“I often wonder whether a 25 year old would even know what Full Frontal is.”
Interview by Matthew Eeles
I was nervous about opening my interview with Eric Bana – the Saint Kilda Football Club’s number one ticket holder – with a question about the Fremantle Dockers’ persuasion to lure Ross Lyon west. After all, he was the coach who almost won Bana’s beloved Saints an AFL grand final in 2010.
His answer introduced me to a very humble man, your average Aussie bloke, who made it all the way to Hollywood’s A-list the old fashioned way, with pure talent.
My wife’s a huge Fremantle Dockers supporter and she wanted me to start off by thanking you for Ross Lyon.
Don’t you mean apologising? [Laughs]
Is it still a sore point?
No not at all. Look, Ross did an amazing job with our club and nearly got us two grand finals. He’s also a ripping bloke and a lovely man. I was going for the Dockers in this years grand final.
Because of Ross?
Yeah because of Ross and I also liked the brand of footy they were playing which I really got sick of people criticising.
Towards the end of the season, Fremantle were really something to watch weren’t they?
I thought it was an amazing run and unfortunately they didn’t get there.
Maybe next year. So, Robert Connolly’s CinemaPlus model has turned out to be a masterstroke with The Turning grossing over $1million at the Australian box office.
Did it take much convincing for you to buy into the model as a way to present Closed Circuit to Australian audiences?
No, definitely not. I’ve done [Q&A sessions] before on other films. Rob and I share an office so we float ideas around all the time and I had the opportunity to get the rights for the film because of my relationship with [Focus Features]. I said to Robert that I think we should get together on this one.
It was a bit of a happy accident really but we will see how this one goes and hopefully we can do it again some day.
It’s not very common for A-list actors to make themselves available for something like ‘event style’ cinema. Do you enjoy it and can you see yourself presenting more of your films like this?
As I said, I’ve done it in the past and I always find them to be interesting and fun.
When you’re working on big films there’s very little opportunity to do Q&As but this time I’m the boss so I was able to carve out what I wanted.
But it’s great because it’s very rare that you get to interact with the audience immediately after they’ve seen the film. Quite often your only interaction with an audience is at an airport and it’s a movie they’ve seen the night before from four years ago.
I find it very interesting to get feedback strait away. I found it to be a very good opportunity for this particular film to exist here. Quite often when films get released over seas they can be swallowed up by local politics. For example, in America the journalists wanted to make Closed Circuit all about Edward Snowden and in the UK the journalists wanted to make it all about the phone hacking scandal.
Paper Planes (directed by Robert Connolly) is your first feature film as Executive Producer (currently being filmed in Perth). How did your involvement on that film come about?
Again, Robert [Connolly] and I bounce everything off each other. We share an office in Melbourne together, and we don’t have the pressure of running a company together. We’re a real sounding board for each other.
It’s really nice to be able to bounce-off and run projects by each other and keep each other going. We’re a real go ear for each other and good friends.
Have you known each other for long?
We’ve known each other for quite a while. Our first film together was Romulus, My Father, but I had known Robert before that and we have remained in close contact.
He’s definitely the man of the moment in the Australian film industry.
Yeah, he needs to learn how to say no. [Laughs]. He has an amazing bandwidth for multiple projects. I see first hand how people lean on him and come to him for information and free services and I tell him, “shut the door!”. [Laughs].
No, he’s very smart and has a real intimate knowledge of every aspect of the industry.
Back to Romulus, My Father. It was your last local feature film in 2007. Is it a conscious decision to make more international films than local ones or are local roles just not made available for you.
I haven’t read anything since Romulus, My Father. But if I found something I would do it. I just haven’t found anything.
I don’t feel any sort of urge or social conscience towards doing films here at all. In fact, I feel the opposite. I feel like the best thing for us to do is to keep getting work overseas and leave the door open for somebody else. If a film is going to get up, it should get up regardless.
Ideally I’d like to see other people getting that opportunity.
Eric, that’s such a nice thing to say.
Well it’s true. Quite often people will come to someone like myself because they think it will solve all of their problems and a lot of the time what it can mean is that people just stop developing their scripts. Then I’ll read it and go, “you’ve still got a long way to go and I don’t want to sign on because you think that just because I’m attached to it everything is going to fall into place.” Quite often that’s not the case. And in all honesty, the best thing is for us to keep travelling overseas and leave the door open for someone else. However, if I read another Romulus, My Father I would be elbowing someone out of the way and doing it. [Laughs]
Do you still keep in contact with directors you’ve worked with locally like Richard Roxburgh and Andrew Dominik?
The last time I saw Andrew was in Toronto when he was screening The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He lives in L.A. so I haven’t seen Andrew forever. I haven’t seen Richard for ages. A lot of the other directors I’ve worked with though I see on the road.
You began your career as a stand-up comedian and then as a sketch comic on shows like Full Frontal. I know a lot of people from my generation would love to see you return to these roots. Is it just a matter of the right script coming along at the right time or are you done with that part of your career?
Well I got lured back in with Funny People and that was the first thing I had read in ten years where I was like, “ok, I can do something with this.”
I don’t see any point in ingratiating myself into other people’s work. What I mean by that is, I don’t say to my agent, “hey, it’s time for a comedy, find me a comedy.”
Comedy puts me in a weird space where I feel like I have to contribute something more than I normally would, whether it be material or a character or something like that. I’d probably be more choosy with comedic scripts than the other ones. Never say never, but the reality is there’s not a lot around and I could never do a regular, broad American comedy.
Funny People was an off one. Actually, that character was American originally and I said to Judd [Apatow], “you gotta let me have a bit of fun with this and let me change a few things.”
You’re a self-confessed family man who loves to spend time at home. Have either of your children expressed any interest in acting and would you encourage it?
I don’t discourage it. They’re both very creative, my son more so behind the camera. He’s very interested in writing and directing. They’ve seen a lot and they’ve been exposed to a lot. My daughter loves dancing.
I’d like to delay it as long as possible. We need kids in movies, just not my kids. [Laughs]. I might have to ask Rob for his advice. [Laughs].
SOCIAL MEDIA GUEST QUESTION
If a network decided to reboot Full Frontal would you consider a guest roll?
I’d definitely consider it. I often wonder whether a 25 year old would even know what Full Frontal is. Someone told me they sometimes come across reruns on TV. If I came across a rerun of myself I’d definitely be changing the channel quick smart. [Laughs].