In his new film, “Hanna,” Eric Bana plays Erik, an ex-CIA man who lives in the wilds of North Finland where he has raised his bright, inquisitive and devoted daughter (Saoirse Ronan). Erik has taught Hanna to hunt, put her through extreme self-defense workouts, and home-schooled her with only an encyclopedia and a book of fairy tales. But their relationship is not exactly what it appears to be. Out in the world there is unfinished business for Hanna’s family and she must embark on a mission that she was always destined for.
MoviesOnline sat down with Eric Bana at a round table interview in Los Angeles to talk about his new film. He told us what it was like fighting a 15-year-old girl in some highly choreographed action sequences, how he enjoyed the challenge of taking out several guys in one take lasting several minutes, and why shooting in 110 degrees in Morocco was preferable to negative 30 degree Celsius in Finland. He also updated us on “Blackbird,” the indie drama he’s currently shooting with Olivia Wilde in Montreal.
Q: You’re a full grown man. What it’s like to have those action-packed scenes with a young girl?
ERIC BANA: Well it’s different definitely. Initially, I was concerned obviously because when you read the script, you realize there’s going to be a lot of full on physical stuff between you and Saoirse who was 15 at the time. It’s even a concern when you’re doing that stuff with another male actor. You’re working with another actor who’s a young girl. I had a lot of faith in Jeff (Imada), our stunt coordinator. After probably two days of training with Saoirse, I was no longer concerned because I could see that she had really put the work in. It’s more of a concern when you’re working with someone who hasn’t done that stuff before. You’re just more aware that something can go wrong. She was really well prepared and trained really hard. In the end, I was more concerned for my own safety than hers.
Q: We see you do that amazing one take scene that’s several minutes long where you take out four guys. How much work did you do from the beginning of training to the end to pull that scene off?
ERIC BANA: It’s interesting. The thing about that scene, the one in the subway where it’s all just one shot, is physically it’s exactly the same. Whenever I learn a fight, you learn it from start to finish, and I like to be able to do the fight from start to finish without stopping so that on the day you’re covered if the director wants to shoot it in any particular way. What makes it different when they do decide to do it in one shot is it’s just more pressure because you realize there’s no way for any mistakes or for anything to be picked up or fixed. But it’s extremely exciting because it’s the opposite of what we do mostly. Most fights are assembled in the edit suite and you lose a lot of the hard work you’ve put in to learn all those fights. So I was honored when Joe said “I’m going to shoot this steadycam. One shot. We’ve got to get it in magic hour.” It becomes more like a sport. The cameraman, the focus puller, the guy dragging the cables, everyone has to be absolutely perfect on one take. So it does become more like a live performance and there is more adrenaline on a day like that. It’s good fun.
Q: How many times did you do it?
ERIC BANA: We only had about a 45-minute window because it was magic hour so I think we did six or seven and it’s the second take that’s in the film. We just kept doing them and resetting all the background. We spent all day preparing for that magic hour.
Q: How cold were you in negative 30 degree Celsius, especially in the last scene where you have to walk out in just the suit? That’s got to be freezing.
ERIC BANA: Yeah, it was cold. I’m probably better suited to the 110 degree Morocco climate than I am the Finland climate. My thin Australian blood was not cut out for Finland, let me tell you. But it was fantastic. The only concern I had when we got to Finland was the landscape was different to how I imagined it and it was very, very flat and there was this amazing vista where there was just nothing in the horizon until way off in the distance. I turned to Joe and said “Can you promise me that we’re going to be able to tell that we’re not on a bloody sound stage in L.A., that this is going to actually look like we’re here?” That was the cool thing about the production. It was a very limited budget and the money really went into getting us to those locations and making sure the film looked as big as it does for a very modest amount. It’s more fun. I much prefer shooting on location than indoors.
