Eric Bana On Henry VIII, "The Hulk" And "Star Trek"

03/28/2008 02:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jeff Dawson The Times

If the 39-year-old is not quite a household name, his face is certainly familiar, from Black Hawk Down, Troy and Munich. His ["The Other Boleyn Girl"] Henry merely confirms that when it comes to playing tall, dark and handsome, not to mention deep and brooding, Bana is now officially Hollywood's man. In the flesh, the lofty actor (6ft 3in) is indeed a good-looking fellow, though his convivial, blokeish demeanour, in contrast to his often fierce screen persona, amounts to a welcome and quintessential case of antipodean laid-back. (He burps: "Pardon me.") We in the UK, however, have been blithely unaware of Bana's previous incarnation. Ten years ago, he was better known in Oz as a television comic, doing rather pointedly hopeless impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise in the low-rent sketch show Full Frontal. "At home, I have the opposite problem, where nobody can possibly take you seriously, because all they know you for is idiot behaviour," he says.

The turnaround came in 2000, when Bana quit television to star in the Australian independent feature Chopper, a biopic of the underworld figure Chopper Read - a bullet-headed nutcase whose main claim to fame is that he had both ears sliced off with a razor. Bana's decision to do a De Niro, eating his way up a couple of stone and immersing himself in his character's manic energy, not only made the film a cult triumph but brought him to the attention of the producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who urged Ridley Scott to cast him in the military-in-Mogadishu drama Black Hawk Down. Brad Pitt, with whom Bana has since struck up a friendship, had also seen Chopper, and lobbied for Bana to play the doomed, heroic Hector opposite his Achilles in Wolfgang Petersen's sword-and-sandals epic Troy.

It's an ascent Bana still can't quite get his head round. Troy was "a bloody amazing experience", he gushes, recalling the cast-of-thousands action in Malta and Mexico. Even Henry VIII, he concedes, "is not someone I thought I'd ever play. Growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne, it was as likely as jumping on the space shuttle and being part of the Nasa space programme". As Eric Banadinovich, born to a Croatian father and a German mother, the closest he had come to showbiz was when he was persuaded to leave his bartending job and channel his gift for mimicry into a stand-up act - something, he says, that was a far harder grind than anything he's done since. "It's a pretty brutal world going from town to town entertaining drunks every night, standing up in front of complete strangers. They say acting's a weird job, but it's certainly not as weird as that."

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