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Melbourne based actor Eric Bana has played his share of heroes and villains. Initially thanks to his rugged good looks and naturally buff physique he’s been cast as a heroic good guy in The Hulk or Munich even as a romantic lead Henry in the scifi thriller The Time Traveler’s Wife.
But his sort of cool and detached demeanor led him to more morally ambiguous even dastardly parts such as the assassin father Erik Heller in Hannah and the renegade Romulan Nero in JJ Abrams’s rebooted Star Trek.
Now the 45 year-old actor is playing a character that lands right in the middle -- a morally ambiguous yet familiar place for most of us -- in the British legal thriller Closed Circuit. Barrister Martin Rose wants to be a properly steadfast defense lawyer and hero yet find himself trapped between the ideal and the politically expedient.
The film opens with a suicide bomber attack on a major London market which kills dozens; later on a subject is captured. When the barrister handling the case supposedly commits suicide, Rose (Bana) is appointed to replace him as the defense counsel for the accused heroin-addicted perpetrator Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto).
And Martin’s colleague and former lover Claudia (Rebecca Hall) is appointed the Special Advocate for the defense -- a post 9/11 legal invention where only the advocate can see the secret information being used to convict the terrorist -- in order to defend him.
Unanswered questions emerge before the trial, with many answers sealed in documentation that the accused can’t see. One of the main players in the investigation is his adolescent son and the plot twists with rich possibilities, some never fully exploited. This high-profile case unexpectedly binds together these two again -- testing the limits of their loyalties and placing their lives in jeopardy. Some good guys turn out to be bad, MI5 is not transparent, and the accused is not who he seems to be.
Introduced at the titles and interspersed throughout, the closed circuit motif is not what the occasional shots would suggest and therein lies the attraction of the film. Much like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (produced by the same team as this one), the story and its underlying implications requires a second viewing just to appreciate its complicated real-world ambiguities.
The following Q&A is culled from a roundtable held at the Waldorf Astoria shortly before the film’s release.
Q: Is this something that sprung from the pages of reality or that might have actually happened?
EB: Maybe not at such an extreme level but it's definitely born our of a sense of frustration by people that work in the legal system in England as to just how thorough and un-thorough that process can be.
I won't bore you with the whole special advocate intricacies but yes there's obviously many many hours spent in the British legal system being frustrated by a lack of progress that comes from the mechanics that's in place in terms of evidence that can't be heard.
I think the general idea was born out of that and you take that idea to the nth degree -- Okay, if they were withholding evidence and information what would the extreme of that be -- well it would be that there was an actual cover up and the reason that we can't cross examine and talk to witnesses in open court is because these are the kinds of secrets that they're holding so I guess its an exaggeration of that idea and as a result of that it becomes a more traditional high stakes thriller.
Q: It’s scary to think that a phantom government or organization exists beyond the Prime Minister. It seems even more prominent in England than even here in the U.S. Does that make you look over your shoulder now? You're paranoid that they might hit you for doing this movie to reveal their secrets?
EB: The world is changing, and depending on which country you're in, there are different levels as to which you feel as though you could be being watched and monitored.
Every time we stay in the hotel and hook into the wifi we accept the fact that there's a good chance that at any point someone could look up anything you've looked up and check your history and see where you've gone.
I think that's the world we're living in now. Certainly when you're in London you're aware of the fact that there are cameras everywhere.
Where I come from in Melbourne [Australia], its nowhere near that yet. So there is a sense that when crime does happen that it's not able to be investigated as quickly because there's not as many closed circuit TV cameras. I'm not sure what it's like in New York.
I know that in some areas like Time Square there's a lot of them but it doesn't feel like a prominent part of the city landscape yet.
Q: Your character has a backstory with Rebecca Hall's character -- was that always there when you first came into the script? How did you guys work it out?
EB: Yes it was there right from the beginning. I don't know if you had a chance to sit down with John or Rebecca yet, but they are two of the most delightful super intelligent people so I was in great hands and on this job I was lucky Working Title agreed.
I wanted to come out and do a bunch of research and hang out so I went out there a month or a month and a half before we started shooting and spent some time with John and Rebecca and we went through the script and we had a read through and did some rehearsal and all this sort of stuff.
Early on it was apparent that it was going to be a great experience and working with Rebecca was incredible and i really loved that secret that they have and the fact that it raises the stakes of the drama and they tell a lie and they lie to the judge and have to cover up their past relationship and that raises the stakes for the audience and the drama involved.
I also loved the fact that really, there is an element of this that is a love story in which we see no affectionate moments, there's just this one little flashback when we see them in this hotel in the past, but you essentially have a love story in which the main characters don't come anywhere near each other in a traditional scene.
Q: Did you say at one point there should be a scene where you’re seen taking a shower with Rebecca?
EB: I joked with them every day that we'd be coming back and doing some very raunchy reshoots, which in very British fashion they were like "no no no we'll be fine, what makes you say that?"
Well because if this movie opens in America they're gonna want to see something, some visual evidence of the fact that they've been together, so I'd always joke with them about that.
Q: You said that they did research, and obviously with the Snowden situation, there's things to think about there. Who would you have sought out or have liked to sought out -- the secret service, MI5 or MI6 people. Did you get a chance to talk to lawyers in this situation?
EB: For me it was much more to do with advocacy and the legal system. The fundamentals of the legal system I was familiar with because I married into a legal family 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 minutia of how these barristers live and work.That was really interesting.
There's so much fantastic history of the British legal system and the bar over there. Its just a really very traditional system. But at the same time, there's this modern element over there where you go to the court room and see how seriously these barristers take their clothes. They are dressed well. People really take care in how they go about putting their wardrobe together.
Q: Did you get to keep your suit from this movie?
EB: I did not unfortunately.