Q: In a clichéd action film, most of the time it’s the male lead who’s going around. In this film, it’s dominated by women and you’re beaten up by women for most of the film. Is that something that’s actually really fun to be a part of?
ERIC BANA: Well it’s something I’m used to in everyday life so… No. One of the things that was exciting about the project, I mean, the script read incredibly original and fresh and exciting but at the same time it was like how cool is this that it’s a 16-year-old girl that’s playing the role of what would normally be a 25-year or 30-year-old guy. So that was something to me that was very exciting. So no, I had no reservations about being the mentor and occasionally getting my ass kicked. I was more than happy to.
Q: You’ve done action scenes in previous roles. Does any of that translate over into this film or is it a whole new skill set that you have to learn for this particular choreography?
ERIC BANA: I think having a physical background definitely helps because there’s always some kind of base that you’re working upon. But I actually haven’t done a lot. “Troy” is the only movie where I’ve done any fight scenes oddly enough. None of the other movies that I’ve been in had any fights. In “Troy,” there were a lot of weapons but I haven’t done a movie where the fighting is hand to hand combat so that’s what was new for me. But again, getting to work with Jeff Imada, who is just a genius at that stuff, and his team was a helluva lot of fun. It was really challenging but a lot of fun.
Q: The film has a very specific rhythm and it cranks it out very fast. When you were on set while you were filming it, did you have a sense of how it was going to look and feel when it was finished?
ERIC BANA: You did get a sense of the look because so many of the characters were so archetypal. Marissa’s look and Tom Hollander’s character, I mean, they’re always really crazy – well not crazy – but very distinct looks in the wardrobe and in the locations even. The locations led to you believing that this film was going to have a very, very unique look. And I loved the fact that it’s hard to place what time it’s in. It’s like this could be 2010 but it could also be ’85 or ’76 in some instances in terms of its cinematic look. That was real exciting because I love spy movies. I love thrillers. I love that kind of energy and this film felt like that. But also, the film looks bigger than it was to shoot and I think a lot of that is just because of Joe’s eye and it also has a lot to do with his collaboration with The Chemical Brothers because I think when he was shooting he knew exactly what kind of music would be influencing the final product. That’s such a rare thing I think where the director has that close of a relationship with the musical collaboration and I think it really heightens the film in this case.
Q: They remade “The Hulk” and they recast him again for “The Avengers.” Does it amuse you that they can’t seem to figure out what they want “The Hulk” to be?
ERIC BANA: I think it’s interesting. Yeah. I don’t know if I find it amusing but it’s definitely interesting.
Q: What do you think Hanna was deprived of the most?
ERIC BANA: Internet.
Q: What would be the worst in her developmental years?
ERIC BANA: That’s the message of the film that a 16-year-old girl can survive without Twitter and Facebook. No, seriously, it’s the opposite of modern day society, I guess. But I loved the fact that it was a father-daughter dynamic which we don’t get to see a lot of in film, and even in society, it’s the mother who is the primary caretaker. But, in this case, Erik has chosen to fulfill an obligation of taking care of Hanna and devoting his life to her care which is really interesting. But, in terms of what is she deprived of, I guess she’s deprived of a mother. That is the one that would be the biggest thing, I think.
Q: What do you do between takes? Do you read or look at the Internet?
ERIC BANA: No, never Internet. Oh my God, no!
Q: What about cell phone or Facebook?
ERIC BANA: No, no phones on set. [I’m] just enjoying being in the moment. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to work on a movie set. When I’m on a movie set, I want to be on the movie set. I don’t want to be taken out. No one lets them send me scripts when I’m working on a film and no one’s letter. It’s just shut down. I enjoy just being cocooned in production and it’s completely different to your other life that you have. I enjoy that. I enjoy being on the set and hanging out and talking to whoever we’re working with and just being in the moment. That’s the fun part for me. Film sets are great fun. Film people are great people to hang around with. I don’t want to run off and be distracted by other things.
Q: How about between films? What do you do?
