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The Other Boleyn Girl - Eric Bana interview

Eric Bana in The Other Boleyn Girl

Interview by Rob Carnevale

AUSTRALIAN actor Eric Bana talks about some of the challenges of playing King Henry VIII in Justin Chadwick’s Tudor piece, The Other Boleyn Girl, and what he tried to bring to the popular role.

He also talks about how he chooses his roles, some of his forthcoming projects (including JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot) and why he plans to get behind the camera at some stage of his career.

Q. I guess you had your work cut out seducing two of the world’s most beautiful women on The Other Boleyn Girl?
Eric Bana: [Smiles] Absolutely. I was spoiled rotten on this one – not only with the girls but with everyone else on the film. It’s a truly amazing cast that Justin [Chadwick] has assembled but obviously the girls, in particular, were very much a treat.

Q. I would imagine that one of the challenges in taking on this role was finding the struggle within the man – and balancing his desire to be a good king with his obsession to father a son?
Eric Bana: Absolutely. I just tried to come from a place that he was a man under a lot of pressure and tried to approach this as realistically as possible, to see the pressures as being very real for him and his kingdom. He wasn’t to know that Elizabeth would go on to be such a wonderful queen, so I used that as a base, as well as this trail of really kind of juvenile love that he had for all of these women. It makes so much of his life easier to understand as an actor.

Q. How much did you know about Henry VIII before taking the role?
Eric Bana: I knew a bit but we don’t study a lot of British history at school in Australia. We have our own 50-year period to concentrate on [laughs].

Q. Were you familiar with Philippa Gregory’s work, though?
Eric Bana: Yeah I was aware of the book, but hadn’t read it. So as soon as I’d finished the script, I got a copy of the book and read that. My wife had read it and she loves it, so that was a good sounding board. I like her writing style, she’s such a page-turner. I enjoyed The Constant Princess as well. I think she’s great. The books are very popular with women and I can see why.

Q. How much of your research was reliant on the book? Or did you access other sources as well?
Eric Bana: The book is very handy because it helps illustrate the surrounding characters as much as your own. Whenever I’m looking at that sort of stuff it’s as important for me to learn about the other characters as well because it’s part of your world. There’s a plethora of wonderful documentaries. I made a point of not looking at anyone else’s portrayal of Henry because I think it would have been too confusing – so I’ve got a lot of films to look forward to.

Q. Did the costumes help with getting into the character as well?
Eric Bana: Definitely, especially as they’re so dramatically different to what we wear on a day-to-day basis. I always use the analogy that when you go to a jeans store and put on a new pair of jeans, it’s a pair of jeans and they feel different; so, when you’re dealing with these sort of costumes it’s a very big departure and really does make you feel quite different. But it’s wonderful.

Q. Was there anything about the costumes that took you be surprise?
Eric Bana: The codpiece! [laughs] I could never work out what they were for.

Q. I gather the mood on the set was quite light and that you got a case of the giggles with Natalie Portman one day?
Eric Bana: Yeah but it’s the girls’ fault – they enjoy having a good time on set so if I think I’ve got a good audience I’ll go for it. The crew on this were wonderful, they had a good sense of humour and I got Natalie into a bit of trouble because I think we lost about an hour and a half one day when we both cracked up and couldn’t get it back. But it’s healthy – whatever you can do to keep you fresh and awake. Acting’s such a ridiculous job and sometimes you need to look at it like that to get a sort of degree of freshness.

Q. How difficult was it to master the upper crust English accent?
Eric Bana: [In mock Cockney accent] What are you talking about mate? What’s all this about? I think it’s hard because every time I go to a movie I have to get rid of it all [his Australian accent], so this is no different really. It’s just another feather in the bow, so to speak. [Normal accent] It’s always hard but the reality is, especially in my case, that every time I go to work I have to do it so it’s become part of the job. It’s an extra challenge but it’s also quite often another extra tool that you have to really think consciously about getting into the character. So while it does require more work, it’s maybe even an advantage to a degree because it forces you to switch, to consciously have to jump into and out of the character.

