Remember the Eric Bana Show? Yeah, we’ve blocked it from our minds too. But you might have hazy memories of the comedian-turned-actor’s impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Sly Stallone on Oz TV shows Full Frontal and Tonight Live; oh yes, he opened many-a can of laughter with those… 

Luckily, though, Bana took his first film role seriously, gaining 30lb, crafting a fetching handlebar moustache and spending four hours a day being painted in the tattoos of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. His superb portrayal of the infamous Aussie gangster got him noticed, in particular by Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt, who then recommended him for Hollywood blockbusters Black Hawk Down and Troy respectively. 

Since then we’ve seen him in many movies great and small, playing characters from a green monster (Hulk), to an Israeli assassin (Munich), to a Romulan villain (Star Trek) to a doomed lover (The Time Traveller’s Wife). Now he’s taking on a very different role as a New York City cop dealing with demons and exorcisms in the crime/horror drama, Deliver us from Evil. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and co-starring the sultry Olivia Munn as his wife, the film sees Bana give a convincing performance as a man battling renegade priests and supernatural phenomena. Based on the experiences of real-life former Bronx cop turned demonologist, Ralph Sarchie, who participated in several exorcisms in cooperation with the local Catholic church, Bana was left shaken by some of the video footage he studied prior to shooting the film, which documented supposed supernatural phenomena.

“I had trouble sleeping for a week after I saw this video that Ralph showed us,” Bana says. “I’m pretty sceptical of these things, but I do believe that some people are more attuned to certain kinds of experiences than others. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you can be thinking about someone and then bump into them on the street a few minutes later. You can’t explain those things logically, so I’m open to the discussion.”

Born and raised in Australia by a Croatian father and German mother, Bana (real name Banadinovich), still lives in Melbourne with his wife of 17 years Rebecca Gleeson, a former TV publicist, and their two children, Klaus aged 15, and Sophia, 12. Settling down for our chat, we see 45-year-old Bana’s jet-black hair is now streaked with grey, his 6ft3 frame is covered casually in jeans and a T-shirt, and his dimple creases with a welcoming smile. Damn us Aussies are fine…

‘It’s just about the worst thing that can happen to you’. Click NEXT to find out what Eric’s talking about…

Eric, unlike most of your fellow Australian actors who have moved to Los Angeles for the sake of their careers, you’ve chosen to continue living in Melbourne. Do you think that this decision has hurt your career at all?

No. And even if it has, it wouldn’t make any difference to me. I love my life with my wife and kids in Melbourne and that’s my home. I don’t mind flying to Los Angeles for a few days or weeks at a time to talk to people in Hollywood when I need to. I still have to travel to the US or other countries when I’m shooting movies, so it doesn’t make any difference anyway. These days you can just go online and have meetings using your computer. 

You have a self-confessed obsession with cars. Do you still tinker in your garage?

Yeah but I haven’t been doing as much racing as I would like. If I hadn’t become an actor, I’m pretty sure I would have become a race car driver or at least tried to make it in that field. And if I wouldn’t have made the grade as a driver, I would have tried to become an engineer.

You had a bad scare driving your beloved 1974 Ford Falcon XB coupe, aka ‘The Beast’, in a race didn’t you?

The Beast and yours truly were nearly destroyed when we rammed into a tree at the Targa [a professional road rally in Tasmania]. My navigator and I were lucky to come out of that crash alive because a lot of people have been badly hurt or killed in those kinds of crashes. It’s just about the worst thing that can happen to you.

You directed your own documentary about the race called Love the Beast…

It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, except for the final result, which is a very unpleasant memory. I still can’t believe that it happened, but crashes are part of racing. I got to step out of that one and you just can’t wait until the next race. You never get that out of your system (laughs). I’m still hoping to team up with [former Formula 1 driver] Mark Webber for the Bathurst endurance race next year. It’s a very famous race in Australia and it would be great to do the race with Mark.

What kind of car do you drive when you’re at home?

