Eric Bana takes his career to another level in “Munich,” Steven Spielberg’s controversial film based on an equally controversial book, “Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team,” by George Jonas. Both reconstruct Israel’s reaction to the 1972 massacre of 11 of its athletes at the Munich Olympics.
In “Munich,” recently released on DVD, Bana plays Avner Kaufman, a man who exists only to his family and his four partners on the same mission: to kill 11 individuals suspected of participating in some way in the massacre. His country will deny his existence if he is outed, although he relies on Israel for information, funding and weapons support. The film gives the Australian actor, who starred in “The Hulk,” a chance to show his dark, dramatic side.
Bana, 37, recently spoke to The Associated Press on the phone from his home in Melbourne, Australia, about the controversy surrounding “Munich,” secretive film shoots and a possible return to standup comedy.
AP: While you were filming, did you expect this to be a controversial film?
Bana: I assumed it was going to be controversial, but I have to be completely honest and say that I naively underestimated the amount of copy that it stimulated in the press. Some of the agendas were quite shocking.
AP: Even after the movie was out, you were still surprised?
Bana: I just couldn’t believe it. Especially in America. It was actually a pretty similar level here in Australia. I was at home here when it was released. I literally couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the vigor in which so many parts of the media attempted to hijack the film and turn it into something else. It was almost like people had completely forgotten that our contribution was a movie. It was unbelievable.
AP: You played an intense character. What do you think was the key to your portrayal?
Bana: I was very fortunate to have had a good amount of time. We were originally going to shoot the film a year before... and then Steven had decided to wait and do some more work on the script and go into the following summer. And it just gave me a really good amount of time and I think that even though I was sort of already prepped and ready to go it’s almost like you get to live with the character for another year before you put it on screen... By the time we started filming I felt as though I knew my version of Avner Kaufman really well.
AP: Do you get so into a character during filming that you remain in character after the shooting wraps?
Bana: A little while yes. I don’t make a point of trying to kind of dispense with my characters if I really loved them at the end of a film. I’m not someone who walks around and continues to have that person, but it definitely hangs around in your subconscious and your psyche and I don’t have a problem with that. Avner most definitely stayed around for a while. I’d say a couple of months for sure.
AP: Any preconceived notions before you began working for Spielberg?
Bana: I really didn’t know what to expect, but I guess I was pleasantly surprised by just how much he was excited by and attuned to the acting process. It’s what you dream of in a director but you don’t always find, and he’s almost like an actor who just happens to not act. His awareness of when it’s the right time to do a take or when it’s the right time to move on, you know, it’s like he’s got a piece of your brain in his brain. He’s very perceptive with actors.
AP: Since it was such a secretive shoot, did it put any stress on you to perform?
Bana: No, I think it made it easier on us to be honest. We really felt as though whatever was going on in the outside world was largely irrelevant while we were shooting... It also had to do with the fact that we were shooting at a great speed, and there was just no time to sort of sit and ponder what was going on outside and what anyone thought of what we’re doing.
AP: Do you think “Munich” is an important film?
Bana: Well, I think it’s important because I feel like it’s one of those rare movies where, like I said before, it was kind of almost hijacked by large portions of the media and I think they turned the movie into something else... I know some people who didn’t want to see it just because they couldn’t be bothered having to formulate an argument... So I feel like the DVD release of the film is probably more important than it normally is for a movie because it really gets a chance to find its place and have people receive it, rather than sort of project onto it. I feel like I’ve never known a movie where people went to the cinema and wanted to project so much toward the screen before they saw a single image. I think the people who didn’t do that thoroughly enjoyed it and so I think the DVD release is really, really significant to this movie.
AP: On another stage... you used to be a standup comic?
Bana: I did it for 12 years before I started doing movies!
AP: Will you ever do it again?
Bana: Maybe, I do miss it a bit. I did television sketch comedy for seven years and I do miss that sometimes... I would never say never. Standup would be more difficult for me now because my freshest material now would be well over eight years old, so not much of it would fly... If a great comedy landed on my doorstep, I would find it hard to say no.