Although most people may have first laid eyes on Eric Bana as the human star of last summer's Hulk, it was his killer role in an Australian indie that landed him the part of Hector in Troy.
The former standup comic was first noticed in Chopper, in which he plays Australian killer Mark "Chopper" Read, a criminal who wrote his autobiography while serving a murder sentence in prison. Brad Pitt saw the film and told his manager he wanted to meet the actor. Turns out, Pitt's manager lived next door to Bana's agent.
"I was also a fan of Brad's, so they arranged for us to get together and meet on a date," Bana says with a laugh. "So we got together and kind of loosely spoke about how cool it would be if we could manage to find something to do together. We weren't frantically searching for something, but if something came up, wouldn't it be fun to do something together?"
A few months later, Wolfgang Petersen was thinking about directing Troy and wondering whom he would cast as Hector, prince of Troy, one of the story's leading characters.
"My production partner Diana Rathbun talked to me about Eric Bana. She saw him on the streets in Santa Monica while he was doing Hulk, and she said, 'That's not the guy that we both saw in the film Chopper.' He is 50 pounds lighter now," Petersen says. "She said, 'You should see him. He's a different guy, he could play Hector.'"
Petersen sent Bana the script to see which character he was interested in playing. Bana confessed he was most interested in Hector. "I loved him because I thought he was a great bloke," Bana says. "But what I liked from an acting point of view was that whilst we're introduced to him as the prince of Troy, and he's the leader of the Trojan army and stuff, he doesn't arrive and say, 'I'm Prince Hector, and how good am I?' He really earns your respect through the movie, and he really earns his nobleness. So as an actor you had to earn it, and you had to work for it.
"And [Petersen] said, 'Well that's great, because Brad wants to play Achilles,'" a laughing Bana says. "And that's how it kind of happened."
Chopper has been a calling card for Bana in Hollywood, helping him land not only the role in Troy, but also the one in Hulk. Yet Bana is wary of getting too comfortable with the kudos from his performance in the film.
"Those things obviously do help you get in the door, but that's kind of it," he says. "It was undoubtedly a fantastic way for me to get a foot in the door here and get started, but it's certainly not a laurel that I'd be comfortable resting on because I think that's very dangerous."
The actor, who still lives in Melbourne, Australia, says his life hasn't changed much since Hulk hit theaters last summer. And he doesn't sound keen on doing more Australian indie films now that he's got his foot in Hollywood.
"I don't see it as my kind of great duty to do Australian films. Obviously the industry can survive just fine without the 25 of us that are over here," he says, smiling. "I am still reading scripts from back home, but if and when I do another project at home it'll be because I've read something that I really love."
After playing heroes in his last three films -- Black Hawk Down, Hulk and Troy -- it doesn't look as though Bana will return to his comedic roots any time soon.
"I gravitate toward characters that I find really interesting, and I do find dramatic characters very interesting and probably more so than light characters, probably because I think there's a lot more work involved, but I have no idea," he says. "I could totally end up doing a comedy one day -- I don't have any rules."
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