He’s played the Hulk, a Star Trek villain, a legendary Australian criminal and King Henry Tudor to name a few, now Eric Bana turns his sights to horror in the heart of the Bronx in new film “Deliver Us From Evil.” Mandy sat down with Eric to talk exorcisms, remaking buddy cop film “48 Hours” with Joel McHale (a wishlist), and how listening to The Doors will not be the same after seeing this film.
Congratulations on the film, and this is your first time in the horror genre I understand?
Eric: Oh thanks and yes it is.
Looking at your filmography it is pretty diverse throughout though from “Hanna” to “Munich”, “Chopper”, “Funny People”, “Star Trek”, is there a unifying feature you look for when choosing a character?
Eric: No I’m probably not that much in control I don’t think – in the sense that I just end up doing what I respond the strongest to. And I never know what that’s going to be. In the back of your mind there may be a subconscious bucket list, so maybe I’m sorting of feeding that without being aware of it. But no, I’ve been very lucky to be able to bounce around and not get too pigeon holed which is easier said than done.
Your character in this film is based on a real person and I understand the real Ralph Sarchie was on set advising on the police aspects. I know you’ve played real people the past, does it add any pressure when filming?
Eric: It really depends on the person, in this case it definitely could have made it very difficult. It is always somewhat uncomfortable, but it’s just this little dance that you have to do at the beginning and we got through that very quickly. The most difficult aspect is when you’re dealing with someone who has no prior experience with the film industry. I always feel for them in the sense they have no idea what’s about to happen and the machinations of film. Even pre-production is a whole different animal than when you start filming. So I tried to hold Ralph’s hand a little bit with that process in terms of how that dynamic would work. But it was good for us in that he was there with a real job to do – as you say as the police advisor – and he never got in my way, never got in my head about the character or anything.
Never tried to give you any notes like ‘I would say it like this…’
Eric: Not at all, and 90 per cent of our conversations were about motorcycles not exorcisms [laughs]. I probably got more out of him because of that.
Now there are supernatural elements in this film and your character is not a believer initially. Through your own preparation did you see or come across anything that surprised you or made you question your own beliefs?
Eric: Yes for sure. I guess my only touch point for the subject matter, like most people, was horror films. So think it’s quite easy to be dismissive or to file it away as ‘do you believe or not believe’ because that’s how we like to process it. But it was far more interesting both through Scott our director who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject matter, and Ralph, to look at it factually in the sense of – do these things really happen, and what happens in them, and why do they happen, and who attends these. That was really interesting. I came away with a factual knowledge base of what actually occurs, and that’s quite challenging I guess to someone who’s sceptical. But at the same time I saw enough research materials to fundamentally challenge how I felt about it.
New York has been very well covered in cinema and television, but the Bronx specifically, I was very unfamiliar with it and it came across very much as a character in the film to me…
Eric: Yes we were very fortunate. The first conversations I had with Scott was ‘please tell me we’re not going to shoot this in Toronto’. Quite often, even with the best intentions, you end up in a tax break city somewhere, and it can work, but it’s not the same. It’s certainly easier for me to do a Bronx accent working every day in the Bronx, hanging around with Bronx cops than it would be shooting in our gorgeous Docklands studio here – not taking anything away from that. But it is better for the actors, there’s no doubt. I think it’s better for the production in terms of the production design, and just energy as well. To shoot nights in the Bronx rather than be stuck in a studio somewhere, it’s more fun. It’s harder, it’s harder on everyone but it’s better for the film.
I bet the Bronx community was quite excited about it?
Eric: They were! They were unbelievably patient. They would be the most patient location people I’ve come across, and it’s probably got something to with the fact that we pale into insignificance compared to what they’re used to… Sirens was a bit of a problem, so noise was an issue but besides that they were great.
So my coping mechanism for horror films is, when I start to get really scared, I try to picture the actors on set, and the behind the scenes team, the lighting people and the director and the cameramen, just to try and take me out of it and make it seem less real and calm me down.
Eric: Did it work?
It usually works but I have to say for this film – not so much!
Eric: Well maybe because 95 per cent of what you saw was all real stuff. So if you tap the wall, it was a wall, and if you saw us in the basement, we were in a basement, banging our heads on pipes [laughs].
Yes it didn’t help me at all because it really just felt like it was you in the basement with a flashlight…and that was it.
Eric: That basement, most of the places that we went into they had to go in and do the clean air surveys just to allow the crew in there. They were either full of asbestos or the air quality was so bad they had to do what they call an abatement which is where they soak the walls with something to make it safe. The only set we had in the whole film was the exorcism scene, that little interrogation room, because obviously we destroyed the crap out of it [laughs]. Everything else was me and the cameraman constantly ducking heads.
And you were sort of the lighting person as well at points. I thought it was very impressive the way the flashlight would hit the camera and it lit it up beautifully.
Eric: Yeah there was a bit of that. There were a lot of sequences where the only light was the one the actors were carrying which was great fun. We had a great DP Scott Kevan who’s just brilliant. It was a lot of fun to work with him. I love cinematography so that never takes me out of the moment.
