Interview with Closed Circuit’s Eric Bana

We sit down with Eric Bana to discuss his new British conspiracy thriller, Closed Circuit, as well as everything from advocacy to his work on Hanna.

Eric Bana is one of those types of versatile leading men who sneak up on you. This is in part because he is such a charming actor. But it’s also largely due to the fact that he is always playing such diversely different characters. Whether he is a Trojan warrior in Troy or a Mossad assassin in Munich, a paranoid parent in Hanna or a Romulan baddie in Star Trek, Bana is always dependably surprising in his role choices and selections. Yet, in his latest film, John Crowley’s riveting British conspiracy drama Closed Circuit, Bana is faced with a new kind of character: a relatively normal, if dubious English advocate, Barrister Martin Rose. In the film, which opens August 28, Bana’s Martin is a successful London-based lawyer who has become relaxed in his ethics and role, both in the courtroom and in the fractured home that follows a divorce. The only thing he can’t compartmentalize is his relationship with Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), his former lover and current partner in a high-profile case of mass murder and acts of terrorism, which the British government has declared a national security risk. Bana sat down with us several weeks ago to discuss the picture, his previous work and how this one could be kept all in the family. This film comes at a very interesting time. We just had Rebecca here, and she was talking about the fact that this was not called Closed Circuit, but it was called Closed. And it deals with the closed courts, and now also with this surveillance, which for a time people were up in arms about, but have sort of got used to. At least until Eric Snowden and WikiLeaks, which have put people back up in arms. Was the timeliness of these subjects what brought you to this film? Eric Bana: Definitely not. Selfishly, I read the script on a plane actually, and was just riveted the whole time. I just thought it was so well written. I was intrigued, excited, scared; it just read like a great thriller, and I loved the characters and I thought Martin was really interesting. I thought he’d be a fun smartass to play. He was actually more of a smartass in the film prior to how it was cut. The timely nature had nothing to do with it for me. It just read really, really well. And then I met with [director John Crowley] and absolutely fell in love with him, and thought he’d make a really interesting film. Can you talk about your character’s perspective on so much that’s going on in this film: What’s right, what’s wrong, justice, loyalty. The film raises the idea that the government can commit legal crime, and what’s done in the name of patriotism and self-defense for a country is scrutinized. We see your character at a certain point in his life, and I’m wondering if you had any discussion with the writer if his views may have changed from his early days as a writer and how that affects his story in the film. Tim Owen, who’s a great friend of Tim Bevan of Working Title, is how this movie is made. Tim pitched the idea to Tim Bevan. [Owen] I think actually wrote the original treatment for it. He does a lot of human rights for the UK…He’s a really interesting guy. I didn’t talk so much about his early years and in what ways his ideals has changed, but obviously you’ve got the character of Martin who’s pushing back, but I think he’s pushing back as much as Rebecca’s character. I think Claudia is holding the original ideal much closer to her heart. In fact, I think Martin is quite willing to do a couple of deals along the way to keep her safe, which I guess is fair enough. Is there anyone in your family who influenced your performance because you come from a family of lawyers? Yes, not my side, but I married into a legal family. So I’m somewhat anxious, but looking forward to my father-in-law seeing the movie, because he was our chief justice of our high court. He constantly jokes about the fact that every time I go off to do a film, he says, “Is there a role, perhaps, for a conservative, intelligent former judge in your movie?” [Laughter]. For the first time I had to say, “Well actually, there may well be.” So, it was fun to jump into his world. Obviously our legal system mirrors the British one. It’s a lot closer to the British one than the American one. So a lot of that I was familiar with, and it was fun to jump into the world of advocacy. How did you feel that you and Rebecca bonded? How did the chemistry formulate? Well she’s a very easy person to get along with, as you would have gathered. And I always like to head to locations a long time before production begins, and Working Title were okay with that. So I went to London, it must have been six or eight weeks before shooting, to do some research, and hang out with Rebecca and John, and we actually managed to get a big read through done at the same time and some rehearsals. And she’s a dream. I mean she’s just so great to work