There’s a short little primer that tells you everything you need to know about the wives of Henry VIII, the King of England before his daughter Elizabeth I (yes, the Cate Blanchett/Judi Dench one) took the throne: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived. In The Other Boleyn Girl it’s that first beheaded wife we take a look at, Anne Boleyn. She convinced Henry to divorce his wife, which meant a major break between England and the Catholic Church that changed all of England to begin with. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Anne’s sister Mary had the king first. And you thought modern sibling rivalry was ugly.
Though we sometimes think of Henry VIII as fat, ugly and crazy, in The Other Boleyn Girl he’s played by Eric Bana, who’s pretty much the opposite of all those things. With a killer Australian accent and a nice sense of humor, Bana answered questions about his research for the role, working with two actresses like Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson while staying happily married, and a handful of his upcoming projects as well. You may be wondering about the biggest upcoming project of them all, Star Trek; we reported everything he had to say about that a few days ago, so you can check that out here. But be sure to come back so you can get the scoop on what it’s like to be the king.
You have a background in comedy. Do you want to go back to it?
By the time I finished comedy, I was really burnt out of it. I had had enough. I don’t really have a strong desire to prove myself in that area, or to go back to it in any great way. I feel like a kid in a candy store with the stuff that I’ve been offered since then, and I’m nowhere near burnt out on that stuff. As an actor I’ve been attracted to the sort of films that I want to go and see. That tends to usually be drama-related. So long as they give me those opportunities, I’m afraid I’ll be disappointing my comedy fans who are wanting to see something lighter.
How is it to be a Hollywood leading man with a family but with temptation everywhere?
I think it’s the same for me as it is for anyone else. We all come across beautiful people, interesting people in our lives, and I’m no different.
This book as well as The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is your next project, are books that every book club in America has read. Do you concern yourself with the fan following of books?
I simply take it as a sign of collective good taste. I think there’s always a reason with literature why the cream rises to the top.
Do you see an advantage in doing these movies based on books?
It is really interesting. I did a small Australian film last year, Romulus My Father, which was also based on a book. That was a much-loved book. Not everyone that reads a book is going to love the film, but the people who love the book and then go on to love the movie are affected even deeper, or in a different sort of way. The responses I got from that experience were very overwhelming compared to other films I’ve done. Sometimes it does open up a different channel of communication with the audience
Have you seen a finished version of Time Traveler’s Wife?
No, we just finished it before Christmas. It was an amazing experience, and Robert Schwentke I think will do an amazing job putting it together. Rachel McAdams, I think is about as good as it gets for me in terms of working with someone. She was incredible. I think we’re really interesting together. I think it will be an interesting film. I hope it will be special.
There’s been a lot of different interpretations of Henry VIII over the years. What kind of research did you do aside from the script? What did you key into with Henry? And which were your favorite Henrys previously?
I lived as Henry VIII for three straight months prior to the starting of this film. I informed all of my family and friends that I was Henry VIII, and to act accordingly. [Everyone laughs] No, honestly I read the script and I really felt very passionately for this man that was at the center of the story. The fact that he was the king and the fact that he was Henry VIII was almost secondary to me. I was really drawn to the drama and shenanigans surrounding this fellow. I didn’t get too bogged down in history. And one thing I definitely didn’t do was watch a single film. I had a lot of people say “You’ve got to check out so and so.” I went, “Absolutely not.” And to this day I still haven’t. I will eventually, but now I find that stuff way too dangerous, and too much of an influence.
What do you think of you and Jonathan Rhys Myers [of Showtime’s The Tudors] both playing Henry as kind of modern-day rock star. He’s sexy, he’s powerful, he’s irresistible.
A lot of people forget that the younger Henry was a very athletic, very agile young man, prior to the classic Holbein image that we have of him. I haven’t seen The Tudors, so I don’t know what kind of Henry Jonathan has done. I’ve seen promos, and that’s probably a little more rock and roll than ours, perhaps. I didn’t really have any particular style in mind. For me, I was just playing him as the man that I read. I didn’t feel like I was putting a particularly modern take or any particular take, I was just putting my take on it.
Was there an aspect to Henry that you discovered in research or in the film that people don’t usually recognize?
