UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - Eric Bana hopped on a plane in his native Australia, and spent the next 15 hours reading an in-flight movie.
The screenplay he read two years ago on that flight to Los Angeles is now a tense political thriller called "Closed Circuit," which opens this week.
Bana, who you might remember from starring roles in "The Hulk," "Troy," "Black Hawk Down," "Hanna" and "Munich," will explain why he read that screenplay, and then will discuss how this timely film resonates in a time of terrorist trials, revelations about government spying on its citizens and media intrusions into the private lives of public figures.
In "Closed Circuit," directed by British filmmaker John Crowley ("Intermission"), Bana plays an attorney assigned to defend a suspected terrorist after a deadly market explosion in London. When the two lead defense attorneys in the sensational case attempt to expose evidence considered so secret that it cannot be revealed in open court, they uncover a widespread government conspiracy that could prove fatal to both of them. Rebecca Hall plays the second lawyer.
The 45-year-old Bana, who met with us backstage at Chelsea Handler's cable TV show on the Universal Studios lot, also will tell us why he never wanted to be in a summer blockbuster.
Question: Couldn't you find a script that was more timely?
Answer: (Laughs) Well, there was this one script about Edward Snowden but it had already been cast.
Q. What was your reaction when you read the script?
A. It read like a classic thriller. I was so happy when I read it on that plane because it's so rare to read a script of that quality. Let's be honest; most scripts you read are not this good. You never knew what was going to happen next. It treats the audience with a lot of respect.
Q. Don't take this wrong, but I'm a little confused about the title. If the movie was about the extensive surveillance camera network in London, I would understand the title better. I'm not really sure why they called it "Closed Circuit."
A. It's a play on words. It's about the closed nature of the judicial system. It's a bit of clever marketing.
Q. How did you end up reading the script on that plane?
A. I was on my way to America to research another role and wasn't reading new scripts at the time, but my agent sent me the script just before I was about to board the plane. She thought I might enjoy the script and, by coincidence, the director was going to be in Los Angeles the same time as me and I could meet with him if I liked the script. I read it, and met with John for breakfast the next day.
Q. At the time, Edward Snowden was still working at the NSA, and then all hell broke loose. Did you understand how topical those real-world events were making your fictional movie?
A. I thought those events could make the film more talked about, and that's not a bad thing. Let's be honest, these types of adult thrillers without a million explosions don't always get the attention they should.
Q. Did being in this movie alter your perspective on what is happening in the United States with revelations of government surveillance on civilians?
A. What I thought was more relevant was the wiretapping scandal that was going on in England with Rupert Murdoch's company. I was more intrigued by that. As an actor, I don't think it's fair and reasonable to assume that when I make a phone call, that someone may be listening.
Q. It seems to me that celebrities lost their rights to privacy years ago, but the general public is in an uproar now because it's happening to them.
A. I agree completely. Social media has leveled the playing field. In some ways, it's getting easier for us (celebrities) because if you just opt out, you can become more invisible. There are so many more people putting themselves out there more aggressively than ever that if you stay in the trenches, you can stay hidden. If you had told me 10 years ago that I could live my life the way I do, I would assume it would not be possible.
Q. Are you saying that you are pretty much living off the grid?
A. I'm as off the grid as I could be. Social media has made the average person feel more like us. The general public is catching up on the feeling of what it's like to be in the public eye.
Q. Your character is this movie gets quite paranoid at one point, and I was wondering if you have ever felt that kind of paranoia.
A. Not to that degree, of course, but early in my career, I had a lot more anxiety than I do now, and I think that has to do with fear of the unknown. You're never quite sure how it's going to play out.
Q. How did you think your career would play out?
A. I had no expectations, which may explain why I was so anxious. Some people like to surmise ahead but I was never one to do that. I took each year as it came, and that proved interesting.
Q. Is it pretty much the career you hoped it might be?
A. I'm very happy with the way I'm able to live my life. I couldn't want for anything more.
Q. Does living in Australia, rather than Los Angeles, help you get to that place in your life?
A. It does.
Q. Do you think it ever hurt you living so far away?
A. I don't think so. If I lived here, the only temptation would be to do more films, and there really aren't that many great films around. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything, except more film credits. I've not looked back on any project I passed on and thought that I was an idiot for not doing it.
Q. No regrets at all?
A. No. Well, there are a couple that I couldn't do because of scheduling conflicts. In a perfect world, I would have done them. But I also said no to some I knew would be hits. It's never been about hits and misses.
Q. Did you reject them because they were too commercial?
A. They just weren't films I responded to. They weren't challenging enough or interesting enough.
Q. So, there was never a time when you had to choose between "Munich" and "Police Academy" and you wondered if you made the right choice?
A. (Laughs) That never happened; I was never offered "Police Academy."
Q. Like you would ever have done a "Police Academy" movie.
A. It depends.
Q. On what?
A. It depends on what the script was like (laughs).
Q. Based on your choices, it is apparent you go for more serious fare. How did you know early on that it was the right road?
A. There are some who would argue that it wasn't the right road. Some would argue that there were other choices that would have made me a bigger star. But that's not me. I have always followed the work that interested me.
Q. I suspect that even your decision to be in Ang Lee's "The Hulk" was not made for commercial gain.
A. That's absolutely true. My agent had to talk me into it, but in the end, it was Ang and the script that drew me in. I never wanted to be in a superhero movie.
Q. Why not?
A. Being in a big superhero movie would have taken at least three other films off the table for me. I loved doing them, but I would never have gotten hired for them if I was a different sort of actor.
Q. So, you don't subscribe to the show business notion that you do the blockbusters so that you have the clout to do the smaller films you love?
A. I think that's really dangerous.
A. Because it assumes you have it all figured out, and that's dangerous in this business. I firmly believe that if you don't make it about the work, it's going to catch up to you.
Q. How did you learn that?
A. I learned a lot of it along the way. I was lucky in that I didn't begin the international part of my career until I was 30. It's much harder when you start out as a teenager. I didn't have stars in my eyes. I like to think I had a good grasp on the world when I started.
Q. Have you worked as much as you wanted?
A. I think so. I never wanted to work on back-to-back to-back films because that takes the joy out what we're doing.
A. When I read a script and know I'm going to play a character, I don't want to jump on a plane and start playing the character seven days later. I want to take time to research and learn the character.
Q. Some actors do the seven-day thing all the time.
A. That may be fine for them, but that's not the experience I want. It's an incredible gift to do what we do, and I want to do the best job possible for the audience, and I want to have an experience for myself. That's the dream. If I can't get that out of acting, why am I doing this?
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