Eric Bana is a man who knows about the male mid-life crisis. It is though, he says, purely for research – even if he, as a 45-year-old married father of two, would be considered a prime candidate for one himself.
In Bana's latest movie, a made-in-Britain video surveillance thriller, Closed Circuit, directed by Intermission's John Crowley and co-starring Rebecca Hall, the actor plays barrister Martin Rose, asked to defend the arguably indefensible – a suspect accused of bombing a busy London street. Rose may be, as Bridget Jones would put it, “a top human rights lawyer”, but according to Bana, “however clever or cool-headed he seems, he's a man in meltdown, it's a real middle-aged crisis. I loved it.”
Cool-headed and clever seem like good descriptions for this Australian as well. Definitely not middle-aged. Tall and angular, Bana's almost black eyes give him the look of a serious man indeed, and that's backed up his film roles – the villain Nero in 2009's Star Trek, scientist Bruce Banner in Ang Lee's Hulk, intense Mossad agent Avner Kaufman in 2005's Munich. Even as Hector in Wolfgang Petersen's often-maligned epic Troy in 2004, he was serious older brother to Orlando Bloom's primping Paris.
That would be misleading though, because there's a wry friendliness to Bana, after, he says, “a day of sitting here in New York with the American press trying to compare this film to the Boston marathon bombing. There's a certain topicality about it, but although I was very unsettled when I heard about those events, I didn't think, 'I've just been filming this story in London'. However, there's no doubt we're not protected in our own cities anymore, and this year has been a bit of a wake-up call for us all.” He laughs and seems relieved when asked instead on how he's avoiding his own mid-life crisis. “Do things with your hands, ”he replies immediately. “No, not like that. Have a good hobby. Cars are mine. Hobbies are a great distraction if you're a guy, whether it's riding bikes or spending time in a garage. I think that using our hands is undervalued in our society and it's actually very important, very therapeutic.”
“Doing things with my hands”, has helped give him stability, swerve away from distractions. Married for 16 years to Australian publicist Rebecca Gleeson – herself a lawyer's daughter – they have two children, Klaus and Sophia. They live in “my favourite city in the world, Melbourne. We keep it simple – I'll do around one movie a year, and the rest of the time I'm home.”
If, of course, his wife can get him out of the garage. Growing up in Melbourne, young Eric wanted to be a mechanic and got into racing cars as a teenager – and he participates in competitions to this day. He still owns his first car, a 1974 XB Ford Falcon. He would, he says, have made cars into his career, had he not been advised “not to make my hobby into a job. And I guess this one's turned out alright.
“To me working on a car is like gardening,” he adds passionately, “it's no different, and that kind of thing is important to me. It's not the thrill-seeking, it's doing something different, using another skill set. At all stages of life it's very important to have something that isn't work that keeps you busy.”
For this reason, he adds, no matter what the film offers,“ you'll never see me doing a car chase in a movie or anything that really involves driving. It would frustrate the hell out of me to have an assistant director or a stuntman trying to tell me what to do. I'd think I'd know better.”
Bana seems to apply this simplicity to all his choices. He famously turned down options to do a sequel to Hulk, his first big breakthrough role, not because of its mixed reviews, but because “it wasn't fun, it was the opposite. It was un-fun.” Bana likes fun, after all – he started off acting on an Australian TV comedy sketch show Full Frontal. But perhaps too, this decision-making process has led to some critics carping that he didn't quite realise his potential after a stunning film debut in 2000 in Andrew Dominik's Chopper, about real-life criminal Mark “Chopper” Read. Black Hawk Down and Hulk followed, as did Troy. Does he still want to be a leading man?
“Well, I've never considered myself as a leading man at all,” he replies. “That is one pit I have absolutely no interest in climbing into. Certainly, I've never seen myself as an action star. I fired a gun in Munich, big deal. And then I played a scientist in Hulk, the computers did all the rest. It was a lot of standing around, it was the antithesis of action. Hector in Troy would be the only action role I've ever done, and I've never regretted that, too many people saw the movie and it's been really important to me.
“But psychological thrillers like Closed Circuit or Hanna are my favourite roles to do, actually. They're rare to find as they're not always easy to fund. Yet the public line up to see them.”
Bana declares that he's not even sure if he's seen The Avengers, the billion-dollar-grossing superhero blockbuster that featured Mark Ruffalo in the role of The Hulk. “I would consider doing another superhero film I guess, but it would depend entirely on the role I'm offered. I'd only do films that I'd want to see myself, that's my rule, and what I get sent these days is much more character-driven.
“I'm happy with that, I don't ever want to think I've got acting licked. But I always try to wait until I've finished shooting one thing until I'll look at the next thing. I have this ability to get on a plane and go home and forget all about the movie I've just done. It's great.” Bana may not have acting sorted, but he seems to have life licked.
'Closed Circuit' is released on 25 OctoberReuse content