With Netflix’s upcoming release of the new Ricky Gervais film, Special Correspondents, The Metropolist had a chance to sit down with it’s co-star Eric Bana to talk about the film, his views on celebrity culture, and a little bit about his racing driving.
TM: What attracted you to the project?
EB: It was Ricky [Gervais], I got a call saying that Ricky was working on this new project. I was like sounds great, I’ll watch it and they said “we’ll send you the script”. I was like “what for?”. They said, “well Ricky wants you to play the character of Frank Bonneville”, to which my reply was “does Ricky actually know who I am?”. When it’s someone you’re really a fan of you can’t believe they actually know you exist. I read it and thought it was a great premise, I saw the French version of the film and was pretty confident that Ricky could do a funnier version of that as the premise has a lot of comedy potential.
TM: What do you like about Ricky’s work?
EB: Because of my background I think if the characters are good, you get away with a lot more. Character is king in comedy, moreso than an idea. In the same way that my other favourites like Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, the character is almost above the material. With Ricky he quite often executes at both levels, the characters are completely watchable no matter what they’re doing and the writing is really funny as well so you get the best of both.
TM: Ricky was the writer, director and your co-star. What was it like working with someone who is doing all three of those roles?
EB: I wasn’t envious of him at all in terms of the pressure but he handled it really well. There were plenty of times when we were just having so much fun and he would be pissing himself laughing and then you realise, well he must be stressed at some point about us not getting this scene because he’s the director as well and he’s going to have to go away and edit it. So it would swing between having a lot of fun and then going “Ricky, seriously you’re going to need to get this shot in the edit, let’s not go for lunch just yet” and he would be like, “no, we’re gone, we’ll never get it, let’s go for lunch”. It was kind of weird going from being the one laughing to then slapping him the face to try and get him to get it together.
TM: You started out in sketch comedy but have since done a lot of intense, serious dramas. Is comedy something you would like to do more of?
EB: Well I started out in stand up and sketch comedy and I did that for about ten years before I ever did drama. To this day, my brain still works as a sketch comedy writer, which is why I’ve never written a narrative feature because that’s not how my brain thinks. My brain still makes observations and breaks them down into three minute ideas. So, in this case I thought this a good way to go and do something that’s going to be fun and would be working with one of my idols so it felt very safe. If it was someone who I didn’t know and they had no comedy background, I wouldn’t have done the project. So in this case, it was a combination of Ricky being in charge and feeling very confident that we could come up with something extra that wasn’t already on the page. Actually, Ricky didn’t know about my comedy background so a lot of the stuff that we got in the film just came about through us having fun during the shoot and us seeing more potential for more laughs in different places.
TM: Did you draw from any real-life sources when working on your character?
EB: I’m sure subconsciously I did. We have a big radio culture in Australia, so to this day I still listen to a lot of talk radio so I’m sure I was influenced by certain radio people. You can always sniff a Frank Bonneville, you can always tell when you’re watching someone who thinks they should be moving on and doing something bigger. No one specific but definitely a by-product of different people I’ve seen and heard over the years.
TM: At times Frank can be quite abrasive at times, how do you balance that with not alienating the audience and still likeable in some way?
EB: Unfortunately, I identified that, much like myself, the angrier that Frank gets, the funnier the dynamic gets. I’ve experienced that in my own life where if I’m really pissed of at something and going on a rant at home then everyone is pissing themselves laughing. Ricky would find it hilarious the more abusive I got towards him. The worse I treated him, the funnier it got so we just kept that angle going. I think we just believe that he’s got a huge ego and he’s kind of dismissive of Finch but then he really warms to him during the course of the story. I also knew that the worse thing at the end of the day if people thought Frank was a dick.
TM: The film touches upon the media’s obsession with celebrity culture. Is that something that frustrates you in real life?
EB: I loved Vera Farmiga’s character and how she somehow makes the whole situation all about her. It definitely echoes some of things that occur now, it’s a great character and I don’t know if anyone other than Vera could have pulled it off because she’s so mean and so self centered but she is still so funny. It’s one of the trickiest characters to pull off but she does it with such conviction. But, I think it’s just a reality of the business. Actually, celebrity culture isn’t even the term because it’s more like fame culture or narcissism culture. They’re not really interested in celebrities, they’re interested in people who are determined to be celebrities and I don’t know if that’s because deep down we all know that it ends in a crash and that’s why we’re so obsessed with watching it. I feel a bit uneasy about it sometimes because can’t we just let that person go and let them have that crash in privacy?
TM: Finally, how’s the Beast and have you got anymore racing plans coming up?
EB: The Beast is very good but it doesn’t get raced anymore. It’s retired because it’s so hard to find parts for it but I just drive that on the road and it’s better than it ever was. I still do a bit of racing back home just not in that particular car.
Special Correspondents will premiere exclusively on Netflix on April 29, 2016 globally.