ERIC BANA: Oh well then it’s a completely different thing. I’m back home in Australia and it’s just the ordinary day to day life of taking kids to school and picking them up and walking the dog and …
Q: …barbecuing in the backyard?
ERIC BANA: Yeah. And getting ready for the next job.
Q: What do you want to teach your kids to do as far as life skills?
ERIC BANA: Oh God! That’s complicated, isn’t it?
Q: How old are your kids?
ERIC BANA: They’re 9 and 11. I just think it’s something you’re working at every day really.
Q: But not archery and …?
ERIC BANA: Well there’s basic … I do think it’s a responsibility especially in Australia. I mean, the big thing for us is swimming. The first thing that you’re very aware of in terms of a primal thing that you have to teach a child is how to swim. We live our lives by the water and if you don’t know how to swim in Australia, it’s like not knowing how to cross a road. It’s an incredible survival thing that you really must learn when you’re a child because you don’t see a lot of 4-year-olds learning to swim. You know what I mean? I guess on a base level that’s one of the first parental instincts that you have with children in Australia is learn to swim. Not only learn to swim but learn to swim strong. Throw them in the surf and let them get used to [it]. They have to learn all about rips and tides and swimming between the flags and all that sort of stuff. I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s true.
Q: Can you talk about your scene with Kate? You obviously had to prepare so much backstory because so much had to lead up to that. Can you talk about finally getting to do that scene?
ERIC BANA: The fun thing, first off, I wish I’d had more scenes with Kate obviously but I couldn’t coax that out of the script or out of Joe.
Q: You were writing extra scenes?
ERIC BANA: Exactly. But I loved the fact that when I read the script there was so much about Marissa and Erik that we don’t know. And that’s a lot of fun because, as you say, it’s like it’s in your imagination to play with that. We don’t know what the hell they got up to. We don’t know if they were a couple at some stage or what the physical dynamic is in their relationship. So it’s kind of fun when you get to play those baits or at least play with them in your head because it’s not there to be judged because we don’t know exactly what happens. There was a good mixture of clear information and a lot of ambiguity as well which was good.
Q: Were you two on the same page though? Did you decide certain things – like we were together or we weren’t together — or did you guys not let each other know?
ERIC BANA: Well I had my own special thing in my own head. I don’t know what she had in hers. I didn’t sit down with Kate and say “Now this is my thought on …”
Q: That must be fun because there are some surprises then.
ERIC BANA: Yeah, exactly. Also, oddly the only scene we share together truly is over the phone when I’m down in the corridor and then there’s that one moment towards the end. So there wasn’t a lot to play with.
Q: How was it for you and Saoirse to juggle all the different languages that Erik and Hanna get to work with?
ERIC BANA: I’m not good with languages. She’s better than I am. There was only that one scene where…I think I had someone yelling the lines at me to be honest. “What is it? Spanish again? Could you play the audio for the Spanish again?” That took more training for me than the fights.
Q: What are you working on next?
ERIC BANA: I’m shooting in Montreal right now on a film called “Blackbird” which is a little indie drama with Olivia Wilde. Sissy Spacek, Charley Hunnam and Chris Kristofferson are in the movie. I play not a very nice character for the others so I’m in the middle of that at the moment in Montreal.
Q: Do you find the small stuff more rewarding?
ERIC BANA: I never really think much about the size of a production because I think as an actor, once you’re in it, it’s all the same. I never ever pick projects based on their size. I think it’s a really, really dangerous game so if I read something and I love it, I’ll do it and I don’t even ask what the budget is. I tend not to read the size of the production into a script when I’m reading it. It’s just something you respond to or not and I do think it’s very dangerous to say it’s time now to do this or it’s time now to do that. I don’t like to get into that. But, having said that, it is nice seeing a smaller operation moving around. It does feel faster. There’s no doubt.
“Hanna” opens in theaters on April 8th.