Since his award winning lead performance in Chopper, Australian star Eric Bana has starred in an eclectic array of international movies, from Black Hawk Down, to the human incarnation of the Hulk; from the valiant Hector in Troy to Mossad agent Avner in Munich his star has risen fast.
In Lucky You he portrays Huck Cheever, a talented poker player battling demons from his past while finding that his fortunes on the card table are not matched by his luck in love. Drew Barrymore and Robert Duvall co-star in a film directed by Curtis Hanson.
So Eric, what was the extent of your gambling experience before this film?
“I grew up with gambling, my father used to train and race greyhounds. My father always told me to only gamble with what I could afford to lose – so up until about three years ago I never gambled. Then when I first started doing comedy back home, when we were on tour, we used to get into the habit of going to casinos after a gig and I used to play a little bit of blackjack.”
So you weren’t a poker player before Lucky You then?
“No, with this film I was pretty much learning poker from scratch. Once you understand poker you understand that it’s more of a competitive pursuit. Then you could sort of relate to it more and understand it, that it was basically player on player as opposed to someone sitting there throwing their money into a machine and having no chance of winning. I was probably more comfortable with the film when I understood that notion.”
What did you think of the high rolling pro poker players before this?
“I thought they were cheeky calling it a sport. As I got into it I got some more respect for the game, but I still don’t think it’s a sport. But I had a lot of respect for it; it really is quite a pursuit. I met a lot of people who had very successful, legitimate professions and had given them up to move themselves and their families to Las Vegas. Given up careers as accountants or lawyers or police officers or whatever, and they’re now making a reasonable living with a very calculating professional attitude towards this game of poker. We sort of think of gamblers as being like Huck, sitting there late at night downing beers and gambling. But that’s not the reality, these guys never touch a drop of alcohol, they keep their hours, turning up at a certain time and leaving at a certain time.”
Do a poker player’s skills equate to those of an actor?
“I think they’re characters. I remember watching tournaments and thinking ‘that guy looks like such an a**hole, so serious and dour’, and then you meet the real person and find he’s a hilarious fella. But on the table they have this persona that they bring; they become someone else which is no different to what an actor does. They were pretty impressive; I thought they did a good job in the film too, of acting. A lot of the people you would think had some acting experience in there actually had none.”
What were your experiences of Las Vegas before shooting this film?
“Like most of us I suppose I thought of it on that superficial level, the Vegas that you see when you go there for a night or a weekend or a few days. I’d been before, and you pretty much just tend to see the tourists and notice the people gambling and drinking, the debauchery. Then there’s level two Vegas and level three Vegas, and obviously we were there long enough to get to those other levels. By that I mean level two is when you start to notice the people that work there as opposed to the people visiting. Then you get to level three, which is where we were at, we deliberately stayed in a house out in the suburbs, and we got to know people who had moved their lives to Vegas. They had come from all these cities around America and for whatever reason, whether it was the hospitality industry or whatever; they had started a new life for themselves there.”
Do you see similarities between Hollywood and Las Vegas?
“I think so. There are a lot of success stories, a lot of failures, a lot of perceived glamour and a lot of stuff that is the opposite of glamorous. I think the film industry is a big gamble for the people who come to it, so sitting at a poker table or a blackjack table is very similar in terms of how luck affects you. You can have the same hand on different occasions, one can win you the pot and the other can wipe you out. I think there are a lot of similarities between the two.”
Have you made a conscious effort to ring the changes between the films you’ve done?
“No, it’s interesting, because I only considered it towards the end of last year. Maybe subconsciously. The reason that they films have been different is that I’ve been really interested in them. I’ve probably been interested in them as a filmgoer because of their diversity, but it’s not like I set out with a determination not to be typecast. Having some diversity is great, but it’s not something I steadfastly set out to do. I would embrace it more as my career goes on, but at the same time I’m not someone who sees it as a negative to be able to do one particular thing well. If the only scripts thrown my way were very dramatic I wouldn’t complain.”
You’ve come very far, very fast in your movie career and you’ve worked with some real icons of the industry, haven’t you?
“It’s pretty interesting; especially when I go back home and I tell my mates. But it’s funny, they’re like anyone else. People like Robert Duvall or Peter O’Toole have this kind of aura, and then you meet them and after a very short period of time that dissipates and you get to know the person. It is kind of surreal. I’ve been really lucky, they’ve all been fantastic, all the people I’ve worked with.”
How was your off screen relationship with Robert Duvall?
“Bob and I get along really well. This was our first film together; he’s literally my favourite actor ever. I was very nervous to meet him because I knew our two characters had to work really well together on screen for the film to have any chance. We had a great time together. He’s one of the great actors, and he’s just a great example, not only in acting but in life he’s got such a passion for life. He’s looked after himself over the years and here he is, still making movies and loving his work. It’s a great example for someone of my generation.”
Does working with someone like him raise your game?
“What I love about working with him, and it probably reaffirms to me the perception I had of him being so great, is that he’s always so present in every take. He doesn’t assume that because you’ve done a scene in a certain way that you’re going to do it exactly the same way next time. He’s always paying attention; he’s always bouncing off you, even when he’s off camera. If I did something different he would react. So I think we definitely enjoyed that similarity, I like to think I work in a similar way, and really try and be spontaneous and not get bogged down in take after take. That was a thrill for me, to do that stuff with Bob, and the scene we shared in the coffee shop was my favourite in the whole film.”
Talking of icons, Bob Dylan composed Huck’s theme for the soundtrack – was that a thrill for you?
“Yes, most definitely. I was very lucky, Curtis and his producing partner Carol [Fenelon] have a real taste for music and luckily for me Curtis knows Bob and was able to persuade him to write a track. It was very surreal the first time I saw the finished cut and heard Bob’s voice. That’s very special.”
It sounds too good to be true: your musical hero writes your song, you learn to play golf and poker all for this one movie.
“I’m not complaining. It was funny, there was one day we started at the crack of dawn to get the right light, we had to get this shot of me riding this motorcycle down the Strip as the sun was coming up. Then we wrapped that location and went to the golf course to shoot a heap of stuff. And then we shot into the night with Drew and I on the rooftop doing our kissing scene. At the end of the day Curtis came up to me and said: ‘well, Eric, you got to ride the motorcycle, kiss the girl and play golf all in one day’. That was a pretty good day.”