Yes that would add an element of difficulty to a scene surely…
Eric: No I love it. I really enjoy it.
I wanted to make my own The Doors Pandora station as soon as I walked out of the film but I have to say it does creep me out a little bit now.
Eric: Oh I hope we haven’t ruined it for you.
No no I still love it. Made me remember them really.
Eric: I was very excited. That was the other thing I asked Scott I was like ‘Are we really going to be able to get The Doors music?’ And they were like yeah we’re going to get The Door music. I love The Doors. Some pretty cool usage of their music I thought.
Joel McHale plays your police partner in the film and most people know him for his comedic background. We definitely in Australia know about your comedic background, was he familiar with that at all and what was it like working with him?
Eric: He was and we got on like a house on fire [laughs]. Great guy. I’m trying to get him to come out here [to Australia] actually, there’s a chance we might get him out here for a couple of shows. He’s just a wonderful guy. He and Scott the director are best friends so it was just a really great, fun set to be on with them. He’s just a lovely guy and hilarious. So a lot of the stuff you see of us as cops just came about because we knew how to put sh*t on each other basically. I really loved working with him.
I saw “Community” just got picked up…
Eric: By Yahoo! Yes I saw that. It just keeps going and going [laughs].
Hopefully they get their movie as well. Now, working with Joel, this is a police procedural with a very different twist on it, would you consider doing a buddy cop partnership with Joel but as a comedy?
Eric: We joked about that, we did, we said ‘what can we do?’ and we both came up with “48 Hours”. We both love “48 Hours” – I don’t know who would play who [laughs]. I love that movie. I love that movie so much.
Ah pencil it in – 2017?
Eric: By the time we get it made yeah [laughs].
And what was it like working with director Scott Derrickson?
Eric: Amazing. He’s so knowledgeable about – not only horror, he could go to film school and teach horror – but his religious background, his understanding of the subject matter is just immense. I would have employed him as my personal researcher if he wasn’t the director of the film. I just really sucked him for so much information. He was an amazing resource. Really intelligent guy. Very funny – very normal, you know, married with two kids, no demons.
Nothing hiding in his basement?
Eric: No I don’t think there’s any bodies anywhere [laughs]. It was just a fantastic experience. And he loves actors. He loves working with actors. He’s not the type of director who sees actors as just a tool to tell his story. He just loves getting in there and playing with you and I really enjoy that environment and it was just the best experience. Between that and filming in the Bronx it was fantastic.
There is a scene towards the end, and I don’t want to give too much away, with yourself, Sean Harris and Edgar Ramirez. Was it as intense to film as it was to watch?
Eric: Let’s just say it was not the light-hearted section of the shoot. It was extremely intense and it was deliberately scheduled to be the last thing we shot so it was hanging over us like a literal black cloud through the whole production. It was like ‘Really? Is that how we’re going to end? Is that our wrap party?’ [laughs].
Was the wrap party in the room after it was trashed? No need to worry about messing it up.
Eric: There was no wrap party. No a couple of the crew had to fly to Abu Dhabi the next day to film the opening sequence. But it was an amazing kind of hell on Earth, and Sean did an amazing job. Scott’s early description of that sequence in pre-production was really apt. He said the exorcism part of the film is not an exorcism scene, it’s an action sequence. So I was like ‘okay, this is going to be wild’. His description definitely measured up.
Definitely. And I understand Sean’s make-up took about eight hours every day to apply?
Eric: Yes it was a good six or seven hours. Because everything you see on Sean is an appliance that’s been applied by hand, there’s no CGI. The poor guy he went through hell. Luckily he didn’t shoot every day but that last week – I didn’t know how he did what he did.
It was very effective I have to say. And does it make it easier for you as an actor that it’s not just a tennis ball you’re working with and CGI added in later?
Eric: Oh yes. I’ve been so lucky I’ve really been spared of that. Even in “Star Trek” 90 per cent of what I had around me was real – I had a huge set with other actors and then there was the screen where I was talking to the Enterprise. But besides that – even in the Hulk I had no green screen because it was used when I wasn’t there, everyone else had to do that [laughs]. So I’ve been spared from that, so I can’t imagine how hard that would be. So yes to have Sean sit through that – far more pleasurable for me [laughs].
So what’s coming up next for you? Will get you get to stay in Australia a bit longer?
Eric: I’m not sure. Yeah I’ve been home all year. I haven’t done anything since this one I’ve been a bit lazy. There’s a lot of really good material. But the business is very different to how it was years ago. You’d read good stuff that was always going into production. Now you read great stuff that just never gets made. This was one of those ones that was in that sort of lower budget category but still enough to do a good job of the film – they’re not making a lot of them. I’ve had a few in a row now, but they’re harder to find. There is stuff that I’m interested in so we’ll see what ends up happening. But definitively I don’t know yet what I’m doing.
Ah well, you get to enjoy our lovely Melbourne winter.
Eric: Yes I’ve been lucky, I think the last two or three years all my productions have been bang in the middle of our winter – I’d go off for a couple of months, break the back of winter and then come home, but not this year. This year I’ll have to put up with it [laughs].
“Deliver Us From Evil” opens in Australia on 24 July.