Issue Date: May 3, 2009
The making of a supervillain
Star Trek's bad guy, Eric Bana, talks about being covered in toxic makeup, crashing his coupe, working at Denny's and "pouring it all into film."
By Rebecca Louie
Read our interview with Star Trek writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci at USA WEEKEND's Who's News Blog.
This month, Eric Bana ("Hulk," "Munich") boldly goes where no Aussie actor has gone before. With pointy ears, a shaved head and a tattooed face, he rocks the planet Romulus as intergalactic baddie Nero in Star Trek. Director J.J. Abrams' eagerly anticipated prequel, opening May 8, chronicles the early years of Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock.
Bana's complicated character was created with care by writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. In an e-mail, they told us Nero "suffered a great personal tragedy that touched off his descent, not into madness per se, but into a relatable need for revenge. Couple that with a ruthless, homicidal brilliance, and you have one scary-as-hell dude."
But Bana, 40, has more on his plate than space battles. The former stand-up comedian yuks it up in Judd Apatow's "Funny People" and gets gooey in "The Time Traveler's Wife" this summer. Earlier this year, he made his directorial debut with "Love the Beast," a documentary about his painstakingly restored 1974 Ford Falcon coupe that he crashed in a 2007 race.
In his hearty Down Under twang, the Melbourne suburbanite dishes with us about traveling between galaxies in style, loving his car and hating his stand-up.
Your bad boy look in "Star Trek" is supervillainously hot. What did your transformation entail?
Bana: Three hours in the makeup chair, and two and a half coming out.
Whoa, no warp speed through makeup?
Bana: No, but wearing highly toxic materials helps, as by the end I was quite high. If Nero works onscreen, you can attribute it to that.
How did you pass time in the makeup chair?
Bana: The first thing you want to do is ensure that you can't see yourself. It isn't healthy to look at yourself for hours first thing in the morning. This usually entails turning the chair away from the mirror or plastering it with family photos or pictures of beautiful cars. The next thing is music. I usually use this time to acquaint others with Aussie music or to be introduced to unknown artists myself. I also read sometimes, but it can get in the way.
What was your favorite gadget of Nero's?
Bana: I loved the Narada, Nero's spaceship. It's like a living, breathing thing. I love engineering and seeing mechanical elements exposed rather than hidden, and the ship was a great example of that. It looked like if you touched the wrong spot, you'd be electrocuted. The Starship is like a new sports BMW, but the Narada is like a Lamborghini.
So, did you tap your inner Trekkie to play Nero?
Bana: As a kid I was a fan of the original TV show. I thought it was really cool and quite magical -- but I wouldn't call myself a Trekkie.
Then what were your geeky passions as a kid?
Bana: I was an Atari freak -- Asteroids and car games and that stuff. And cars.
Was working on your coupe a good way to get girls?
Bana: [Laughs.] No! Oh my God, it's a guy-getter, if anything. I can safely present the statistic that I think it got one girl. I never thought that by undoing my shirt and having my stereo up, I was going to pull some hot babe.
You bought that car for $1,500 when you were 15. How did you pay for the decades of revamps that followed?
Bana: I had part-time jobs in school. I used to go door-to-door in the suburbs and wash cars on the weekends. I worked nights at Denny's, pushed trolleys at the supermarket. I worked in a pet store, a one-hour film developing place. I always had something to do to pay for the next thing on the car.
You look so devastated in "Love the Beast" after you crashed the coupe during a race in Tasmania.
Bana: It appears very dramatic in the film, but honestly, when you race, you have a lot of accidents. I don't do rallies anymore, just closed circuits. The thing about rallies that was starting to get to me was being responsible for the passenger navigating -- in my case, my best friend. We got to a stage where we had seen enough carnage, seen enough people killed and injured that it was no longer fun preparing for those events.
I hear that, at some point, doing stand-up stopped being fun for you, too.
Bana: You know, the funny thing is I found stand-up much harder when I was really good, toward the end of my career. I had loads of material, but I felt dirty and disgusted with myself. I was getting more angry than enjoying it. My stand-up routine had not progressed in the same fashion that my life and personality had. I never really got a chance to bring my act up to speed.
Then you were like, "Hulk smash!"?
Bana: [Laughs.] "You're not funny!" Boom! Smash! "You suck!" Rrrrr!
As far as that life experience goes, how's 40 treating you?
Bana: Same as any other year, just with a zero at the end. I think 38 was a lot harder than 40. Midlife crisis is not at 45 or 50. I know a lot of people who have been through it in their 30s, turning their lives upside down. It was somewhat prison in a way -- but I poured it into a film instead. [Laughs.]
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Our fave "Star Trek" villains
Shinzon from "Star Trek Nemesis" (2002). This is why President Obama spoke about the dangers of cloning. Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) faces off against Shinzon (Tom Hardy), the reckless leader of the Romulan empire who turns out to be the captain's clone.
The Borg from "Star Trek: First Contact" (1996). The Borg is a bloated collective of cyborg creatures who think via a hive mind and promise that humankind eventually will be "assimilated" to their ways. Picard calls them the "most lethal enemy" after they invade Federation territory.
Kruge from "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984). Klingons make good villains for three reasons: They're ugly, they're warlike, and they speak in a scary, guttural language. Cmdr. Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) is no exception. In his battle for a new planet, he forces Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) to destroy the beloved Enterprise.
Khan from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982). Displaying great intellect -- and an impressive set of pecs -- Ricardo Montalban's Khan is widely regarded as the best Trek villain ever. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who gets killed here, might disagree.
"Voyager from Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979). Perhaps the strangest entry in the Trek universe finds Kirk and crew trying to outwit a 300-year-old Voyager probe that has become sentient, raising questions about what it means to exist. (Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor, not an existential philosopher!)
"Nero from Star Trek" (2009). Eric Bana, sporting a tribal face tattoo that is scarier than Mike Tyson's, plays a Romulan named Nero who destroys planets by creatinga black hole.
Cover photograph by Chris Colls