A boring four-wheel drive. It’s is a practical car, something I can attach the trailer to and take the wife, the children and the dog out on road trips. Our dog’s a poodle. I call it Mario Testino after my favourite photographer! (Laughs.)

‘This was a man who saw the most horrible kinds of crimes.’ Click ‘NEXT’ for the spooky details…

Okay let’s talk about your new film, Deliver Us From Evil. What excited you about this supernatural story?

I thought that the director Scott Derrickson had written an outstanding screenplay and I’m a huge fan of his work. Also, I had never played a cop before, which was something I always wanted to do in my career. It was an incredible experience. I was playing a real-life cop [Ralph Sarchie] who had worked in one of the toughest districts you could ever imagine – the 46th precinct in the Bronx. Shooting in the Bronx added a lot of intensity to everything. You felt that it was so much more authentic being there and shooting in the places where the events actually took place. We were doing mainly night shoots, so you can imagine that it adds to the atmosphere, which was pretty dark anyway because of the subject matter. I loved my time making this movie.

Did you spend a lot of time with the real Ralph Sarchie?

I spent a lot of time with Ralph, although I tried not to give him the impression that I was studying certain things about him while we were talking about the story. He was on set virtually every day and I got to know him really well. He wasn’t at all worried about how I was portraying him because the script presented him in a very detailed and layered way. I was glad to have him around so if I had a particular question I could go right to the source. This was a man who saw the most horrible kinds of crimes being committed in his district and was constantly dealing with very, very bad criminals. He saw the world in very black-and-white terms, but then he starts discovering that his world is maybe not so cut-and-dried and other things are going on that shake him out of that very cold and disciplined way of looking at the world. He doesn’t have all the answers after all.

One of the interesting things about the film is that Sarchie is carrying a dark secret around with him…

Yes. That’s a very fundamental part of his past that adds a lot to the impact of the film. The audience is not just following him as he investigates things; you’re also uncovering things about the man himself. There’s a lot of great drama to that, too.

Are you a big fan of these kinds of horror or supernatural films?

I love films like The Exorcist and others that slowly draw you into the story and show how people, who are at first very sceptical, start slowly believing in these phenomena. On the one hand it’s a police procedural, and on the other hand there’s this added dimension to what he’s investigating that turns it into a thriller. What we’re telling is the journey of a very tough Bronx cop who starts believing in these supernatural events and becomes a believer. That’s one of the fascinating aspects of this story.

How did you and Olivia Munn react to all the scary stuff that takes place in the film?

Olivia was pretty happy once the film was finished! (Laughs.) The scene I was worried about doing was the exorcism scene at the end, which was hanging over us the entire time. It’s a very difficult scene to film and you feel very claustrophobic and tense in such a setting. You can’t wait until it’s over. You feel such a relief and you just want to forget about it as fast as possible, even though the images and impressions still stay with you for a while.

Your hair is greying in the film. Was that deliberate?

It’s my hair! I’m 45 years old and I don’t want to pretend to be 25. I’m fine with going grey one day. Bring it on! (Laughs.)

Your mother is German. Can you speak German?

Not enough to carry on a conversation. Just a few phrases to order food or beer. That’s enough for me (laughs.) My mother originally come from Viernheim near Mannheim; I travelled with her there a few times, but I’ve also travelled alone through Germany. I love Bavaria; I’d like to travel some more in Germany and other places in Europe.

One of your kids is named Klaus, a typical German name…

He’s named after my mother’s brother as we had a close relationship. He took me to football games when I was young. We generally spent a lot of time with each other, and he’s my godfather. When my son was born, he was a big baby, so I thought, “he’s a true Klaus”!

Do you like having your family around you when you’re shooting films?

My family has travelled with me all over the world while I’ve been working on sets. But as the children get older you don’t want to disrupt their schooling and lives too much doing that. Children need stability and that’s why I could never bring myself to take them out of Australia. We love our life there and it will always be the place I look forward to coming back home to. 

Deliver us from Evil is out in cinemas from August 22