In 2000, Eric Bana gained Hollywood attention with his role as a homicidal thug in Chopper, a breakthrough in his native Australia. Soon after, the actor was courted by figures like Ridley Scott for Black hawk down and Steven Spielberg for Munich. Despite major tent poles such as Ang Lee Pontoon and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, he wanted to return to his Australian indie roots.
Enter director-producer Robert Connolly, who first met Bana in the 2007 Richard Roxburgh film Romulus, my father. They’ve now teamed up on four projects and their latest – crime drama The dry, which Connolly directed, the Bana toplines, and which they both produced – is set to release in the US on May 21 after making $ 18 million in Australia alone.
They caught up THR from their shared office in Melbourne. Bana, a father of two with his wife, publicist and photographer Rebecca Bana, discussed protecting the cinematic aesthetic and why a Marvel return is unlikely, while Connolly, also a married father of two. , wondered why he couldn’t believe that the Netflix frenzy is the only future of entertainment.
How did you start to work together?
ERIC BANA After Romulus, Rob was working in an office in Sydney, then moved to Melbourne and was looking for an office at the time.
ROBERT CONNOLLY Eric reached out and said, “Why don’t we put something together?” We help each other on all our projects. We’re a sounding board for everything, even when Eric leaves and performs in something overseas. It was a great creative arrangement.
Why not become official as producer partners?
BANA It would be like a couple who had lived together for 12 years getting married. It just doesn’t seem like it would achieve anything. It’s just one less business that needs to be listed.
Bruna Papandrea and Reese Witherspoon first opted for the book The dry in 2015. How did you get involved?
CONNOLLY It was brought to us by Bruna and her company Made Up Stories. In 1997, I framed Bruna on her first feature film in Australia, a film called Better than sex, and I’ve known her ever since, [nearly] 25 years. I was really proud and excited to see all that she has accomplished with her own creative work.
What made you choose IFC Films for national distribution?
CONNOLLY They’re innovative in the way they reach audiences, which I think is really important in these tough times. We’re at a time when it’s very easy to pull back from the idea that the movie should just play on streaming services and that’s the future. I am so inspired by the philosophical approach to cinema that IFC has. We are social animals who love to come together, and I think COVID has created incredible challenges for the world in this regard. But, if Australia is an example, I think when the cinema opens en masse in the United States, people will come back en masse.
BANA We felt that the best chance for this film to work abroad early on was to perform very well in its home country. There were a lot of examples of films that went to a festival that got attention and then had a really underwhelming performance in their home territory, and then it was very difficult for that film to take hold of. momentum elsewhere. So we really went all out to make the Australian release a priority.
What did you think of Searchlight Nomadland outweighing the Oscars streamers?
CONNOLLY I just can’t believe the future is watching Netflix six nights a week and then on the seventh night, going to a dinner party and talking about what you ate the other six nights. I just can’t believe the height of civilization got us there.
BANA I didn’t see the show in its entirety, but I was delighted that a film like Nomadland was recognized. I think the elephant in the room here is the aesthetic of the cinema. No one can tell me that the profession of filmmakers is not affected by the end result oriented towards streaming. There is a dramatic difference between the end product and the craft when a movie is meant to be seen on the big screen. I think this level of crafting is extremely important to protect, and I won’t be swayed by that opinion.
There’s an aesthetic that’s crept into a lot of supposedly large-scale movies designed for streamers. So, yeah, I was delighted to see Nomadland doing so well because I think it’s something we need to protect and be honest. Whether it’s a conscious or subconscious thing, and I’m the only person to notice it, I think it becomes something and it has to be recognized.
What are your favorite movies?
CONNOLLY Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, The Year of the Dangerous Life, Witness. Films by Wong Kar-wai.
BANA The first one Mad Max movie. Doggy afternoon had a huge influence on me as a youngster. Al Pacino’s performance in this area, everyone’s performance in this movie, actually. And The right story.
As producers, what kind of stories do you most want to tell?
BANA I want people to feel better about seeing something I’m involved with. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be challenged, or there may be moments of discomfort, but I have no interest in beating someone up and letting them go. movie feeling worse than them when they entered. I don’t want to get involved in content that just makes you darker for the experience. This is something that is very important to me. Almost everything I read and say no to has this advantage.
What’s next for you two?
CONNOLLY We are in postproduction on [environmental drama] Blueback with Mia Wasikowska, Radha Mitchell and Eric.
BANA We develop a story based on Mike Hailwood, who is arguably the greatest motorcycle rider of all time. I sat down with Pauline Hailwood, Mike’s widow who has sadly passed away, and told her the story I would like to tell. So, I’ve been working there for two years. I wrote the script. Rob and I are producing this together and we would like to ultimately direct it together, myself playing Mike.
Eric, you played Hulk before Marvel got this awesome Hollywood thing. Would you ever come back to this world?
BANA Highly unlikely. It just comes down to the way I react as a member of the audience. I love that people love these movies, but I only see other movies until I see them. So it’s a lot harder for me to take that leap.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the May 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.