with, and so smart, and I don’t know if you got that sense, but she is hilarious. She’s very, very funny. And she has a great singing voice too! Would you say Martin is a cad? Actually, he was a bit more of a cad on the page. There was some stuff that we cut. He was definitely a bit more of a smartass than he was in the final cut. And I can definitely see why John cut those moments out, because I think the film would have been a very delicate film to edit. I remember John saying to me during the editing process that this film speaks to him very strongly. It’s telling him exactly what it wants to be. So there were quite a lot of moments along the way that explored the other sides of Martin’s character, which I can see why in the final cut that they’re not there. But at the time as an actor, did you really want them or have to fight for them? Well, I didn’t have to fight for them because they were on the page and I was encouraging it. I enjoyed that there was a real smartass component to him, which can come naturally to me. So I was happy to go down that road. But like I say, there are elements of it there, but it is definitely toned down.  Did we ever learn anymore about the relationship, about the affair? Because it’s kind of murky. We don’t know how long ago it took place. Was that purposeful? Yeah, I don’t think it was super-important for us to flesh it out. I guess the most important element was they had been together, there had been a past relationship, and they had lied on oath. Therein lies the drama for the audience, and I guess it sort of helps ramp up the stakes. And they have a place to rendezvous. And they have a place to rendezvous, yes….I always assumed that it wasn’t Claudia that caused his marriage to fail, though. I never had that seed planted. I never felt like there was some crazy affair, and Martin left his wife. Because it was very secretive. Some people knew, but they didn’t reveal that they knew. I got the impression they kept it very quiet, that maybe it wasn’t revealed to the wife until much later after their problems and the divorce. Yeah, I didn’t want to play the idea that she had been this kind of homewrecker. Tell us about your motivation for your character, because from your perspective as an actor, fleshing out this character, we know that Rebecca’s character is motivated by a sense of justice, but we get the sense that you don’t have a family to go home to and you’re not ruthlessly ambitious to get to the top of your profession. So tell us how you portray this character and your motivations. He was already very along in his profession. So, I wasn’t focused on how driven he was, because I took it as a given that he was already a very successful barrister and doing very well. For me, it was more about playing the interesting beat of that character at that point in his life, as opposed to that point of his career. I really enjoyed the fact that—I wouldn’t so much call it a midlife crisis—but that he’s at that really interesting point as a man, and he has the responsibility of a son, he has a very important career, and he’s at a great stage of his life in that regards, but he obviously still has very strong feelings for this woman that for whatever reason they’re not together. And suddenly, he’s thrust into this very high-profile case, and from a human level I found all that really, really interesting. Every time we see these instances occur, we see these lawyers walking in and out of the courtroom, and I don’t think we think much about the fact that they can be representing these super-high-profile criminals, but on the other side of it, they go off living their lives, and go home to wives and children, and pick up their bread and coffee around the corner. And what that must be like for people who take on these high-profile cases all the time. So, I guess I came at that from that more personal human level than the professional side of it. On the subject of advocacy, you play an advocate. The film, I suppose, is some form of advocacy. I’d like to ask you if you think there’s a difference between being an advocate and a barrister. Also, is there anything you feel that is wrong to advocate for? Hm. I’m a very, very unpolitical person. So, while there are charities I support at home, I’ve actually made it my business to not be a political person. I think there are just other people that do a much better job at it than I ever would. So, I’m not ever really drawn to taking super-high-profile stances on things. Advocacy is very interesting, and we had a couple of more scenes in the final film that show more of Martin and Claudia’s side of that work, but I guess in the end, we didn’t need it because of Claudia’s brilliant cross-examination of the agent…but it was really interesting looking into that and just how well prepared they are in that regard. And the fact that you never ask a question you don’t know the answer to, and the minute you do ask a question you don’t know the answer to, is, as the expression they say, it’s like taking a blind shot. Taking a shot