"Eric Bana seems so serious." I've heard a version of this sentence spoken more than a few times over the last 10 years. If only they knew that got his start in Australia as a stand-up comic and on a sketch comedy television program. (Bana's only true comedic role in the U.S. was Judd Apatow's "Funny People.") In fact, Bana is so associated with being funny in Australia that he says people still don't take him seriously back home -- a stark contrast to how he's viewed here in the United States.
Here's the thing, however, about meeting Bana in person: It's impossible not to laugh when he goes off on a rant. He is undoubtedly just a naturally funny man, even if he doesn't necessarily want you to know that.
Bana's latest role is serious once again. He stars in "Closed Circuit" as a London lawyer named Martin Rose who is assigned to defend a man accused of terrorism. The deeper Martin digs, the more he learns about the government's involvement in the terrorist attack. (Jim Broadbent and Rebecca Hall are Bana's co-stars.)
Ahead, a delightfully jovial Bana discusses everything from comedy to his disappointment with "Hulk" (well, other than the fact that he didn't have to do a second "Hulk"), and his relationship with "Star Trek" fans after he destroyed the planet Vulcan.
This is a very timely movie, with everything going on in terms of government secrets.
Yeah, that's true. I mean, it wasn't something that we discussed at the time of making it, obviously. But I guess it's kind of played out that way and I guess it will continue to.
I think what's tough for really any movie about this subject is that as more time goes on, less and less surprises me in real life. Do you feel that way?
Yes! Absolutely! You put on the news and there's a part of you that wants something to be salacious and you see it and go, "Well, it's not that surprising." You get to a point -- I'm 45 -- you get to a point where it's like I don't know what can happen when I turn that on that's going to do anything for me anymore.
The NSA has been reading our emails? OK, well, I kind of assumed that anyway.
[Laughs] Have you got that much time, to read all of them? Really? You know? I haven't got time to read all of them! I haven't cleaned out my inbox for ages.
At least someone is reading them.
How many people are there reading billions of emails?
I wish they'd let me know if I missed one that is important.
[Laughs] "Hey, this is marked as unread, someone is trying to give you $15 dollars. Are you aware of this?"
And there's a scene in "Closed Circuit" that reminded me of that guy who mysteriously died of cyanide poisoning during the Whitey Bulger trial.
You row on the river in this movie. Is that something you actually do?
I can now! I couldn't before the film and I trained pretty hard for it. I really enjoyed it and found it extremely addictive.
I know it's a small part of the movie. But I see that in other movies and always wonder who actually rows down the river in real life.
It's really hard. It's way harder than it looks. I'm talking about single style because it's all you. It's very technical; I underestimated it.
Again, it's such a short scene. Were you ever like, "Why am I doing this?"
Yeah, and then deep down you're also saying to yourself, "They are so going to fucking cut this from the movie." You know? "What am I doing in this funny looking outfit?"
I love that you came up as a comedian and sketch comedy performer. I feel a lot of people don't know that.
No, they don't.
I enjoyed your performance in "Funny People." Is it weird that no one realizes that your background is in comedy?
Well, I have the opposite issue at home. It's weird. Still today, there's a certain portion of people of a certain age who refuse to accept me playing serious. So, I have the polar opposite problem.
I didn't realize that.
People my age back in Australia, it's stamped in their minds of my sketch comedy characters. So, it's very hard for them to watch me in a film. And I take that as a compliment. I don't get offended by that. And here, it's the opposite. Here, if I come out and say "I'm doing comedy," people are like, "What the fuck do you think you're doing? Who are you and who do you think you are?" So, I'm aware of that kind of weirdness. And I don't care enough to want to prove any other party wrong. I just don't. It's one of these, "Take it, it's on the table, you don't have to take it, whatever bits you want. Just don't criticize the bits of fruit that you haven't touched and just walk away. OK?" I truly don't care. And that's the real reason.
It's funny now because my son is 14 and really loves comedy and has now seen all my old sketch comedy stuff. And he's kind of intrigued and a bit pissed off that I don't go back into it. "Why aren't you doing more stand-up?" As I articulate my reasons to him, I realize how pathetic my reasons are.
What are the reasons that you're giving him?
