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Eric Bana on Closed Circuit, Guilt-Tripping J.J. Abrams, and Longing to Play Australian

Eric Bana. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Just in time for the NSA-Snowden scandal comes Closed Circuit, a British thriller about the surveillance state and government conspiracies surrounding a high-profile terrorist attack. Eric Bana plays a defense attorney who is restricted from communicating with his co-counsel (Rebecca Hall), a special advocate appointed to deal with classified evidence that is to be kept secret from him, their client, and open court. Complicating matters is that every move they make is watched, and when they get too close to the truth, they realize their lives are in danger. Bana chatted with Vulture about paranoia, wig blindness, and the lack of Australian accents on film.

Did you check the room for all the hidden cameras first? Did this film make you paranoid?
I don’t need to. I know they’re there. I just take it as a given. [Laughs.] I just assume that someone’s watching, listening, to a lot of things. I had a much stronger taste of it on Munich, because of that world and the subject matter. This film, it wasn’t as intense as that experience, in terms of the state of paranoia. I was exposed to a lot of that in my research for that film. Our legal system [in Australia] is based on the British system, but I needed to and wanted to understand more about the role of special advocate, and getting to understand the life of a barrister in chambers, that whole world. I’m married into a legal family, so I understand a lot of that anyway, but it was interesting to dive into the British system and the whole world around chambers there. It’s very unique, and very traditional, although there’s a modern element to it now, which is creeping in.

Like how during the closed sessions they could take off the wigs. It made me wonder, why do they even still bother with the wigs at this point?
It does work! I’ll give you an example. I sat in on a big murder trial in the U.K., and on that day, there may have been six-to-eight wigged and robed people in the courtroom. And the next day, I couldn’t remember what any of them looked like.

So maybe that helps for anonymity.
Yes. It was incredible. And I was really trying to remember the face of the judge, and the faces of the barristers, both defense and prosecution, and I really, really struggled. And that was the very next day. I think when you sit afar, you go, “That looks ridiculous. Why are they doing that?” But when you actually get in there, and you engage, it does seem to land. There does seem to be a reason and a purpose for it. I know a lot of modern-day barristers think it’s silly and would like to do away with it, but I can see. I can see why it’s there.

Do you have wig blindness in general, or just here?
[Laughs.] No, I don’t have wig blindness in other areas! I think that’s a very well-designed wig, the one that’s used in the legal system.

Did you get a chance to see Star Trek Into Darkness? What did you think?
Yes, I did! I loved it. I thought it was great. I mean, I’ve got a soft spot for the first one, obviously, but I really enjoyed it. I think J.J. [Abrams] is such a great director. It’s going to be amazing what he does with Star Wars, too.

I think he felt bad that he wasn’t able to give your villain as much time onscreen in yours, so he tried to make up for it with Benedict Cumberbatch in this one.
Yeah, he seemed quite apologetic about that, didn’t he? Which was quite nice. I’m glad Benedict got to benefit from it, but I better play that on J.J. a little bit, make the most of that [guilt]. A lot of people don’t know I was in that movie …

Because you looked so different as a Romulan. Which means he could cast you again as a different character, with a different look, a different accent …
Absolutely. That’s very true. I could be Australian, you know? It’s not like we’re going back in time, like you can’t have an Australian in ancient Greece. You could definitely have an Australian in space. I bet you there aren’t any Australians in space right now!

You just finished shooting Beware the Night, in which you play a Bronx cop, so you had to do a Bronx accent …
And today, I’m doing an Australian accent, which is even weirder. [Laughs.] And harder. [Laughs.] I had to prep this! For some reason, Australian accents are literally impossible for anyone outside of Australia. Which is interesting. And we’re nowhere near as generous as other countries when it comes to employing actors from overseas, so fortunately, for most people, it’s not an accent they have to learn. However, for us, we have no choice but to hide our accent, every time we go to work. In fact, the last film I did in Australia, I played a bloody Hungarian immigrant, so I didn’t even get a chance to do it then. I’m very envious of American actors who just get to rock up every day at work and never have to think about an accent. I think it kind of sucks.

I like hearing an Australian accent, though. You’d think they’d find a way to use them more.
There are apparently no Australians in the world. They never appear in movies or television, which is weird. Very rarely. Name it.

Okay. Grease. They changed the character of Sandy from the musical in the movie version to be from Australia to accommodate Olivia Newton-John’s accent.
You’re going back a while.

Sorry, that was the first one that came to mind!
I like that one. Go on. Yes?

Rebel Wilson’s character Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect. I’m sure others will occur to me later.
I’m hoping Tom Hardy goes Australian for Mad Max: Fury Road. Did he? Who knows? Let’s wait and see. I’ve read criticism of my Australian accent, so that shows you …

What kind of criticism?
It was someone who didn’t believe I was Australian, when I was speaking Australian. I had people criticize my Australian accent in Funny People, because they didn’t buy the fact that I was Australian. And that is why you can never read criticism of an accent. Right there. So there are a lot of people who don’t know I’m Australian. Fair enough! We’ll live with it. We’ll survive.

Eric Bana Wants You to Know He’s Australian