Over the course of his career, the Australian actor has played angry green monsters (“The Incredible Hulk”), monarchs (“The Other Boleyn Girl”), aliens (“Star Trek”) and noble warriors (“Troy”), trying on and shedding American, British and other dialects in the process. But Bana says it was positively liberating to speak in his natural tones as the guilt-stricken Federal Agent Aaron Falk.
“The Dry” follows Falk as he returns to his hometown to investigate the death of his childhood friend Luke, who allegedly murdered his wife and son before shooting himself. It’s a difficult homecoming for Falk, who fled the village for the city after another friend, Ellie, drowned mysteriously, raising suspicions about his involvement in her death.
“The Dry” is based on the best-selling novel by Jane Harper and is being released by IFC in theaters and on-demand on Friday. Bana spoke with Variety about his passion for the project, his early days in comedy and why he’s done with the Hulk, multiverses be damned.
Why did you want to make “The Dry”?
Like many of the projects I’m involved with, it started with my wife handing me a book over my pillow and saying, ‘You should read this.’ I read the book and loved it. And then some time later my dear friend, Robert Connolly, we share an office and he came in one day and said he was considering doing an adaptation of ‘The Dry.’ And I just jumped and said, ‘I just read the book and I love it. Shall we do it together?’ So I basically cast myself in the film.
The film was shot in the Wimmera Mallee region and unfolds in a rural town, but it’s very different from the outback that we typically see depicted in movies. Was it exciting to shine a light on a different part of Australia?
It’s incredibly iconically Australian but it’s different from the vision of Australia that’s usually presented in cinema. We’ve seen many versions of the kind of hyper-outback kind of caricature. This is a rural Australia that we as Australians relate to. It’s how people from the city relate to the countryside through these regional towns. It’s where we go on weekends or travel through to get somewhere. We feel an emotional connection to it.
The small town atmosphere provides a lot of the film’s texture. Was that difficult to create?
In any country town, everybody knows everyone else and knows everything about them. They know your secrets and those of your family. The hardest thing was that all the characters in this film have to be memorable because they all need to have suspicion cast upon them. That made the casting super important. Everyone needed to be believable.
Your character Aaron Falk is plagued by guilt over the death of his friend Ellie — guilt that forced him to leave his hometown for the city. What was the key to playing him?
The key was understanding what Ellie’s death had done to Aaron. I wanted to explore the journey of someone who left and then came back. I loved the the idea of Aaron being forced to return to a setting he doesn’t want to revisit. It’s almost like being forced to attend a school reunion that you don’t want to go to. He’s so out of place there, with his white shirt and his suit and his flashy car, he stands out, as we say in Australia, like dog’s balls.
How do you choose your projects?
I just choose the best thing that’s on my pile. It’s really that simple. Regardless of size, regardless of location, I just say yes to the thing that I’ve fallen in love with. If there’s nothing there, I’m happy to wait. In some ways my CV is leaner as a result, but I just enjoy obsessing about the jobs I do. I have to feel passionate. Early on I was very keen to not be typecast and directors have embraced that by coming to me with different kinds of roles and characters. I’m always having to not be me. I’m not allowed to be from Australia. I’m always from somewhere else. Australian actors never get to play ourselves. We’re forced to be chameleons.
It must be hard to have to slip into other accents in most of the movies you play. Did it feel liberating to get to speak in your natural accent in “The Dry”?
It’s frustrating. You go mad. It’s ridiculous also that we never ever see Australian people represented on screen. Australian people are everywhere, but they’re never on film. Before “The Dry,” I hadn’t spoken in an Australian tongue on screen since I did “Funny People,” and that was the first film I’d done where i was able to use my own accent since “Chopper.” Two times in twenty years? What you can potentially bring to that character is vastly magnified when you’re playing someone from your own country.
Comic book movies are exploring multiverses where actors who previously played superhero roles are coming back to play that version of the character alongside actors who took on the parts. Would you ever revisit the Hulk?
That doesn’t interest you?
Not a lot.
You started in standup and sketch comedy. Do you ever think about doing that again?
I miss standup a little bit, but I really miss the sketch comedy, especially today when you see so many egos on TV and think oh it would be great to bring that person down. But I don’t miss it enough to do anything about it.