Eric Bana’s big break was an interesting one. “Imagine a dark, gritty film about a legendary criminal starring Michael McIntyre,” is how one Aussie has described it.
Eternally jolly, cockerel-haired McIntyre playing a serial killer? Sounds unlikely.
But it is, indeed, a good comparison. Bana started his career on the stand-up circuit, later writing and performing comedy sketch shows on Australian TV. He was a wholesome, take-home-to-your-mum type comedian. Well-known, if not quite as famous as McIntyre.
And then Chopper Read, the aforementioned legendary criminal, who has been involved in the murder of 19 people and once attempted to kidnap a judge, picked Bana to play him in a film about his life.
It might have seemed like a strange choice, but Chopper had clearly spotted something in the comedian that no casting director had.
Bana has since gone on to star in critically acclaimed films such as Blackhawk Down, Star Trek, The Hulk and a Time Traveller’s Wife, to name a few.
In his latest film, Deadfall, the actor continues to veer away from his comedy roots, playing sociopath Addison, the older brother of Liza (Olivia Wilde). The pair have an odd relationship, with hints of incest.
After a failed casino robbery attempt, the siblings split up and head through a snow blizzard to the Canadian border, Addison leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake.
“I don’t think he’s causing as much trouble as he is to disrupt the world, he really does think he is doing the right thing,” says Bana, speaking from Melbourne.
“He’s got a slightly twisted view of what’s right and what’s justice and the crimes accumulate to ridiculous levels - it’s a bit of a runaway train.”
Initially, Bana’s agent thought that he would play the part of ex-boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam), who Liza comes across on his journey, but it was the role of Addison that caught his eye.
“He just seemed more complicated. There were a few scenes that I immediately couldn’t wait to do,” says Bana.
“That’s something you beg for as an actor – to read a script that you not only react to but immediately have ideas for.”
Bana’s family – wife, daughter and son – joined him on set, as they often do. He’s a big believer in family time.
“I think it’s incredibly important to control how much you’re together. You could easily lose track of it if you’re not careful.”
Bana grew up in Melbourne, the youngest of two sons. His older brother was a keen basketball player.
“I was little Bana, even though I’m 6ft 3in, and he was Big Bana because he’s 6ft 8in,” he says.
He spent much of his childhood driving around with his parents watching his brother’s matches.
“All I wanted to do was race BMX bikes, but I quite enjoyed having a big brother who was good at something and he’s really enjoyed my career, so we have a good relationship.”
Bana still lives in Melbourne and seems wholly uninterested in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. “When I’m at home I really do forget I’m an actor”, he says.
When he’s not spending time with his family, he’s indulging in his ultimate passion – motors, be they car or motorbike. Melbourne is, he says, motorcycling heaven. “It’s one of the reasons I would never want to leave.”
He still competes in races and loves nothing more than spending a few days riding bikes in the Australian Outback with friends.