Exclusive: Talkin’ to Eric Bana about Time Travelin’

If there’s one single actor who will be able to walk away from the summer of 2009 with a feather in his cap having achieved something worth being proud of, it would be Eric Bana, the Australian actor who first came to attention with his starring role in Andrew Dominik’s crime-comedy Chopper almost ten years ago, but never quite achieved the attention he’s deservedly getting this summer.

First, he played the main bad guy Nero in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, the highest-grossing movies in the franchise, and he played a rare comedic role in Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler’s comedy Funny People. He also made his directorial debut this summer with Love the Beast, a documentary about the love he had for his very first car and how he souped it up for a very special cross-country race. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to rave reviews.

Now, he’s co-starring with Rachel McAdams in The Time Traveler’s Wife, a science fiction-tinged romantic drama based on Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 book about the romance between Henry, a man who jumps through time without being able to control when he leaves and when he ends up, and Clare, the pretty young woman who falls in love with him by meeting him on various time jaunts and hopes to be the rock that will allow Henry to stay in one time. Directed by Robert Schwentke (Flightplan), it is a surprisingly intelligent and thought-provoking movie about love and what it takes to endure a seemingly impossible relationship.

ComingSoon.net was given the opportunity to sit down with Bana and talk about the movie and some of the other things going on with him in this extremely busy summer he’s having.

CS: I feel like it’s a great time to talk to you because you’ve been having an amazing summer, between “Star Trek,” and your role in “Funny People,” which I thought was a breakthrough for you to be returning to comedy. I think everyone’s surprised by “Time Traveler’s Wife,” because it’s a tough adaptation but it’s actually a really good movie. I think most people would normally ask you “Why did you do this movie?” but in this case, it’s really obvious: A great premise, a lovely co-star in Rachel… so was it hard to convince them you were right to play the part? How did you playing this role come about?
Bana: That’s a very good question. I’m sure I wasn’t the only name on the table so I’m not privy to how all that went down. As much as I really wanted to, in the end, do the film, I definitely thought long and hard about it because it was something that was slightly different for me and something that I knew that in order to do it I had to really do it full speed ahead, you had to really sort of commit to it and commit to the idea of it. I feel like I had a reaction to the material which is very honest initially and then I excruciated over it and then I went back to my initial reaction. I do find my choices instinctively, then I agonize about them and get very analytical about it and then end up going back to my gut.

CS: How long was the actual shoot? It was probably a year ago now that you did it, so was it a long shoot?
Bana: Regular three month shoot with 11 or 12 weeks. Yeah, normal sorta size.

CS: I was curious how it fit in with all the other movies that just came out.
Bana: I did this first and then did “Star Trek” and then I did “Funny People.” Yeah, they’re all sorta coming out at roughly the same time which is amazing.

CS: Did you feel any pressure for playing this character, since so many women have loved this book?
Bana: Definitely. I’ve generally been saying I feel more pressure from “Time Traveler’s Wife” fans than “Star Trek” fans and they’re equally as…

CS: But with “Star Trek” you weren’t playing a character anyone would have known. That was a new character.
Bana: That’s right. I feel that sense of ownership of the book and their interpretation of it, which is fair and reasonable. I’m also very realistic about the fact that a movie really has to live as its own thing and we don’t get to rewrite Audrey’s novel. It gets to stay as it is, and I’m tampering with it which is just a different interpretation of it. Yes, it’s a lot of pressure, but that’s exciting as well.

CS: Do you feel the same way about remakes? I know you haven’t really done any of your own, but a lot of people who love certain movies are really against them being remade. Do you feel the same way?
Bana: I feel mixed about it. I look at some of my favorite movies, if I thought they were being made I’m not sure that I’d want to do that. I don’t know, it’s like some movies become sacred ground.

CS: If someone asked you to do “Mad Max,” would you want to do it? You were kind of a fan of those movies, right?
Bana: Yeah, “Mad Max” and “Mad Max 2″ are two of my favorite movies of all time. I guess it would depend on what it was. Yeah, I think it’s always tougher especially when it’s your favorites.

CS: You’ve been doing interviews joined at the hip with Rachel the last few days, so I wanted to ask you about her now that she’s not here. Bruce the writer was talking about her amazing presence on screen and it’s really true. She has presence on screen that both men and women completely fall for her. Is that something in her personality that just automatically comes out on screen or is that part of her skills as an actress?
Bana: Yeah, she’s very luminous and she’s very, very present which is great. The thing that you want most in the person you work with is for them to just be really present and not performing something in isolation and she’s always very, very present and very reactive and very connected so she’s a dream to work with from that regard. It’s not just like she’s at the net playing her own game; she’s at the baseline dealing with you and it’s a nice feeling.

