Eric Bana began his career in his native Australia as a comedian, and he made his screen debut in a comedy, “The Castle,” one of a handful on his resume. The 45-year-old Melbourne native lent his voice to animated features “Finding Nemo” and “Mary and Max.” He was a romantic lead in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”
But what he’s excelled at ever since his award-winning performance as Aussie criminal Mark Read in 2000’s “Chopper” is playing tough guys, whether a Delta Force soldier in Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down,” a ruthless Mossad agent in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich“ or a SEAL team commander in “Lone Survivor.”
He adds to that roster by portraying Ralph Sarchie, a real-life Bronx detective, in Scott Derrickson’s chilling horror film “Deliver Us From Evil.”
Police procedural meets horror head-on in this loose adaptation of Sarchie’s 2001 book (written with Lisa Collier Cool) “Beware the Night.” The cop and his partner, Butler (“Community’s” Joel McHale), investigate a series of seemingly unrelated cases, including domestic abuse and the case of a woman who throws her child into a pit at the Bronx Zoo, that begin to form a monstrous pattern. A priest and exorcist, Father Mendoza (Édgar Ramirez), is convinced that a demon is infesting the Bronx, a suggestion the cop initially rejects.
“He’s like the audience, he’s skeptical,” says Bana. “He’s not open to it. There are plenty of reasons why not to believe.
“The arc of the story was very helpful to me,” he adds. “It gave me a gentle road to go down. The trajectory of the character lends itself to just gradually walking down that path. It’s not like he suddenly becomes a believer.”
Besides McHale and Ramirez, Bana’s co-stars include Olivia Munn as Ralph’s wife, Jen, and “The Borgias” star Sean Harris as Santino, the seeming source of the borough’s malignancy.
Each brought something different to the mix. McHale provides much of the movie’s comic relief, and he did the same for Bana on the set, as the two comics kept the darkness of the material at bay by joking around. His scenes with Munn are all domestic and occasionally romantic.
“With Édgar, it was always incredibly serious and lots of dialogue,” Bana says. “It was bizarre. It was like being in three different movies all at once, and then when Sean came along, suddenly you’re in a horror movie. It was an incredible mix of stuff to play with.
“I had never really thought about exorcism seriously. I was just kind of forced to think about it in actuality rather than movie terms. It was extremely interesting. Scott and Ralph shared materials with me, which thankfully aren’t out there for general publication, that weren’t very comfortable to watch, that gave me pause and made me think about things differently and be more open to it.”