I know he was a reputation for this crazy pursuit of a male heir. But if people just stop and think for a second what that might have been like for him. It was a very legitimate threat to the security of his empire, not to provide a male heir. None of us know what that sort of pressure would be like. It’s funny, when you get into these characters, you start to see them from a different angle. I was very able to justify a lot of his behavior. I think it’s one of the luxuries of being an actor, it’s the one time in your life you get to suspend moral judgment. All of you can say what you like about Henry and judge him however you like, but for me, for three or four months I get to not have any moral judgment on him.
How did you get to the point of playing Henry so dizzy with desire? What do you think about?
In any film I do, I just surrender myself to the moment. It’s all just about what’s happening there and then. I really enjoy pretending that I am actually that person for real. I always identified with Henry, and I always felt for him. I think we’ve all behaved like idiots, in love and in passion.
How do you hold on to your masculinity while wearing these fancy costumes?
It’s hard to not feel pretty important when you walk on the set every two days with a different costume, and you walk on the set, and no matter how use do to seeing these costumes these people are, they would stop what they were doing and just go “Wow.” The costumes did have that effect. The work of Sandy Powell is so amazing. Every single gown that we wore in the film was made for us specifically. I jokingly said to Justin ad the crew, “Fon’t call me the king, don’t refer to me as the king. It’s either Eric or Henry.” So of course, [booming voice] “The king! Here comes the king!” every day I walk on set. I perhaps should have issued a memo saying “Everyone has to refer to me as the king,” and I wouldn’t have had to worry about it.
What was it like working with Natalie and Scarlett?
They’re both similar and different. They’re both similar in the sense that they’re very professional, very well-prepared, heaps of energy, very clear about what they want to do, have very strong opinions in terms of their characters. At the same time they’re very easygoing, which is a very good mix. Sometimes those sort of attitudes come with a kind of lack of ability to live and breathe in the moment. They don’t suffer from that at all. They’re very, very free, and very, very open to what you’re doing. You can sometimes perform with people who are incredible but you can see that they’re functioning kind of on their own. These girls aren’t like that. I had a great time with them. They’re just really smart girls. They came really prepared, and they worked really hard. I think it shows. They’ve done amazing performances.
Were there any funny moments on the set?
Natalie and I cost the production quite a bit of money one day because I think we cracked up for an hour and 20. That’s expensive. We lost it because [director] Justin [Chadwick] likes to use a lot of really experimental camera angles, and sometimes put the camera where you can’t see it. Natalie and I were doing a scene, and at the end of a take, I just said “They’re taking the piss. There is no camera in the studio. I defy you to find the cameraman.” We looked around and we could not see where the camera was. Then way way at the end of the corridor there was someone [he waves]. She’s naughty, actually. She cracked up more than me. Whenever the camera was on her, and I was doing nothing, she would blame me. “His lip moved! You bastard!”
Are you concerned about this kind of film getting an audience?
I guess I’m somewhat naïve—I read something like this, and I’m like “Who would not want to see this?” It’s so up the alley of so many people that I know. It’s their kind of movie. I can’t imagine that this wouldn’t be everyone’s film. I feel like that all the time, with the films I do, not every one of them, but generally I feel that way. I think every generation deserves their chance to tell their version of this story. Obviously this story has been told before and it will be told again. I think through each generation’s eyes it’s a bit different. I think it was exciting being part of Justin’s vision. He’s a young director who’s got a lot to come.
What do you do with your kids when you take them to the set?
It sounds a lot more noble than what it is. The reason my kids come to the set is so I can actually see them. When you’re making a film, even though they travel with me, I’m very much a bit of a ghost presence. The reason my family travels with me is so I can physically get to see them, but you don’t really get to play the traditional role for that period. I think it’s extremely important for them to visit the set. I have a theory that I really want my kids to know—the only coloration that they make between dad being in films and reality is just a lot of people doing a lot of hard work. I think that’s a healthy thing for them, and that’s why I drag them around. They’ve met a lot of people I’ve worked it, and all they see is another person who worked really hard on a set. They don’t see anything glamorous about it, or they just see a bunch of talented people.
What did they think of Henry?
They got very disturbed, because they met Scarlett and Natalie on the second day of shooting, and I think my son was quite besotted with Anne, and was most upset when he found out that Fad was partly responsible for her being killed. He kept asking how Queen Anne was, and what was going to happen to her.
How old are they?
8 and 5.