While many of the greatest acting talents of the silver screen are inarguably often also hugely popular with audiences, there is the occasional few that tend to slip by the Hollywood radar. One such actor is Eric Bana.
Born, bred, and beloved in Australia, Bana has proven to be an actor of enormous potential. Despite a still fairly low profile here in America, he has already proven his considerable mettle in films such as Black Hawk Down, The Hulk, Troy, and Munich.
Bana continues his slow and steady rise into the Hollywood stratosphere with his latest role as king Henry VIII in the film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Boleyn Girl. The now 39-year old actor has garnered a reputation from critics as a performer with incredible levels of conviction and depth and shared with us how dedicated he was in his coveted role as Henry VIII.
“I lived as Henry VIII for three straight months prior to starting this film,” Eric recalls, “I informed all my family and friends that I was Henry VIII for them to act accordingly. I read the script and I really felt passionately for this man that was the center of the story, the fact that he was the king and that he was Henry VIII was almost secondary to me. I just was really drawn to the drama and to the shenanigans surrounding this fellow.”
“When I met with Justin [Chadwick], the director, I said look, I never envisioned myself as someone playing a king or Henry VIII or anybody,” he continues, “I said Henry, the guy, the man in this script, I said, I just think I can get to the core of him and I want to play him just as a man. That’s all I know. So I just used that. I didn’t get too bogged down in history or any of that stuff because I felt like at the core of it, it was kind of irrelevant.”
To our shock, Eric claims that his dedication is so strong that he even resorts to cloistering himself from seeing other movies to keep focused.
“The one thing I definitely didn’t do was watch a single film,” he admits, “I had a lot of people go, oh, you got to check out so-and-so and absolutely, not to this day, I still haven’t. I will eventually, but, no, I find that stuff way too dangerous and too much of an influence, so I didn’t look at anything to be honest. I, then, read a lot of stuff just personally because it’s more interesting as a person and not just as an actor, then when you go into the film, it’s a lot more interesting than the day-to-day stuff and I loved it.”
Remembered dominantly in British history as a man obsessed with obtaining a male heir by marrying more than once, Henry VIII is a figure that continues to be controversial. Bana says his responsibility as an actor is not to embrace or condemn whatever characters he plays, but to emulate their being through all their shades of gray.
“I think the one thing that people can easily forget is I know he’s got this reputation for being a crazy man in pursuit of a male heir,” he explains, “But if you stop and think for a second what it actually might be like for him, there was a very legitimate threat to the security of his empire for him in not being able to provide a male heir and knowing what such pressure would be like. It’s funny, when you get into these characters, you start to see them from a different angle.”
“I think it’s one of the luxuries of being an actor is that it’s the only time in your life where you can suspend moral judgment and get rid of all that stuff,” Eric adds, “You can say what you like and judge him however you like, but for three months, I get to not have any moral judgment on him. I found that interesting. On some days, I would almost be like, well, of course he should do this and of course, he should do that. In some ways, it’s surprising how you’re able to justify a lot of the things, so you do start to look at history from a different angle.”
Eric says that he was delighted by the opportunity to wear elaborate regal costumes for the character.
“They were incredible and they weighed a ton,” Bana recounts, “There was no lightweight version of anything. It’s hard to not feel pretty important on a set every two days, you got a different costume. And no matter how used to seeing costumes, the British crew, they would stop what they were doing, whether it was myself or Natalie or Scarlett and they would just go, Wow!”
“The costumes did have that effect,” he continues, “The work of Sandy Powell is so amazing and none of us are off the rack in sizes. Everything single gown we wore was made for us specifically. You put that stuff on, you walk into the room, and I jokingly said to Justin and the crew, ‘Don’t fill me up with this king stuff. Don’t call me ‘the king’. Refer to me as only Eric or Henry.” And the staff goes (in high-pitched pompous voice), ‘The king! Here comes the king! Look out, the king!’ Everyday I’m walking on the set, perhaps I should have mentioned that everyone has to refer to me as ‘the king’, then I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I’m happy for you to go to a costume story and wear that stuff to a party and feel pretty good in it.”
