Personal detailsName: Eric Bana
Born: 9 August 1968 (Age: 44)
Where: Melbourne, Australia
Height: 6' 4"
Awards: No Major Awards
All about this star
Eric Bana's career brings hope to all aspiring screen actors. Seldom has someone of such narrow cinematic experience climbed the Hollywood ladder so rapidly. Who was he, after all, this guy who single-handedly carried Ang Lee's mega-blockbuster The Hulk, then grabbed the role of Hector, arch-enemy of Brad Pitt's Achilles in Troy? Sure, he stood out in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, but weren't Ewan McGregor and Josh Hartnett the up-and-coming stars there? Who exactly was this Eric Bana? Just some populist mimic from Australia? Surely that could not be.
He was born Eric Banadinovich in Melbourne, Australia, on the 9th of August, 1968, the son of a Croatian father (Ivan, from Zagreb and manager for Caterpillar Inc, a tractor company) and German mother, Eleanor, a hairdresser. Eric was the younger of two brothers, the other being Anthony, three years older and now a banker. Though Eric would grow to 6' 3", he would still be short by his family's standards, Anthony measuring a hefty 6' 8".
As a kid Eric lived a typical suburban life in Tullamarine, out on the western edge of the city, near the airport. Melbourne is famed as the most vibrantly cosmopolitan of Australian towns, but Bana's upbringing was typically Aussie. He describes his young self as an "infatuated rev-head", obsessed with cars and motorbikes. It's an obsession that lasts to this day. Having driven in big races like the Targa Tasmania and the Adelaide Classic, in 2003 Bana would become the official patron of the Dick Johnson Racing Company - the former star driver Johnson being one of Eric's earliest heroes. And remember, this was nothing like the glamorous, money-drenched world of Formula One or Indie Car - this was about the V8 Supercar Championship, rough and hard, more Mad Max than Monza. Bana was staying true to his working-class roots.
For Bana, school was fairly uneventful. He was bright and powerful, but the thing that marked him most was a singular tragedy. When a very close friend died from cancer, young Eric was profoundly affected. Harshly taught the lesson that we can take nothing for granted, he felt fortunate for every new day and, heeding his Dad's dictum that "luck is preparation met by opportunity", put his all into everything he did. And what he did mostly was obsess over cars. At the age of 14 he seriously considered leaving school to become a mechanic, finally being persuaded against it by his father. Ivan would show his appreciation for his son's choice the next year when buying Eric his first motor, a clapped-out 1974 Ford XB Falcon GT Coupe. The boy would work on it endlessly.
On leaving school, Eric worked as a labourer for a transport company down on the wharf. This was just one in a string of menial jobs, including washing cars at a service station, pushing trolleys at Coles New World and picking up glasses in bars. They didn't forward his career much but, along with that rev-head adolescence, they did bring him into contact with a host of unusual and eccentric characters, many of whom, as a natural mimic, he would study and imitate for laughs. He was already aware of his gift for entertaining people and, naturally influenced by the thrills and spills of Mad Max, had decided he wanted to act.
But it was another influence that first kick-started him on the road to the top. A big fan of Richard Pryor, he was forever cracking people up with his gags, pranks and rapidly growing collection of impressions. Come 1991, while working as a barman at Melbourne's Castle Hotel, he was persuaded to try his hand at stand-up and proved an immediate success. For the next two years, he played at inner-city pubs, supporting himself by clearing tables. As ever, he was preparing for opportunity. One fellow comic remembers how Eric, unlike all the others, had business cards printed up - no chance would pass him by.
The first big one came with a performance on Steve Vizard's Tonight Live show. This led to an invitation to join the Full Frontal team, a comedy troupe with a very popular TV sketch series. Eric's impressions of Columbo, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ray Martin, Sylvester Stallone, John Farnham, Tom Cruise and Warwick Copper would make him one of the show's most popular turns. He'd also invent characters, one being Peter from Melbourne (pronounced Poida from Melben), a keen kid with a Megadeth teeshirt and dreadful mullet, who'd bring a very new style to interviewing such celebrities as John Wayne Bobbitt. When he finally left in 1996 - by which time he had toured Australia's club circuit with Full Frontal and was a stand-up star in his own right - he produced, wrote and starred in a solo special, simply called Eric, for Channel Seven. It was such a success that it led his own series, The Eric Bana Show Live, which saw him interviewing star guests, performing skits and, unusually, sat in his car hilariously setting the world to rights.
Unfortunately, The Eric Bana Show Live was not a ratings success and was not given a second series, despite Eric being named Most Popular Comedian at the Logies and hosting a Comic Relief special that raised $380,000 for Community Aid Abroad. Yet this made no odds to Bana who'd already set his sights on an acting career. Inevitably, given his meteoric rise, when he made his screen debut in 1997 it was in one of Australia's biggest ever hits, The Castle. This took him right back to his roots as it featured the working-class Kerrigan family, living right beside the airport.