in the dark. That was really fascinating to me, and I think it would be a huge adrenaline rush. I can see, sitting on a few cases and watching them, that it must be an incredibly empowering feeling cross-examining these people. I remember talking to my sister-in-law, who’s also a lawyer, and something she said to me, which I thought was really interesting is, “The court is full of people who have lived these really great, noble lives, who have then committed a crime. And it’s like they can’t believe that they’re going to be judged for the act in which they’re presented to the courtroom. It’s almost like they have a firm belief that the positive weight of their life can outweigh why they’re in court. And they’re the best people to go after, and they’re best people to cross-examine, because they’re so easy to tear shreds off of in court,” which I found really fascinating. Can you talk about Director Crowley who has more of a theatre background than a cinema one. Did you sense an adjustment because of that background, and was there a difference in how your preparation for this film? There wasn’t a sense that we got proper rehearsal time. It always feels like there’s never enough time for rehearsal on a film, and on some films there’s no rehearsal time. In this case, we did have a good amount of time. Nowhere near as much as Rebecca and John are used to in their traditional theatre background, however he was very thorough. We had more than enough time to talk about things, and I absolutely loved working with John. He’s such a delightful man, and funny and interesting and intelligent, and I always am completely trusting in him in the process, and same with Rebecca. They would occasionally talk gobbledygook amongst themselves [Laughs], and I would sit and listen. He was wonderful to work with, and a lot of attention to detail, but at the same time really loose on the set. He did not have that control freak element at all, and I thought maybe if you come from a theatre background where you get to rehearse every single thing so much, and you get to the point where everything is so rehearsed and set in stone that that would inform you as a film director. But in fact, it was the opposite, which was really interesting. I’ve worked with a lot of film directors who were a lot more control-oriented in that regard than John was. So, I really enjoyed that process. He was very trusting of us, and I felt very, very free. I didn’t feel at all constrained by his direction or the tone of the set or anything. It was actually the opposite; we had a lot of fun.  I recently rewatched Hanna again, and the one long, long scene with the one tracking shot… The subway? Yeah! Was something like that just incredibly difficult? I’ve seen you in so many movies where you’re an actor; you’re working with a script; you’re working with other people. Was something like that totally alien to you? No, I LOVED it so much. It was scary as Hell, because I think I only had two or three days notice of it. It was initially going to be a traditional fight that was going to be cut up into 20 pieces, and I’m sitting on the set one day with [director Joe Wright] and he said [in put-on English accent], “Eric, the scene that we’re doing on Friday: I’m going to shoot that…in one.” And I thought, “Really?! Are you sure? From which bit in one section?” He’s like, “From the minute the bus pulls up to the moment you get on the radio at the end.” [Laughs]. I love the camera. What I mean by that is I love the technical side of filmmaking, and the cinematographer is the guy that I chew his ear out on every film. So, I love the relationship between the actor and the A-Camera Operator. I treat that person like a cast member. Your Focus Puller and your A-Camera Operator are, as far as I’m concerned, part of the cast. And so, when you get to steadicam, and you get to a scene with a lot of moving parts where everything has to be perfect or the shot doesn’t work at all, I love that. It’s scary, but at the same time, it’s one of the few moments in film, especially as we’re moving into the digital era, where suddenly everyone’s focus all comes down to that one moment. It’s like a sporting performance. And we’re moving away from that with digital. And there’s an element that the set is losing its sanctity to a degree. Because of digital, there’s this kind of general notion that permeates the set now that we can fix everything. We can fix everything! We can do anything afterwards. We can do reshoots afterwards. We can correct the lighting afterwards. We can correct the exposure. We can fix everything in post! When you get to a sequence like that, it’s the antithesis of it. You can’t fix anything. It all has to be—obviously, I didn’t throw a knife and stab someone—but it has to work in camera. It’s one of the few moments where the adrenaline runs in a way that it doesn’t in other moments. I love that. It’s an honor when the director puts that amount of trust in all the key players, and I was thrilled. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!