When one thinks of Australian actor Eric Bana and his time in front of the camera, Hulk is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Thankfully though, Ang Lee’s Hulk is not a career definer for Bana, who actually got his start in sketch comedy. But lately the actor, who at one point was a big movie star, has been absent from the Hollywood scene.
Here’s what happened to Eric Bana and what he’s doing now.
FUNNYMAN ERIC BANA
Believe it or not, Eric Bana is funny. His career is grounded in comedy, a genre that many would call unbelievable given his Hollywood track record. But comedy is what got Bana into the business and he was actually pretty good at it.
His start came on Australian Steve Vizard’s late-night talk show. The comedy he performed on the show caught the eye of the producers of the Australian sketch comedy series Full Frontal, who then invited Bana to join the series as a writer and performed. Eric Bana, sketch comedian. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
He wrote most of his own stuff, he even did amazing impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, and TV character Columbo (portrayed by Peter Falk). His comedy was so well received that he remained on Full Frontal for four seasons, recorded his own comedy album, and even went on to star in his own sketch comedy show called Eric. While his solo outing didn’t fare as well as his previous ensemble, Bana had already opened eyes around the Australian feature film community. His first film was the Australian-made The Castle.
Eric Bana was coming off the Australian TV series All Saints when he was asked to portray the infamous Australian criminal Mark Read, also known as Chopper Read, in the feature Chopper. It was actually the criminal himself who suggested that Bana play him in the movie. The movie was both an Australian critical and financial success, one that finally caught the eye of Hollywood.
BECOMING A MOVIE STAR
Eric Bana made his American film debut in the 2001 Ridley Scott war drama Black Hawk Down. In it, Bana played elite Delta Force soldier Sergeant First Class Norm ‘Hoot’ Hooten. During this time, Bana was also playing Joe Sabatini in the Australian soap opera Something in the Air but left the show after two seasons to chase his Hollywood career.
Shortly after his performance in Black Hawk Down, Eric Bana made what he thought would be a wise career choice. Work with acclaimed director Ang Lee in a superhero movie. Unfortunately, fans had a different view. During his 2013 interview with Huffington Post, he told the interviewer, “I’m sorry about that,” when Bana was informed the interviewer had recently re-watched Hulk. In Eric Bana’s eyes, “it was the first of the “dark” take.” True. Hulk came at a time where there were no brooding heroes such as The Dark Knight, and his Hulk came way before anything like The Avengers was even being thought of. But was he proud of the movie?” I’m proud of what it tried to do. I apologize to all those people who were so angry about it.”
While Eric Bana can look back and appreciate what he and Ang tried to do with Hulk, Bana calls himself fortunate that he wasn’t asked to come back as Bruce Banner. It was a role he simply wouldn’t have wanted to commit to. “I think I’m so lucky it didn’t happen. So, I think the opposite — one of the things I was most fearful of at the time is it being a huge success.” He went on, “I would have had a completely different career, right? I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunities that I’ve had the last 10 years — so I wouldn’t want to change that for anything. Everyone’s career is different and I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been exciting — it would have been a different thing.”
As it is, Eric Bana was able to move on from the failure of Hulk to bigger and better things.
FROM MYTHOLOGY TO STAR TREK
Next up for Eric Bana was Troy, where he played Hector and co-starred with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom. Then came Steven Spielberg’s controversial film, Munich, that had Bana play Mossad agent Avner, ordered to hunt down and kill the Black September terrorists who were thought to be responsible for the deaths of the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Bana was in more memorable movies after Munich. He was in Romulus, My Father, and then The Other Boleyn Girl. Then he came aboard the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek where he played the big bad villain Nero. Hidden under Romulan makeup, it was a role that not many realized Eric Bana played.
“The most forgettable roles of all time,” Bana said to HuffPost. “I still get people today who just saw “Star Trek” and had no idea. Someone just told me yesterday, “You’re in ‘Star Trek,’ and when it came out I had no idea it was you.” That’s a huge kick. No, I love that.”
Eric Bana was well-received as Nero, even though he destroyed Spock’s home planet of Vulcan.
WHY YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ERIC BANA
Eric Bana has always been picky about the roles he takes. Recently he has become even more choosy. His reason is a simple one: his family.
First and foremost, for Eric Bana, is his family. Bana’s wife, Rebecca, once described, via the Daily Mail, movie-making life with Bana early on in their relationship with their two young children. “We’d travel somewhere and I’d be like, “How can I kind of make it like home? How can I get piano lessons and a bit of sport and school?” she said. “We’d go to these countries and the kids wouldn’t have a single friend and there was no support, there was no childcare, it was just us buckling down and trying to create a life on our own.”
This is why the couple decided Australia would be their home and Eric Bana’s choices in movies are based on how much upheaval it would cause his family. Family first, picking the right characters second. “Always,” Bana explained to Indiewire his focus on choosing the right character. “It doesn’t matter what. Every film I’ve done, that’s always been the guiding decision-making thing, for sure.”
His dedication to his family has meant that in recent years Eric Bana has stayed away from Hollywood. He seems happy in Australia, and doesn’t need to be a movie star to be successful.
ERIC BANA NOW
Eric Bana followed up Star Trek with his first American comedy in Judd Apatow’s Funny People. He then went on to The Time Traveler’s Wife, Hanna, Lone Survivor, Deliver Us From Evil, and The Finest Hour. Most recently Bana has been involved with the TV series Dirty John, a role that took him out of his comfort zone when it came to his family. “It definitely hasn’t suited my lifestyle up until now,” he said about the time it has taken him to complete the role.
But it was a character he relished playing. Eric Bana was able to show all sides of his talent from charm to humor to dramatic to evil. He got to showcase the whole package. Dirty John tells the true story of John Meehan (Bana) who at first is a charming, charismatic guy who romances Debra Newell (Connie Britton). But things take a drastically bad turn when Debra begins to realize that John isn’t the charmer he plays, he is a master manipulator playing a game with her that has a horrific end to it.
Next up for Bana is an Australian feature called The Dry. He seems to continue being choosy with the roles he plays, which has worked well for his “family first” motto.