Countdown To 'Hulk': Doc Eric Bana, pelted by gamma rays

Back in October 2001, Universal Pictures announced that Eric Bana would playthe lead role as Dr. Bruce Banner in "The Hulk." The response fromfans was a collective, "Who?"

Since then the Australian comedian turned actor has been seen in "BlackHawk Down" and the Oz production that made him famous, "Chopper."On Friday Bana's Hulks-out on screen but will his career Hulk-out as well? 

Bana recently left the set of the currently-filming "Troy" (withBrad Pitt starring and Wolfgang Petersen directing) to sit down with the pressto talk about "The Hulk." At the roundtable interview, members of thepress took turns asking questions about the development of the film.Comics2Film/CBR News is pleased to present this edited transcript of thatinterview.

Q: How has the fighting been going with co-star Brad Pitt?

Eric Bana (EB): We don't fight until we get to Mexico so we're still gettingalong. I haven't disfigured Brad Pitt just yet.

Q: So are you in Malta?

EB: We're in Malta at the moment, yeah.

Q: So are you planning on disfiguring him to the point where Jennifer Anistoncomes after you?

EB: No. No, I'm sure I'll be chased down from numerous different sources ifthat were to happen. No, I'm having a really wonderful time.

Q: Are you Hector?

EB: Yes I am.

Q: Were you thrilled when you got that?

EB: Oh yeah. It's quite the role of a lifetime, literally.

Q: Did it make you want to go to the gym?

EB: There's kind of no choice. 

Q: It's Hector! He's the ultimate warrior.

EB: Exactly. Yeah, no, there're some very physical elements to it, obviously.

Q: Brad looks a buffed up too.

EB: Yeah, he's been working pretty hard too.

Q: With "Hulk" we've been hearing so much about Ang Lee wanting tohave the expressiveness in the Hulk. How was it to have a role where you'regoing to be up upstaged by your CGI counterpart?

EB: I was fine. It's kind of nice. You're playing the lead but at the sametime you're going to shoulder a lot the responsibility with other sources. So,no I was more than fine with that.

Q: Did they tell all along how it was going to look? Did you have a lot ofinput?

EB: I was privy to it but no, I can't claim any credit for it. I mean, Ifirst met with Ang here on the lot. In his office he had a little stature thathe was working on, developing the look of the Hulk but no I really can't lay anyclaim to any credit to how amazing the special effects are.

Q: Was all that repressed anger pretty hard to act on the screen?

EB: Yeah, look; I think you gotta expect that. I think there's so much therethat has to be played for the character to work. I never really expected it tobe easy. That was the big attraction for me, to the part, I knew was gonna be areally chunky character role. That's why I wanted to do it.

So that didn't surprise me but you're right. In the end it's gonna bedemanding mentally and physically and emotionally, but that's exactly why Iwanted to do it.

Q: What kind of pressure did you feel, playing such an iconic role?

EB: I don't really take on too much of that pressure. There's aresponsibility of playing such a complex character convincingly was the pressurefor me, upon myself. External pressures of whatever was going on outside thisbuilding, honestly I wasn't really privy to any of it and was very wellsheltered from that.

I don't mind pressure anyway. It's a healthy thing.

Q: Can you give us your vital stats?

EB: I'm just a little bit over six-two. Around two hundred pounds. Brownhair. Brown eyes. Likes the outdoors. 

Q: Is it easy to ditch the Australian accent?

EB: It's CGI in the film.

Yeah, in some ways it is. Luckily for me I've a long sketch comedy backgroundback in Australia, so I'm kind of used to it in some respects, but I think ifyou're gonna come and take jobs it's gotta be perfect.

So yeah, I did. I had a wonderful woman by the name of Susan who helped me alot on this shoot.

Q: And where are you from? Where did you grow up?

EB: I'm from Melbourne in Australia.

Q: Did your family think you were going to become an actor in America?

EB: To be honest, I don't know what they thought. They encouraged me to be,because since I was a little kid I'd always pretty much done nothing but that: impersonatingfamily and friends and stuff and coming up with characters and playing aroundlike that. 

So then when I verbalized the desire to do this as a job, they weren't at allsurprised and were very supportive, which was nice. So, it was kind ofalways an obvious thing to me. It was almost like I didn't really have muchchoice, because it was kind of the only thing that I felt like I could reallydo, you know?