Q. How was working with Justin Chadwick, the director?
Eric Bana: The thing I love about working with first-time directors is that it’s always quite shocking how little difference there is between them and directors who’ve been directing all their lives. I love working with people who have had television experience because I think there’s a real efficiency and methodology that comes from that background. Having seen Justin’s work on Bleak House, I knew that he’d be incredibly well prepared and interesting stylistically for this and that was definitely the case. It’s very liberating for actors – and I can only speak for myself here – but he creates a very loose environment and he’s a great collaborator. I loved working with him. He was very smart in how he assembled the people around him and had a crew that he knew very well. He was very comfortable on the set and I never felt that I was working with a first-time filmmaker.

Q. You have a tremendous body of work as an actor, so what do you find yourself looking for first – is it the script, the director or a combination of both?
Eric Bana: Definitely the script because you want to be part of an interesting story, you want your character to be a challenge, then comes the director. But essentially it’s the script first and whether it’s a character that you think you can do. It’s got to be a challenge but at the same time you have to feel as though you can play them – it’s really dangerous to want to be a part of something just because you think it’s going to be great. I’ve been sent plenty of scripts where I’ve known that it’s going to be a great film and a successful one, but I just couldn’t convince myself that I was the right person for the part. So, I think you have to be careful with that.

Q. Was that the case with the sequel to Hulk?
Eric Bana: Yeah but it never really became an issue because it was a mutual thing. They wanted to start afresh and I was more than happy with that, so it was never a sticking point.

Q. And you’re doing Star Trek, the JJ Abrams version. Is that finished?
Eric Bana: No, I haven’t even started yet. But I’m playing the villain so it should be a lot of fun. It’s a great cast, a really, really great script and I love JJ. I think he’s fantastic but essentially I read the script and thought: “I can’t say no.”

Q. Are you a Trekkie?
Eric Bana: I was a fan of the television show as a kid but I wouldn’t say that I’ve followed all the movies or anything like that. But I was a television junkie as a kid.

Q. Is Factor X [about the infamous BTK serial killer who murdered people in Kansas from 1974-91] going to happen?
Eric Bana: That’s in early development, it’s nowhere near being made so we’ll see what happens.

Q. You’ve also just finished an Australian film called Romulus My Father, which has been very well received. Is it important to you to go back to Australia and make films?
Eric Bana: Not particularly. I don’t feel a kind of nationalistic responsibility in that sense. I just loved the script, loved the book and was one of the producers on it. I just really wanted to be a part of it. But I don’t consciously seek out Australian projects. I put them on the same table as all the other scripts and I wouldn’t ever do a film just because it’s been shot at home.

Q. You have a background in stand-up comedy. Do you ever fancy going back and doing it again?
Eric Bana: I do but I’m realistic about it. It’s been quite some years since I’ve worked full-time in that area, so I no longer have any material that bears any relevance to my life or the audience. I’d need to take probably a year off, which I wouldn’t be prepared to do, so it’s a romantic ideal.

Q. What about a comedic role in a film?
Eric Bana: Maybe. But I’d probably have to sit down and write, or write with someone. It’s usually very, very hard for me to pick up a script that was written and try and see myself as a part of that, especially when you’re used to performing all your own material. It’s OK with drama, I like being handed great material but I think with comedy it’s far more personal and probably a lot harder for me to find a fit.

Q. Is writing and perhaps directing something that interests you for the future?
Eric Bana: Definitely. I really enjoy behind the camera stuff and I’m a frustrated photographer myself and just love the camera. I love that side of it and that part of the [filmmaking] world and I enjoy developing things. It’s an area that I’ll continue to be more active in as time goes by.

Q. Do you find yourself hanging out on set on something like The Other Boleyn Girl and looking at what Justin Chadwick is doing, especially as he also has a background as an actor?
Eric Bana: Yeah, absolutely. I usually befriend the camera department very early on in the film and drive them nuts [laughs]. I’m constantly bombarding them with questions and going through the stills photography. A film set is a great place for me and I love it.

Read our review of The Other Boleyn Girl

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