Interview: Eric Bana discusses Netflix’s Special Correspondents
Victoria Curatolo | On 26, Apr 2016
This week sees the worldwide Netflix release of Special Correspondents, the latest project from writer-director and actor Ricky Gervais. This time, the comedian teams up with Australian national treasure Eric Bana to play an odd couple on a special journaistic task to South America – an endeavour that swiftly spirals out of control.
We sat around a table with Bana to talk about his relationship with Gervais, working with Netflix and his awaited return to comedy.
What attracted you to this project?
It was really just Ricky. I’ve always been a huge fan of his since his early days and when he got in touch with me about it, initially, I couldn’t believe he knew who I was. I was really flattered and I really loved the script. I had seen the French version of the film, which I thought was good, but also thought that this premise could be fun with more room for a bit of humour. It was a big, early yes straight away.
You started off in comedy, but you’re more well known for your dramatic roles. Was the fact that Special Correspondents is a comedy appeal to you?
If it wasn’t Ricky, I probably wouldn’t have done it, so I wasn’t actively looking for a comedy part. Because I used to write my own stuff, the idea of doing a comedy for the sake of it freaked me out more so than the drama side. I felt very safe with Ricky. I also knew that together we would come up with stuff that wasn’t on the page. He didn’t know about my comedy background, so we found more avenues for these characters to get more laughs.
What is Ricky like to work with, both as a director and as a co-star?
It was interesting because it all sort of blended; I never felt as though I was working with someone who was taking one hat on and off, it was pretty seamless. The only time I was conscious of it was when I felt protective as a co-star like someone was about to ask him a question as he was about to do a take; he is the director, so he was in charge, but also needed the space to do his performance. So, as a mate, I was a bit protective but he was pretty seamless with that kind of stuff. It was amazing how he would go from pissing himself laughing in a scene to feeling the stress of getting a certain shot before the end of the day. He was very good at doing it all.
Definitely, because I have always loved character-based comedy, as opposed to slapstick, which is one of the reasons that I love Ricky’s work; the character and the situation in which the character was in. The premise of the lie getting bigger and bigger allows you that hope that you get away with it.
There is a lot of amazing work coming out of television, how do you feel in the change in the landscape in terms of budget for television and Netflix?
When we started this project, it wasn’t being put together as a Netflix film – they came on board much later on. Therefore, it always felt very much like a modest, independent comedy that later just got picked up. It’s a great model, especially now more than ever, because there are so many ideas that don’t get picked up – an original idea is the hardest one to make – so Netflix is great for material to help reach a bigger audience.
You share an excellent chemistry with Vera Farmiga onscreen. Did you have to develop that or did it come naturally to you both?
The whole cast is so funny; Kelly Macdonald makes me howl. But Vera is just brilliant and so convincing; she never shied away from being an absolutely awful person, which makes it all the more funny.
How did working on this film compare to the other projects that you’ve done?
I haven’t worked with an actor-director before. I’ve worked with an actor who was director a movie and vice-versa but never both at the same time. I just felt for the amount of work that Ricky had to do. I think there was one day in which he didn’t have to be in a scene so could soley be the dirctor. Also, being able to laugh and have fun all day was just wonderful.
Was there anyone in the media that you borrowed attributes for in the role of Frank?
Radio is big in Australia and I’ve always been a big AM listener, so there’s no doubt I drew some sort of amalgamation from [that], but there’s no one specific person that I based this character on. There’s nothing more painful than someone who loves the sound of their own voice so there was an aspect of that in Frank. But I love how this movie takes the seriousness out of journalism and shining it in a different light.
What was it like working with a veteran like Kevin Pollack?
It was great. I didn’t have a lot of scenes with Kevin, but he is someone who always ups the game and a person who I have admired from afar. It was great talking to him off-camera and gaining advice from. He’s a great guy.
Would you ever like to direct and act in your own project?
Too lazy. [Laughs] Way too lazy. It’s such a big job. I’ve had some experience with my own sketch comedy job back in the day, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.
Do you have any plans to work on any film or television projects back in Australia?
No more so than anywhere else. I read everything but I just haven’t found anything that I’ve wanted to do in Australia. If I read a big script tomorrow in Australia, I’d be right on it. In terms of genuinely independent Australian rather than studio films would be awesome.
Were there many challenges that you faced while making Special Correspondents?
Just trying not to laugh. There weren’t any insurmountable objects or tricky research. It was just a lot of fun.
How was the experience of working with Netflix as a studio?
I had a lot to do with them in that I had nothing to do with them. As they came along, it was a big relief because their audience is so huge. And now anyone who I tell about it can go see it. There was a sense in freedom in no one looking over our shoulders; Ricky was the boss, who had complete control, which was what we wanted and, as an actor, I loved. It felt very free and independent. This is my first non-theatrical release that I’ve been involved in in a long time just based on family and friend reaction. Now I can say ‘You can watch it, it’s on Netlix!’ That is nice, because one of the bummers of working on theatrical release is you don’t know when it’s coming out or what screen it’s going to be on. So to have something that is so accessible feels really nice.
Special Correspondents is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
All photos: Kerry Hayes / Netflix