Q: Did you get in trouble as a kid doing these things?

EB: It actually got me a lot of currency. It actually got me out of a lot oftrouble. 

I used to do it a lot at school and teachers would kind of pull me off to theside and say, "OK, you do a good Mr. Larkin. Give it to me." 

[I'd say,] "No, no no. No way. I'll get expelled."

"No, no, no. I promise not to tell anybody."

So I'd do it and then four hours later another teacher would call me in,"Do the science teacher. Now."

So actually it was quite helpful.

Q: How old are you now?

EB: I'm 34.

Q: What's your best mimic?

EB: There was a lot of famous people that I could do back on the sketchcomedy show but I was probably better known for developing my own charactersback home. To me that was to me what was really fun. It's fun mimicking people,but it's also frustrating when your best mimics are people that no one knows.

That's the beauty of sketch comedy is you get to introduce them to theaudience and have them get used to it and then they become better known then thefamous impressions you do. You know?

Q: Did you do all that in Melbourne or did you go to Sydney?

EB: That job was out of Melbourne. 

Q: How did you get noticed over here? Was it "Chopper?"

EB: Yeah, I guess it was. That film really traveled. It was great for me. Itdid all the film festival circuit and it was almost like every great directorgot to see it and a lot of interest stemmed from that.

I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to show what I could do in thatrole.

Q: Is it ironic that you haven't done any comedy?

EB: Yeah, I guess it is. It's perfect.

Here people go, "Comedian? What are you talking about?"

And back home they go, "What do you think you're doing, doing all thisleading man stuff?"

So, yeah. It's perfect. It's great.

Q: What did you like about the Banner character?

EB: I guess on a self-indulgent level, as an actor, I liked it because therewas always so much to play. I knew there wasn't going to be one moment where Icould kind of walk through a scene. There was always a lot of work that had tobe done. That was something I really liked.

I loved the fact that he was...he's on a journey and he has to discoverthings about himself, which we all are forced to do at different points in ourlives. But we don't really have to, if you know what I mean. There might besomething that we're kind of in touch with in ourselves that we kind of exploreand develop. Some people might go to therapy or whatever. 

But Bruce has absolutely no choice. It's sort of forced upon him. You see himfighting it. That's the whole dynamic in the relationship between him and BettyRoss. He's kind of fighting and fighting her insistence on him getting in touchwith his past. But he's kind of quite reluctant.

That I really enjoyed because, as an actor, that's such a meaty theme to haveto deal with and try and pull off. There was more than enough there to do.

Q: How did you get the audition with Ang?

EB: Photos. Incriminating photos. Everyone: the studio people, Ang...

I think it was a combination of Ang and James Schamus had seen my prior work.I flew to New York and met with them and had a long conversation about a billiondifferent things. Then I went back to Australia and it was months before I got aphone call saying there was a good chance that I was one of the front runners,and I was kind of in shock. I assumed they'd cast the role. 

A week later I got a call saying, "They want you to play the part."

So it was pretty amazing.

Q: Are tied to the sequel?

EB: I guess so, yeah.

Q: Is that something that you look forward to doing?

EB: I'm being completely honest, which might sound a bit silly, but I reallyhaven't thought about it because I'd never be so presumptuous prior to the filmeven being released as to having sat down and seriously though about a sequel.

So, yeah. I haven't really given it a whole lot of thought, especially in themiddle of "The Iliad."

Q: How did you get that part?

EB: Similarly Wolfgang [Petersen] had seen my work and was...

Q: Do you mean specifically "Chopper" or "Black HawkDown," because you really didn't do that much in "Black HawkDown."

EB:  Oh, thank you very much.



You mean it was an ensemble piece, is that what you're trying to say?

Q: Yes. Absolutely. So tell us how you got the part in "Troy."

EB: A similar process. Wolfgang had seen "Chopper" and had seen"Black Hawk Down" and we got together and had a long discussion and Iexpressed which character I was interested in and why and my thoughts andvisions for that character. Then he wanted me to play the role.

Q: So you talked about Achilles and Hector?

EB: No I was specifically interested in Hector for a million reasons.

I just think he's an incredibly noble character. He's one of these trulyclassic...I mean that is a truly opportunity of a lifetime and we're so luckythat that film hasn't been made thus far.

Q:  What is the set like?

