Eric Bana shows his funny side in Netflix comedy

The actor abuses Ricky Gervais for laughs in the Netflix movie Special Correspondents

Eric Bana (right) and Ricky Gervais are like chalk and cheese in the movie, and bicker all the way through.
Eric Bana (right) and Ricky Gervais are like chalk and cheese in the movie, and bicker all the way through.PHOTO: NETFLIX

Australian actor Eric Bana got his start as a comedian on television, but you would not know it from his movie resume.

He is best known for action-hero roles in movies such as Black Hawk Down (2001) and Lone Survivor (2013), and for taking on man's man parts that put his brooding good looks to use (Deadfall, 2012; Star Trek, 2009).

The 47-year-old is now giving one of his infrequent comedy performances in the Netflix original movie Special Correspondents.

He tells The Straits Times on the telephone from his home base of Melbourne that he has not had much luck with comic roles.

"I guess there's not a lot of comedies that are my style of movie. There's not that many that are the perfect match. Also, I definitely get sent a lot more dramas than I do comedies. I just respond to the best thing I've read," he says.

In Special Correspondents, written and directed by British comedian Ricky Gervais, Bana plays Frank, a cocky radio journalist who pretends to be in Ecuador on assignment with the gormless technician Ian (played by Gervais) while they are still holed up in New York.

The chalk-and-cheese duo bicker and snipe at each other through the deception.

"I prefer the dry humour, that's more reality-based, than the broader, wackier and more physical comedy. I enjoy things that are more character-based," he says of Special Correspondents.

Gervais and Bana workshopped new lines on location during photography in Toronto, which stood in for New York. Bana is no stranger to comedy directors who like last-minute tweaks. On the American comedy Funny People (2009), he worked with writer-director Judd Apatow, who is known for yelling new lines to actors while the camera is rolling.

"They (Gervais and Apatow) are similar in how they both enjoy ad-libbing and experimenting," he says. "Gervais and I would talk in the middle of rolling, during a scene and try different things, and do different takes. It always felt very organic."

In the film, alpha male Frank is frequently disgusted by Ian, whom he views as bungling and ineffectual. Frank's verbal attacks on Ian are sharp, often cringe-inducingly so.

"It wasn't written like that. Frank wasn't as mean on the page. But as we started filming, Ricky made changes."

Humiliation is one of Gervais' hallmarks. He gained fame on the BBC comedy series The Office (2001-2003), which saw his character, manager David Brent, subjected to various indignities.

"Ricky likes to be abused - he likes his character to be abused. He thought it was funny when Frank gets angry with Ian, so we expanded on that as we went along," says Bana. "It was awful, terrible, but he loves it and he's the boss."

Special Correspondents is available on Netflix.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2016, with the headline 'Eric Bana shows his funny side'. Subscribe