. I knew Eric could deliver the highly calibrated performance we needed, as it has to be credible how the character develops doubts and undergoes a 180-degree turn.”

Eric Bana | From Odd Man Out to Odd Man on Screen

Born in Australia as Eric Banadinović, Bana’s Croatian roots helped form his perspective and his sense of self. He remembers being taunted as a foreigner when he was a child growing up outside of Melbourne. But he quickly learned to use humor to deflect others and define himself. “I suddenly realised the currency of mimicry,” he told The Observer, “and it helped me survive in that environment. I was the thinking person's clown.” From joking around as a barman at Melbourne's Castle Hotel, Bana started getting stand-up gigs. After a few television jobs, Bana won a spot on the local sketch comedy show Full Frontal, a job that within three years earned him his own TV show The Eric Bana Show.  While short lived, the show further raised his media presence, landing him a part in his first feature film, The Castle (1997). His slow rise to success, however, got a huge push in 2000 when he was picked to play the most unlikely of characters.

Eric Bana | From Comic to Chopper

In 1999, first-time director Andrew Dominik conducted an expansive search to find the actor to play Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, a violent, notorious criminal whose life was the focus of his feature Chopper. While Dominik was intrigued by the idea of casting Bana, who’d previously only been known as a comic, the real push came from Chopper himself. Bana later recounted, “He thought I had the necessary level of insanity.” Indeed Bana’s bravura performance, teetering right on the edge between terrifying and comic, won him raves from the man who could have been his toughest––if not most violent––critic. Chopper later explaned, “there were parts where Eric Bana imitated me so accurately I swear I thought I’d stepped in front of the camera and started doing the scene myself.” It was indeed the performance that convinced Ridley Scott to make him part of the beleaguered military troupe in his drama Black Hawk Down.

Eric Bana | From Hunk to Hulk

When Bana was offered the part of Bruce Banner in Ang Lee’s The Hulk, he admitted to not fully knowing how to connect to the character. He wasn’t a comic book geek and the figure of the Hulk is, as he later pointed out to IGN, “very difficult to prepare for because the character undergoes so much soul-searching.” He quipped that one way he connected to Banner was that his acting career so far, moving from comedy to action roles, was “a bit like having two lives." He later told ioFilm, "I think we can all relate to the elements of Bruce that as a person surviving in society, there are elements of ourselves that we don't reveal or there are things that we may want to say or do that we simply don't."

Eric Bana | From Munich to Moviemaker

In 2005, Bana moved even further into drama in the role of Avner Kaufman, a Mossad agent leading an assassination team in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. It was a controversial and complex role that demonstrated a talent that went far beyond comic books and comedy. Marc Savlov, writing for the Austin Chronicle, noted of Bana: “Torn between his innate, everyman goodness…and his role as Meir’s walking vendetta, he’s one of Spielberg’s most complex characters to date.” With his roles, Bana continues to push boundaries, often playing the bad guy. In J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009), he played Nero, the devious Romulan from their future, and the same year, in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, he took on the role of a cheating husband. In each part, Bana stretches his personality to fit the character. But perhaps one of his best recent roles is playing himself in his documentary Love the Beast, the 25-year story of his first car, a 1974 Ford XB Falcon. 

Eric Bana | The Talented Mr. Bana

In Joe Wright’s fairy-tale adventure HANNA, Eric Bana plays Erik, the ex-CIA operative who raises Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and teaches her everything she knows. He came to the part because of the originality of the material and the others involved. He explains, “The script reminded me of…nothing; I thought, ‘I haven’t seen this film before.’ I loved that this movie has a teenaged girl as the main character; what an exciting opportunity for Saoirse at this age. Joe’s take on the story fascinated me, so I quickly jumped on board.” This is high praise indeed from an actor whose mercurial talent has taken him from goofy Australian sitcom star to full-on superhero back to stand-up comic. And his range of talents are certainly not wasted in the role. As Erik, Bana plays both to the action part of the role and to the more emotionally complex side of being Hanna’s father. Indeed for many the dynamic of Bana and Ronan as father and daughter gave the film its heart.  As Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers notes, “Ronan is an acting sorceress, and her scenes with the excellent Bana cut bone-deep.”

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