IT'S a little-known fact that like Kevin Spacey and Tom Hanks, Australian actor Eric Bana started off his career in comedy. Though he's sunk his teeth into more serious roles like that of Hector in Troy and the titular Chopper Read in Chopper, Bana is ready to lighten up again in the Netflix movie Special Correspondents.
He was offered the role of Frank Bonneville at the end of last year.
In a telephone interview from Melbourne, he says: "Doing sketch comedy was all about acting, but there tends to be a smaller pool of potential material for a performer so I was happy to take on more serious roles. But I'm a huge fan of Ricky's (Gervais). I love everything he's done so far and I thought the premise was a great vehicle for a comedy. The script also made me laugh out loud, so I was all in."
The film, written and directed by Gervais, follows Frank Bonneville (Bana), a struggling New York-based radio journalist.
Bonneville is asked to cover the ongoing conflict in Ecuador along with his colleague and friend Ian Finch (Gervais), but when Finch loses their passports, the duo decide to fake frontline war reports from the comfort of their hideout above a Spanish restaurant in Queens.
This is the first film Bana has done for an on-demand service like Netflix. He explains: "There's no real difference. It felt like an independent comedy being shot in a studio somewhere, but the good thing was that there wasn't any interference. (Gervais) was the boss and he got to make the kind of movie he wanted. I think services like Netflix are great for directors and actors because their strong visions can be pushed through to the end instead of being diluted by what other people want."
Even though Gervais was leading the project, Bana didn't feel like an underling at all.
"It was actually a lot of fun working with him. It felt more like I was mucking around with a co-star than working with a boss," he adds.
And in fact, he did a lot more than just work with Gervais. He laughs: "I was actually sharing a trailer with him, and it was a small one with just a wall down the middle. I could hear him anytime he entered or exited it and we could talk to each other through that thin wall. It was pretty unnerving."
While Special Correspondents might have re-ignited Bana's passion for comedic roles, there's one thing he'll never do - musicals. "I don't generally have rules about what role I can and cannot play but I can't sing, so if there's a musical that requires only a talking role, then that could be for me!" he quips.
His next releases are Guy Ritchie's King Arthur adaptation which doesn't come out till 2017 and The Secret Scripture, expected out later this year.
"So far, I've found that the roles I'm best at are small ones in larger films and large ones in smaller films. I can't really explain it," the 47-year-old says. "But I think as you get older, you're offered more interesting scripts because you're able to play a variety of different ages. That's what I've found anyway."
On his downtime, the motor-racing enthusiast finds time to read. And not just movie scripts either, though those do take up a lot of his time.
He shares: "I just finished David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell and whenever I have the time to read books, it puts me straight into holiday mode!"
Special Correspondents is available now on Netflix