Standing at 6’2” and built like a professional rugby player, Eric Bana has become one of Hollywood’s go-to badasses, bringing both acting chops and physicality to his roles. But during production on his latest project, The Forgiven, Bana found himself in a set of unusual circumstances: Most of his scenes were filmed inside a maximum-security prison.
“It is not a situation that I have ever been in before,” says Bana over the phone. The 49-year-old Aussie quickly realized that playing Piet Blomfeld, a hardened criminal serving a life sentence, meant there was no room for insecurity. “There was the potential to be feel unnerved in a room like that. Some of the lines that I had to say to these guys were pretty awful, but if I had been walking around after every take apologizing it wouldn’t have worked.”
The Forgiven imagines a meeting between Archbishop Desmond Tutu, played by Forest Whitaker, and fictional apartheid-era murderer Blomfeld. Men’s Journal spoke with Bana about diving into the intense subject matter, dirt biking, and how he can’t turn off Black Hawk Down when it’s on either.
Did you find it hard to get into the headspace of a criminal?
This movie was a massive challenge. Probably the most challenging character that I have had to try my hand at. I had played a criminal in Chopper, so I had that going into this process. This guy is managing his life within the prison system, but he’s really not a part of that community.
How much did you know about apartheid before going in?
I had about four months to dig into that, mostly to research how apartheid may have created a guy like this. I knew a little bit about the history from growing up in Australia, but I don’t think I grasped the true brutality of those times.
What was it like acting with ex-cons?
There was definitely something added by shooting in a maximum-security prison with those guys. I knew I had to commit to playing Blomfeld, because if you don’t believe every word that comes from him, you aren’t going to buy the movie. They didn’t tell me to watch my mouth or anything like that so I guess I pulled it off.
Did the ex-cons share any insight into prison life with you?
[Laughs] I’ll be honest; they actually never stopped talking to me. I mean they were incredible to work with, but it was hard to find a balance between listening to what they were trying to give me, and believing in what I was already doing. You want to be as respectful as possible, but you also want to do the job you set out to do.
There’s a scene where you’re doing pushups in your cell. How did you get ready physically?
I came up with his look while I was researching the part. Roland Jaffe gave me freedom to do whatever I wanted really. Luckily, I didn’t have to do that particular scene too many times. I don’t have a trainer or anything like that. I stay in shape just by being as active as possible, whether it is gardening or jumping on a dirt bike.
Have any dirt bike trips coming up?
I will be getting out there more now that we are coming into late summer in Australia. There are a few routes that are too dangerous to go out on in the middle of the hot season. I am lucky that I can get into the parks around Victoria and New South Wales in just about an hour. I can load up one of the bikes and just take off whenever.
What is the bike of choice now?
I love my GS Adventure and I have a 450 as well that I do a lot of enduro on. But I have a soft spot for my big 1200 because I can just gear up and go. It can carry a ton of equipment for camping, because it is just a monster bike.
Do you like to get out there with a group or by yourself?
There are a couple of mates who will join occasionally, but I will be honest I prefer to travel by myself most of the time. I am not averse to being out there on my own at all. I kind of love it actually.
I have to ask, is Black Hawk Down as fun for you to watch as it is for us?
I will admit that it is the only film that when I am flicking around on cable and it is on, I stop. I will tell myself that I will watch for about five minutes, because so many of my buddies are in it. But I am never able to turn off at five minutes; it always becomes 10, then 15, because the cast is so ridiculous. Ridley Scott’s work on that film was just so incredible. I can completely lose myself and forget that I am even in it.
The Forgiven opens in theaters March 9, and on VOD on March 16.