AT THE AGREED-UPON HOUR of 2 P.M. a Nissan Pathfinder pulls up outside a sidewalk café in downtown Melbourne and Eric Bana gets out, all long and brawny, wearing jeans and a navy T-shirt. "G'day, mate, how you going? Fancy some lunch?" He's pally in that Aussie-bloke way: big handshake, singsong broguehe even says things like "fair dinkum."
The plan is that he's going to show me around his hometown. We set off for our first destination, an Italian restaurant. As soon as we pull out into traffic, Bana enthusiastically starts playing the role of tour guide. He's selling the place like a Realtor. "Stop me if I bore you shitless," he says while changing lanes.
Sure, he could have moved to some mansion in Beverly Hills, but he prefers being out of the loop. "When it comes to projects, I'm kind of like a wine tasterall the labels are taken off," he says. "Melbourne is just the right amount of distance that I can make decisions that are not influenced by fear or hype or FOMOfear of missing out."
But the best thing about Melbourne is that it's far enough away that sometimes he actually forgets that he is, in fact, Eric Bana, Movie Star. So the leading man from Troy, Black Hawk Down, Munich, Hulk, The Other Boleyn Girl, and now Star Trek can kid himself, in brief, blissful moments, that he's just this regular Joe with a wife and two kids and a big black poodle named Mario. But these moments are fleeting, even in his favorite Italian restaurant.
"Ereek!" The owner, Gino, fusses over Bana, lapsing into Italian as he leads us through the little family-run establishment. Some of the other diners turn to stare. He might like to think of himself as just another Melbournian, but here he's Eric Bana.
SOMETHING HAPPENED TO BANA when Hollywood called. He was a successful Australian comedian who'd spent five years doing stand-up before landing his own TV show, Eric. Then, in 2000, his searing performance as the blaring psycho Mark Read in Chopper demonstrated a raw talent at full tiltand offered him a ticket to the movie major leagues. But no sooner had he burst through Hollywood's gilded doors than he steadied himself and began a run of characters who were defined by their inability to emote: the hawkeyed hard case Hoot in Black Hawk Down; Avner the conscience-stricken assassin in Munich; the conflicted scientist in Ang Lee's Hulk; Hector in Troy, the warrior trying to avoid war. In these roles Bana glowered, his eyes dark, wrestling with some inner dilemma.
The old Bana does reveal himself occasionally: At Aussie Rules football games, for example, Bana screams himself hoarse. In his comedy-club days, he had to stop going to contests on the night before a gig, because he wouldn't have a voice the next day. But now, for the most part, he's thoughtful, earnest, and a little serious. And he's sincere about wanting to show me around Melbourne. On finding out how far I've come, how limited my time is, and that this is my first visit to Australia, he chews pensively, calculating an itinerary.