Like, "I don't really have time for that," or "I'm lazy." He's like, "All the stuff you rant and rave about as you're walking around the house that makes mom laugh, why aren't you writing that stuff down?" I said, "I'm just too lazy." He's like, "I'll write it down for you. Give me the iPad, I'll jot these ideas down for you."
I agree with your son.
I appreciate that. But, maybe the secret is that it's just pure laziness.
Based on what you said earlier, is there part of you that feels you worked hard to get rid of being known for that?
It's a total gift. And I guess initially I was so scared to do anything that was going to upset this. It's like getting a key to the door you never thought you were going to get. So why would you, then, go, Hang on a second. Don't take me seriously. I'll make these people laugh! No. Forget about it. I'm like, These people are taking me seriously! So, I've never really bothered. It was the perfect time to rejig my career: I was in my early 30s and it was like, This could be a whole new chapter. Why not?
Not many comedy stars are going to be the lead in a movie like "Munich."
Right! And my blessing is that the country in which this occurred was in that order. Now, if I were a member of "Saturday Night Live" for six years and it was all I was known for, I don't know that I would have gotten the roles that I've gotten in the last 10 years. It would have been a lot harder to make the transition.
Were you then tepid at first about doing "Funny People"?
No. When I read it, I was like, "I think I can contribute to this." My only stipulation: My character was originally American and I said to Judd [Apatow], "I would love to do this, but he has to be Australian." And he was totally open to it and I was able to add some stuff as a result.
I re-watched Ang Lee's Hulk the other day.
I'm sorry about that.
Do you not like it? Compared to the superhero movies now, it's certainly an interesting take.
Yeah, well, it was the first of the "dark" take. Make no mistake.
Are you not proud of that movie?
I'm proud of what it tried to do. I apologize to all those people who were so angry about it.
I think time has been kind to Hulk.
I don't know about that.
I think people like it more now than they did in 2003.
Well, I don't know. I'm fascinated by the people who hated that movie and feel compelled to watch it again, which always blows my mind. But, yeah, it is what it is and I certainly don't regret doing it.
Do you ever think about your career if that had been a huge success and you would have done a few Hulk movies?
Yes. And I think I'm so lucky it didn't happen. So, I think the opposite -- one of the things I was most fearful of at the time is it being a huge success [laughs].
You probably wouldn't have had time to make "Munich."
I would have had a completely different career, right? I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunities that I've had the last 10 years -- so I wouldn't want to change that for anything. Everyone's career is different and I'm not saying it wouldn't have been exciting -- it would have been a different thing. I don't know that I would be siting down here talking to you about "Closed Circuit." So, yeah, it's just different. And I've really enjoyed my ride.
And you've done an eclectic assortment of films, which if you were tied up with that ...
It would be less eclectic. And, make no mistake, If I had done three Hulks, it would have wiped out -- and it always takes a long time to do those movies -- so it would take six of my movies off the table.
So, I mean what I'm going to say next as a compliment ...
[Laughs] You can't offend me! Ask me any question.
I've been an admirer of your work and I really like 2009's "Star Trek." Yet I always forget that's you as Nero in "Star Trek."
[Laughs] "The most forgettable roles of all time." It will be my own genre. My sub-genre.
No, that's not went I meant -- you're behind a lot of makeup ...
No, I do. I still get people today who just saw "Star Trek" and had no idea. Someone just told me yesterday, "You're in 'Star Trek,' and when it came out I had no idea it was you." That's a huge kick. No, I love that.
Have you gotten any backlash from the hardcore "Star Trek" fans for destroying the planet Vulcan?
Umm ... [laughs], no. But I did read some interesting stuff that I couldn't quite get my head around when this last one came out. There was some speculation about some kind of timeline? So, I'm occasionally aware of that and find that very funny. And wouldn't dare challenge anyone on their theories. [Laughing] If I fucked it up, I fucked it up! I'm sorry! You know? It is what it is. If what Nero did means that from now on anything can happen and anything is explainable? Well, so be it.
Best of luck with this movie. I enjoyed this.
This was fun.
You honestly made me laugh out loud like eight times.
Now go watch watch "Hulk" again.