CS: Had you seen any of her movies before and got that feeling Bruce was describing? It’s hard to describe and understand exactly what it is, but you get it when you watch her in movies.
Bana: Yeah, I really felt it when I saw her in “Red Eye.” I went, “Wow, this girl is amazing.” She totally could absolutely live up to that.

CS: It’s a strange thing because it’s not like you could look at previous actresses and say, “She has the same characteristics of this actress or that” either.
Bana: I agree.

CS: The time travel aspect of the movie is interesting and time travel in general is a difficult thing to convey in any medium. Did you have any sort of map or diagram or timeline to know where you were in the story in terms of playing the different ages and jumping in and out of time?
Bana: I relied on Robert with that. He was very clear about the road map for the film and for the characters and for their relationship and would always remind us of where we were at. I always had him to fall back on so I was able to sort of just immerse myself in the moment and be gently reminded how it would fit in with everything else that was going on. I didn’t want to get too bogged down in the continuity ’cause I just really wanted to live and breathe with the scenes as they were and try and let them be their own moments and really play the bigger picture to him.

CS: What’s he like as a director? He seems to have a great sense of humor.
Bana: Yeah, I absolutely love him. He’s a lovely man and he was a great person to work with and very collaborative and very open and I felt very comfortable and just really enjoyed working with him.

CS: Do you have any idea what you’re doing next? You just finished this run of movies.
Bana: I’m done. I’m all out of movie posters, I’m out of tubes.

CS: Do you know if J.J. wants to have you back for “Star Trek 2″?
Bana: Did he say that? No.

CS: No, but we know that Nero is a time traveler, so there’s no real way to get rid of him. He can just come back from the future, can’t he?
Bana: Theoretically, but no, I think I’ve been taken care of in the movie. I mean, you saw what happens to Nero.

CS: Gotcha. I hate to bring up “Hulk,” because that seems like that was a part of another life. It doesn’t feel like Ed Norton is into continuing which seems strange. Do you think there’s a chance Marvel might come back to you or you’d be interested in returning to the role if it made sense to have you back?
Bana: No chance of that happening.

CS: That’s a no, from your own viewpoint?
Bana: It’s something that I’ve done and I’m moving on forward where my road panned out different and I’m happy with the road I’m on.

CS: One of the things I got out of talking to Judd last week was that he always tells the people he works with to write their own material. You’ve done so many things and played so many different roles, but what he’s saying is very clear: “If you want to take the reins of your own career, you’ll write your own material.” Is that something you’ve explored at all?
Bana: Yeah, it’s something I’d like to do more of and I do get very inspired working with those types of people and directors like Judd and like J.J., people who really are kind of carving out their own road. It is very inspiring to be around. They make it look easy, they’re addicted to danger, so on the set you go, “Oh, f*ck it, I’ll give this a go” and it’s a different animal. They make it look easy because they’re so good at it but I’m always inspired by that. I think it’s fantastic.

CS: How did you fit into that environment with Seth and Adam and Judd throwing out lines? Was it very easy to get back into that comedy brain?
Bana: Yeah, that’s a lot easier way of working for me than a very rigid, dramatic set. So, to me it’s always more jarring to be in an environment where that’s not happening. So yes, it was very comfortable. I loved it.

CS: What about your documentary, “Love the Beast,” do you have any idea if that might come out soon?
Eric Bana: We’re hoping we’ll find a home on cable I think. I think we’re pretty realistic about it.

CS: Speaking of that, I wanted to ask you–because you obviously have a love of cars and driving that we see in that documentary–would you ever be interested in being in the biopic of a race car driver or anything that brings those two loves together? Or are you deliberately trying to keep them separate?
Bana: No, it kind of works better to keep it separate and I’m back to racing without cameras around. It’s a lot more fun. My hobby became my job for a little while there and I got a taste of the crossover and it’s not necessarily… Yeah, suddenly my hobby became my job as well and I’m enjoying the separation now. I’ve had a great bunch of races long since the documentary was made. Yeah, I do enjoy the separation. I’d be frustrated as hell working on a feature film that involved driving ’cause it’s really like a hobby of mine.

CS: Well, that takes you out of the running to play “Mad Max” then, I guess. What about aspirations for directing and doing more projects as a filmmaker?
Bana: Sure, I’d love to do something else down the line. I think it would have to be again some of my own material. I’m dying to do it in one sense, but I’m not dying doing to do it in terms of the time line. But yeah, I’m definitely interested. I don’t read other people’s scripts with a mind to direct at all. I don’t do that. But if I had an idea that I wanted to develop, if I could possibly make it happen I would consider something very small. I have no interest in anything big, but we’ll see. It took me 37 years to come up with the first idea.

The Time Traveler’s Wife comes out on Friday, August 14.

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