Co-starring with the actor are the equally talented Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johanssen. They respectively play Anne Boleyn, the wife of Henry VIII, and her sister and his mistress Mary. The actor weighed in on his experience working with his two high-profile leading ladies and what he felt they both contributed to the film as a whole.
“They’re both similar in different ways, in the sense that they are very professional, very well-prepared, hypes of energy and very clear about what they want to do,” Bana says, “They have very strong opinions about what they want to do with their characters, but at the same time, they’re very easygoing, which is a good mix because generally, those type of attitudes come with a lack of ability to live and breathe in the moment. They don’t suffer from that at all.”
“They’re very, very free and open to what you’re doing,” he continues, “I think one thing I always loved that they were always responding to whatever it is you were doing. You can sometimes perform with people that are incredible, but you can see that they’re functioning kind of on their own. These girls, whatever they had in their head, would be turned by what you would do, if it was appropriate. I had a great time with them and they’re just really smart girls and the process was alright with them. They worked really hard and it really shows, I think, in their performances.”
We asked the actor what he feels is the central issue at the core of the love triangle story that emerges among Henry VIII, Anne, and Mary in the film.
“I can’t speak for Justin for what would have been deliberate by him and Peter, our screenwriter,” Eric says, “The issues that certainly resonated with me is the notion of ambition and the role ambition plays in our lives and the weight of balance also in the sense.”
“His father was very ambitious for the family and the ramifications that it had on his entire family, particularly his daughters,” he adds, “People may perceive Anne as being more ambitious than Mary and Mary wanting a fast and simpler existence and perhaps the ramifications for the both of them that brought them about. And I think those issues are a constant juggle for women in society, probably more so than men. I think that’s why the book was so popular amongst women.”
In a field crowded with tent-pole blockbuster franchises based largely on comic books and television media, it makes it all the harder for a more modest-by-comparison film like The Other Boleyn Girl to obtain the attention it deserves from a largely fickle and multimedia-obsessed public-at-large. With that in mind, we had Bana explain why his film is just as worth taking notice of.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine a person this film wouldn’t appeal to. I don’t think you have to be into period films,” he says, “I don’t think it’s a chick flick. I think it will ultimately have immense appeal for women, I can see. I think historically, it’s very interesting. On a dramatic level, it’s very interesting. I think it’s extremely well-written and very delicately put together.
“I think it’s one of the best performances that [Natalie and Scarlett] have delivered and I really believe they have done incredible work on the film,” Bana adds, “I think it’s just a lot of fun. Particularly for women, it raises a lot of interesting issues intentionally and unintentionally and I think one of those issues is timeless.” ”
The actor also states that the strength of The Other Boleyn Girl in his point-of-view lies in the richness of the characters and how they add to the drama that unfolds on screen.
“I think this is the type of film that has the potential to be very messy, but I think Peter Morgen’s writing is so succinct and so very carefully laid out,” Eric says, “I think it’s quite simple to follow. There’s quite a lot of information there, but ultimately, I found it very intriguing and I think there are three or four or five characters in the film, whom you can very easily have a film just about them and that’s not very usual.”
“I think usually, if you’re lucky, if you have a film, it’s able to sustain one character, maybe two, and there’s three or four characters there that can very easily hold the film up on their own,” he continues, “I think it’s unusual, especially with these three characters. I think it’s one of the best performances that these girls have delivered and I really believe they have done incredible work on the film. I think it’s just a lot of fun. Particularly for women, it raises a lot of interesting issues intentionally and unintentionally and I think one of those issues is timeless.”
It’s that dedication as an actor combined with his optimism and reliance on his artistic instincts that surely will continue to pay off for Eric Bana in the years ahead. Lastly, the actor shared with us where his continually budding career goes from here.
“We just finished The Time Traveler’s Wife before Christmas,” Bana announces, “It was an amazing experience and Robert Schwentke will do an amazing job about putting it together and Rachel McAdams, I think, is about as good as it gets for me working with someone. I think she was incredible. I think we’re really interesting together and it’ll be an interesting film. I hope it’ll be special. Then, I’m going back home. I’m reading at the moment and I haven’t fell in love with anything yet. I get lots of racing, but you don’t want to hear about that. That’s a whole three hours.”