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Funny People – Eric Bana

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Eric Bana © Universal Studios

Although Eric Bana is best known for his dramatic roles in the States, he began his career in his native Australia doing stand-up and sketch comedy on programs such as The Eric Bana Show Live. Now in his first American comedy, written and directed by Judd Apatow, Bana plays Clarke, the philandering husband of Laura (Leslie Mann), whose old boyfriend, stand-up comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler), has just discovered he has a rare form of leukemia and is forced to re-evaluate his life.


Eric Bana © Universal Studios
Eric Bana © Universal Studios

What was it like to join this family of comedic actors who work together a lot?

At first it sounded very intimidating and nerve-wracking but, in true professional fashion, they made me feel so welcome.  Right from the get-go when we started rehearsing, Adam, Seth [Rogen], Leslie and Judd, after a day I felt like it was okay to contribute.  They just made my ideas feel okay and made me feel relaxed and I was just able to get in there and get my hands dirty straight away.

Was this written as an Australian character?

Originally he was American, but the character was pretty similar. During conversations with Judd and Barry [Mendel], the producer, I just said, ‘I think I can make him more interesting if he’s Australian.  There’s no real reason for him to stay American.’  Judd was open to that and I promised him he’d be just as good if not funnier if he was Australian.

Eric Bana, Leslie Mann, Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler © Universal Studios
Eric Bana, Leslie Mann, Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler © Universal Studios

What was it like working with Leslie?

I’m in awe of Leslie as an actress; she has that unique ability to be deadly serious within a very funny moment. She’s bloody hilarious. The first day of shooting I had with her, I struggled to keep a straight face. It took me so long to get into the rhythm and not ruin too many takes.

You do have this background as a comic actor, but we don’t think of you that way, so do you have any sense of why you’ve become a dramatic actor for American audiences?

Adam Sandler, Eric Bana and Seth Rogen © Universal Studios
Adam Sandler, Eric Bana and Seth Rogen © Universal Studios

I think it’s just the opportunity. When I was given great opportunities here, I wasn’t given comic opportunities. I was given dramatic opportunities so there wasn’t that much I was able to do or wanted to do about that. I was pretty burnt out on comedy by the time I walked away from it.  Even though no one here had seen any of it, it was irrelevant to me.  I was sort of done. It’s not like I said ‘I’ll never do comedy again’. This is the first thing I’ve read that I felt like I could contribute to. I don’t watch American comedies and think, ‘Damn, I could have played that character’. I think the opposite. So, it might be 10 years before I find something else.

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Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.