Team player

Eric Bana has be­come Hol­ly­wood’s quin­tes­sen­tial team player, writes Vicky Roach

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

MARK Read, the ex-con with whom Eric Bana is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked thanks to his break­out per­for­mance in the 2000 film Chop­per, had very few bound­aries be­fore he rein­vented him­self as a crime writer.

But even he might have baulked at the prospect of lay­ing into a 16-year-old girl.

It’s lucky for Bana’s straight-bloke rep­u­ta­tion, then, that Ir­ish ac­tress Saoirse Ro­nan is tougher than she looks. The in­tense, hand-to-hand com­bat in

Hanna, an ice-cold ac­tion thriller about a teenage girl who has been groomed to be the per­fect as­sas­sin, caused Bana some doubt.

‘‘ There’s a hell of a lot of phys­i­cal­ity in there,’’ the Mel­bourne-based ac­tor says. ‘‘ And I was con­cerned about hurt­ing her.’’

In an at­tempt to pro­tect Hanna from the cruel fate that awaits her when she comes of age, Bana’s ex-CIA agent has raised his daugh­ter in a cabin in the Nor­we­gian wilder­ness, where she has learnt to hunt and trap like an an­i­mal. When it comes to their full-on fight lessons, he gives Hanna ab­so­lutely no truck. The off-bal­ance phys­i­cal­ity of the char­ac­ters’ re­la­tion­ship, set against a spec­tac­u­lar, snow-cov­ered back­drop, had to be con­vinc­ing on screen.

But in real life, a grown man felling a fresh-faced teenager would not have been a good look.

‘‘ There was a very large re­spon­si­bil­ity on my shoul­ders,’’ says Bana, whose job was ren­dered even more dif­fi­cult by the mi­nus-28 de­gree tem­per­a­tures cast and crew had to con­tend with while on lo­ca­tion.

‘‘ She’s the lead, she’s in ev­ery frame of the film, so I had to be care­ful not to land one.

‘‘ But we trained re­ally hard to­gether and I could tell af­ter the first cou­ple of ses­sions that she had re­ally done a lot of work and was re­ally com­mit­ted.’’

It helped that Os­car-nom­i­nee Ro­nan, who had pre­vi­ously worked with di­rec­tor Joe Wright on Atone­ment, is a good deal older and wiser than her ten­der years would sug­gest.

And that the pair of them got on ex­traor­di­nar­ily well.

‘‘ I would say our dy­namic was more like brother and sis­ter than fa­ther and daugh­ter,’’ Bana says.

‘‘ She has got a wicked sense of hu­mour. We would rip into each other all day, ev­ery day.’’

Not many A-list ac­tors com­bine Bana’s tough guy po­ten­tial and lead­ing man good looks with his will­ing­ness to let other ac­tors share the limelight – and even hog it.

That’s pre­sum­ably why Wright cast him in the role of Erik, the sup­port man for Ro­nan’s scene-steal­ing per­for­mance.

While Bana’s team spirit has served him well in films such as Mu­nich and Troy, it may also turn out to be his achilles heel.

In a re­cent ar­ti­cle, Amer­i­can cul­tural critic Joe Queen de­scribed Bana as ‘‘ a guy who was just born to fin­ish sec­ond’’ – at least on screen. That’s a close cousin of the tru­ism nice guys al­ways fin­ish last.

If the ac­tor’s in­ter­na­tional ca­reer hasn’t en­tirely de­liv­ered on his at­ten­tion-grab­bing fea­ture film de­but, his lack of screen hubris might well be the rea­son.

In the past decade, Bana has worked with many of Hol­ly­wood’s lead­ing direc­tors – Steven Spiel­berg, Ang Lee and Ri­d­ley Scott among them – but he has yet to land his

Broke­back Moun­tain or Gla­di­a­tor. A more re­cent side­step into ro­man­tic dra­mas – The Time Trav­eller’s Wife, with Rachel McA­dams, and Lucky You, with Drew Bar­ry­more – did re­spectable box of­fice busi­ness with­out set­ting the world on fire.

And while the ac­tor’s re­turn to his comedic roots op­po­site Adam San­dler in Funny

Peo­ple caused a good deal of en­thu­si­as­tic con­jec­ture at the time, he hasn’t fol­lowed it up with an­other film in that vein.

The for­mer Full Frontal star reck­ons he doesn’t miss the laughs. Or ‘‘ not that much’’.

‘‘ But I have al­ways said if there was some­thing ap­pro­pri­ate I would do it. As much as I love a Will Fer­rell movie, I don’t look at it and say, ‘ God, I should be in that’.’’

Bana sees Se­in­feld co-cre­ator Larry David’s TV se­ries Curb Your En­thu­si­asm as more his speed.

‘‘ But Funny Peo­ple was one of those rare oc­ca­sions where I read some­thing and I went: ‘ Yeah, I can con­trib­ute to this. I think this would be a lot of fun.’ And it was,’’ he says. ‘‘ If some­thing sim­i­lar came along I would def­i­nitely con­sider it. But it’s not some­thing I ac­tively pur­sue.’’ But what ex­actly does light Bana’s fire? Af­ter Chop­per, per­haps his next most richly lay­ered per­for­mance was in an­other Aus­tralian film, Ro­mu­lus, My Fa­ther, di­rected by fel­low ac­tor Richard Roxburgh.

‘‘ I don’t di­vide the ma­te­rial up. I look at ev­ery­thing and just choose the best thing that’s avail­able,’’ Bana says.

‘‘ I don’t care if it’s big or small, whether it’s Aus­tralian, Bri­tish or Cana­dian, I just self­ishly re­spond to the best ma­te­rial wher­ever that may be.’’

If Bana is dis­sat­is­fied with the direc­tion his ca­reer has taken, he’s not let­ting on.

‘‘ To be hon­est, I don’t think about it too much. I pretty much live in the mo­ment,’’ he says. ‘‘ For me to do my job, I re­ally just have to re­spond to ma­te­rial that’s around. I don’t dwell on stuff that’s in the past.’’ Off-screen, Bana is sim­i­larly prag­matic. Hugh Jack­man, a con­sum­mate show­man, wears his celebrity lightly. Rus­sell Crowe tack­les it head-on.

When he’s not pro­mot­ing a film, Bana tends to fly un­der the radar. ‘‘ It’s my spe­cialty,’’ he quips. In his di­rec­to­rial de­but Love the Beast, a well-crafted doc­u­men­tary about his long-term love af­fair with mus­cle cars, Bana shows him­self get­ting ready for a red-car­pet pre­miere in an anony­mous ho­tel room.

It’s clear, from the way the suit col­lar chafes his neck, that this is the part of the job Bana is not en­tirely com­fort­able with.

In in­ter­views, Bana is friendly but guarded. His ob­ser­va­tions about the themes in Hanna – a film he sees as deal­ing with the loss of in­no­cence – could be equally well ap­plied to Hol­ly­wood.

‘‘ I don’t think it’s ex­clu­sive to chil­dren, but it prob­a­bly comes more sud­denly for peo­ple who are cos­seted,’’ he says.

‘‘ You see it a bit with pro­fes­sional sports peo­ple – they get to a point in their ca­reer where things hap­pen dra­mat­i­cally, be­cause they have been sur­rounded within a team struc­ture for a long time.’’

Such keen in­sights beg the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: did Bana ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing sim­i­lar dur­ing his own tran­si­tion to Hol­ly­wood star?

‘‘ There was no cliched mo­ment,’’ he says, mak­ing it clear that this is not a sub­ject he wishes to pur­sue.

‘‘ It was more of a grad­ual awak­en­ing.’’

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