EB: It's incredible.

Q: The first day you walked onto it, what did you think?

EB: Actually we started out in studio in London. Even the interior sets werejust [heavy sigh].

The first day I just rang my wife and said, "Tomorrow you've gotta comein. You're coming in. You're coming here and you've gotta stay."

It's really amazing.

Q: When preparing for "Hulk" did you read the comics or othermaterial?

EB: I try and read a wide variety. I try not to be too specific in my sourcematerial. Quite obviously you start off with the obvious stuff. I actually liketo work in a very unorthodox fashion when I'm preparing for roles. So even with"Black Hawk Down" in that role that you mentioned, which I didn't domuch other than....

Q: ...saving peoples lives...

...Yes, thank you.

You really do  the stuff that's obvious that's going to inform you aboutthat world, and then otherwise I find the most interesting stuff in terms ofdeveloping that character has absolutely nothing to do with that genre. It'sabout exploring big, mythical stuff. 

So a bit of everything really. I mean I obviously watched the TV show andthen I went and researched the comic stuff but you get to a point where it kindof informs you of the genre but doesn't really help you completely to form thecharacter. 

I like to construct the character from scratch and not inheritanything.  So even like with Hector it's like, yes, he's in "TheIliad" but "The Iliad" doesn't really tell you a whole lot aboutthat character. 

Q: But what are your general reading habits?

EB: I like reading biographies. I'm reading one on Churchill at the moment,which is just fascinating. 

My wife's a big reader as well, so there's always a lot books around. I'm abit of a magazine junky too I have to say.

Q: What was your favorite book as a kid?

EB: I think "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

I also loved encyclopedias as  a kid, the idea of being able to pick asubject and pull it out and read about the solar system. Put that away and readabout lions.

Q: Do you have kids of your own?

EB: Yes, I've got two.

Q: How old are they?

EB: Thirty-one and eighteen. I'm joking.

One and almost four.  A one-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy.

Q: You wife went into labor during the production. Can you tell us how youdealt with that?

EB: We were very fortunate. The production was very fortunate. They hadstandby scenes ready to go because she ended up being over due. I think the lastscene I shot before Sophia was born I was actually on set...shooting a scenewith Nick Nolte. I think that was the last thing I did and, fortunately, it wasthe weekend and then I had Monday off and Sophia was born in that period.

Q: Were you worried about that?

EB: Yeah, of course. It was a fair drive from here down to Santa Monica so...

Q: What does your four-year-old think of you being The Hulk?

EB: He has no idea.

He's kind of more got his head around Hector because he's been into work andseen the costumes and the hair and beard. He's met Peter O'Toole and calls him,"King Peter." 

"Why doesn't the king have a crown?"

Q: What is your son's name?

EB: Klaus

Q: Is your wife an actress?

EB: No she's not. We met through work. She was a publicist on a televisionnetwork and that's how we met back in Australia. We were friends for quite awhile before we became partners.

Q: Do you make your home here?

EB: No. We live in Australia. We live in Melbourne.

Q: What was your reaction when you first saw your face on the body of a big,green monster?

EB: Yeah there are a couple of moments where you get glimpses of Bruce there,aren't there? Yeah, it was kind of weird, I guess.

Q: They mentioned that the creature's eyes for the close ups were very muchinspired by your eyes. Do you see that?

EB: Yeah, there's a couple of moments where I saw what they're alluding to,definitely. 

Q: What other sources of inspirations do you have as an actor or in yourdaily life?

EB: I think just the idea of losing myself completely is the thing that Iprobably am most attracted to. Try to get as far away from me, not in a kind ofshow-offy way, but in a kind of fantasy way. I enjoy the fantasy of this kind ofwork. I don't know if I'm answering your question but...

Q: You started to say before that when you did your research, that the comicsand TV show didn't really inform you. So like with Hector, where do you go tofind out about this world and character?

EB: Well I looked into mythology a lot. That was actually quite helpful withthis as well. I guess you look at the kind of basic elements of the journey ofthe character and that's where I guess the lateral movement comes from. It mightnot have anything to do with his specific role in life, but the varioussimilarities, maybe with a general with World War II or something, or maybe withsomebody else from a different period of time...so I think quite often myresearch material, if you saw it sitting on the desk, you'd think, "whatthe hell is he doing reading that?"

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