BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK – For actor Eric Bana, one of the great pleasures of making a very adult, complex movie like “Closed Circuit” was the chance to immerse himself in detailed research and don the persona, and the clothing, of a very different sort of character.
The buff, handsome Australian actor has largely made his name in rough-and-tumble action roles – from the mutating Dr. David Banner in “Hulk” to the brooding, avenging Mossad agent in “Munich,” and from the fated Trojan hero Hector in “Troy,” to the Romulan villain Nero in “Star Trek.” So as the bright but rather impulsive British barrister Martin Rose in “Closed Circuit,” Bana said he welcomed a role that relied more on brains than brawn.
“I got to be a good guy for once,” Bana said during press interviews hosted by Focus Features at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. “It was interesting being on the other side and being the victim for a change.”
“Closed Circuit” focuses on the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in London, when the arcane and complicated mechanisms of the British criminal justice system grind into action during the prosecution of a rather hapless suspect. Bana’s Martin Rose is a court-appointed defense attorney who must work with fellow lawyer and “Special Advocate” Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) – who just happens to be a former lover – to walk a fine line between constructing a vigorous defense and guarding state’s secrets. In the process, dirty government conspiracies are exposed, and both Martin and Claudia find their lives in danger.
To prep for the role, Bana said he spent time at the Old Bailey in London (the complex that houses The Crown Court) observing various barristers, solicitors and other court functionaries at work.
“For me it was much more to do with advocacy within the legal system,” he said of his research. “The fundamentals of the legal system I was familiar with because I married into a legal family (his father-in-law is Australian High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson), and our legal system is the same or similar to the British model as opposed to the American model. So the machinations of that I was familiar with, but I wanted to get more into the minutiae of how these barristers live and work. And that was really interesting.
“There’s so much fantastic history in the British legal system and the bar over there,” he said. “Very tradition, but at the same time there’s this very modern element, and you go to the courts over there and see how seriously some of the barristers take their clothes. They are all dressed extremely well. I mean people there really take some care into how they put their wardrobes together.”
Bana said he worked closely with costume designer Natalie Ward, shopping at Harrod’s and visiting traditional old Savile Row tailors to fit out what is undoubtedly “the best-dressed character I’ve ever played.”
As a result, he said he came to realize that British lawyers are essentially performers in court, and the impeccable suits he wore helped him define how Martin navigated through this refined, formalized and very ritualistic environment.
Did he get to keep his wardrobe from this move?
“I did not, unfortunately,” Bana said with a rueful chuckle. But, he said, he did gain a whole new appreciation for the beauty of bespoke tailoring.
As to the political implications of the story, which touches on some hot-button issues in a world seemingly obsessed with terrorist threats and heightened concerns over security, Bana said he was largely indifferent.
“I’m probably the most apolitical actor out there. I’ve never gotten involved in politics,” he said. “It’s just not my bag. There are other people in the industry that do a way better job at that than I could.”
At that, the name of George Clooney, an outspoken political activist, came up, and Bana offered a sheepish smile.
“The first thing I thought when I read this script was I was just really glad they’d sent it to me,” he said. “I was surprised that Clooney wasn’t doing it. That was my first question – does Clooney not want to play a Brit?”
Sill, political or not, Bana said he’s gratified to get to work on a thought-provoking film with serious, grown-up themes.
“These are the kinds of films I like to go and see,” he said. “I really like to learn something if that’s possible when I go to the movies. To learn something new or to get entrenched in a world that I’m not familiar with and come away with slightly more knowledge than I had before. I always enjoy that experience, and taking a ride with interesting characters. And selfishly when I read this I thought that Martin was going to be a lot of fun to play.”
The character, at first blush, played into one of Bana’s largely unknown strengths. Not many people know that he started his performing career in Melbourne as a stand-up comedian. So when he first read the script, he said he was attracted to the character’s quick wit and caustic sense of humor.
“(Martin) was actually a bit more of a smart aleck on paper than when we shot him,” Bana said. “There’s a little bit that (director John) Crowley cut out, and I can see why he did it. But I played him as more of a smartass than he is in the movie, and there were a few of those key moments that we lost in final editing. But from that point of view, I knew from the beginning he was going to be fun to play.”