Q: Are these barristers rich? Would we call them wealthy?
EB: Some of them are, not when they're starting out, but some of them are very wealthy obviously.
Q: At what point did you know what the secret was, were you always aware of it from the start or as you went through your discussions with director John Crowley and Rebecca because you're always trying to guess what is the real secret. What was underlying this, who betrayed who -- did you feel you know exactly? Did you figure out the layers, or were there more layers to the story that we're missing?
EB: It pretty much reveals itself by the end of the film. I really enjoyed reading the script, it read fantastic, I read it on a plane, and I was so happy to be reading it and it was a lot of fun, and at the point at which the reveal came at the end it was like “Ahh Okay Okay, right.”
It also made sense because at every point it had to be factually correct with what we were saying about the legal system and the role of the special advocate -- what evidence can and can't be brought up in court so that side of it. It's actually a very close friend of producer Tim Beaven who pitched the idea initially for this movie. Tim Owen is his name -- a very very smart man.
So that side of the film was always being kept in check and had lots of checks and balances so it was a case of -- whilst you can’t be a slave to that entirely while making a film -- it does sit in that framework and is 100% accurate in that regard.
Q: Was this inspired by the London subway and bus terrorist act, to take something from that horrible example of saying, you know, what happens? Was the special advocate called in for those trials?
EB: You'd have to check with John Crowley…
Q: Do you think this film has its basis in that particular story?
EB: It was post 9-11, or it may have been post the London bombing -- I'm not sure when role of special advocate in modern system came in exactly what year it was but its obviously in response to terrorism and state secrets and protecting informants and all that sort of stuff, but which year it came in, I'm not sure if it was pre- or post the London bombings.
Q: What is so appealing about dark themes, both in general and to you personally.
EB: These are the kinds of films I like to go and see so I'm definitely drawn to them. I really like to learn something, if that's vaguely possible when I go to the movies.
If I learn something new or 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 just thought that Martin was going to be a lot of fun to play.
He was actually a bit more of a smart-ass on paper and when we shot him there was a little bit that we cut out and I can see why John did but I played him as more of a smart as than he appears in the movie and there was a few key moments that we lost so from that degree I knew he was gonna be fun to play.
Q: If this film was to be recast with actors from cinema’s golden age who would you imagine sinking his teeth into your role?
EB: I don't know how to answer that -- the first thing I thought when I read the script, I was just really glad they sent it to me I was just really surprised that Clooney wasn't doing this. So, I don't know about Golden Age but that was my first question, "Does Clooney not want to play a Brit?"
Q: Is there's a shortage of brainy films for adults in this industry?
EB: I don't know if it's so much a shortage or that it's just much harder for these types of films to get air space in the market place.
I'm sure you read or heard that great talk by Steven Soderbergh at the San Francisco Film Festival where he did a great job of explaining how and why it is the way it is and I'm certain that at this time of the year as we get toward the end of summer hopefully people are thirsty for this kind of movie and that they find it.
Q: What happened here? This one's got people getting killed, but you didn't get to do the killing in this one -- but at least you didn't get killed.
EB: I had to be a good guy for once. I know. It was interesting being on the other side and being the victim for a change.
Q: What have you been doing since Hannah? Are you extremely picky? You did a great job in Deadfall but that was last year…
EB: Thank you! It's not my fault! I was really proud of that film and it didn't get a wide release, it went down the new release model of the independent cinema, and that's why I didn't get a chance to sit with you. But I was very proud of the film.
I would love to have seen that Deadfall got much wider traction but it just seems to be getting harder and harder for small dramatic films to compete in the market place.
I've been working as much, it's just that the release model has changed significantly in the last 10 years and sometimes I’ll get to sit here and talk about a film and other times I won't.
Q: Television is where really provocative storytelling is happening, in particular HBO and Showtime too. Wouldn’t be great to do something like what we have with HBO -- a series where everybody's talking about it as the new trend?
EB: I've never really seen television as an option for myself because I live at home, that would be a lot more complicated for me than doing movies for obvious reasons. I do love it though, like all of us, there's nothing, you feel like you're being spoiled when you hook into a great series, it does seem to good to be true that you've just got all those episodes of a great show that you can watch, so I enjoy it as much as the next person.
Q: Do you prefer political dramas and do you get involved in politics when you're not working?
EB: No, I'm probably the most unpolitical actor out there. I've never got involved in politics, it's just not my bag, there are other people who do a way better job of it than I do, it's just not something I'm at all interested in.
Q: You have a couple more things coming up?
EB: I just wrapped a movie here, a couple weeks ago, here in the Bronx. We shot the whole movie in the Bronx which was awesome. It's called Beware The Night. It's a Scott Derrickson movie, the same director from ‘Sinister and Exorcism of Emily Rose,’ and it’s going to be scary.
Q: Do you play a priest?
EB: No I'm a cop, a Bronx cop. Edgar Ramirez plays the priest.
Q: Did you do research for your role?
EB: We did a bit of everything...
Q: Didn’t you do something before that, right after this?
EB: I have a small role in Lone Survivor, the Pete Berg movie coming out soon.
Q: Do you do any of that social media stuff, Twitter or Facebook?
EB: No, at this point absolutely none at all.
Q: They don't force you to?
EB: No one tells me what to do. I don't say that in an arrogant way -- never in my career have I been cajoled in that way.
Q: As a celebrity, do you feel as if you're being watched more than ever, that you're never really anonymous?
RH: I'm one of the lucky ones in that sense. I will say It was worse two or three years ago. It's settled down a little bit. I think people have gotten less excited about the fact that their phone's got a camera maybe, but there's no doubt that that plays into it.
It’s different to what it was five or six years ago when I started; if someone didn't have a camera, then they weren't taking a picture.
But I don't get it so bad so I'm not complaining.
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