Lone Survivor: Eric Bana on “Balancing Act” of Telling True Story

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Eric Bana had the unique position of watching Lone Survivor director Peter Berg during the part of the shoot that didn’t involve the chaos of war. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. Bana portrays the commander, Erik Kristensen, of the mission that sent four Navy SEALs (played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) behind enemy lines in Afghanistan to take out a high profile Taliban target when it goes horribly wrong.

Lone Survivor Eric Bana

The story, teased in the Lone Survivor trailer, is harrowing, inspiring and completely true. But with his job firmly at the command center, Bana was allowed to see Berg at his finest, working with actors who used words instead of weapons to describe the action at hand.

We caught up with Bana for an exclusive interview where he gave us a front row seat into the world that was Berg’s and told us how he crafted and managed all the “moving parts” that made up a masterpiece.

Movie Fanatic: I know you had real Navy SEALs that you talked to and were on set, how did that help shape your characterization of your commanding officer?

Eric Bana: For me, it feels like an acrobat having a safety net. It gave you the confidence to tackle what was put in front of you, knowing that if there was a mistake or something that wasn’t right or inaccurate, it would be picked up. There’s a degree of comfort to that, even though we were shooting very fast. Pete was quick on his feet in terms of interpreting various pieces of information that would come flying in from the guys on the set. Sometimes he would have to ignore it, re-interpret or act on it… it had to be a difficult balance. He did an astounding job at that.

Movie Fanatic: Having Pete as your director, someone who has acted before, did you notice anything different in terms of having someone helming who knew where you were coming from?

Eric Bana: Yeah, especially with my scenes that were so wordy about the mission back at command. I loved working with Pete. He responds to what’s working and what’s not working like no one I’ve ever seen. Directors can be very, very protective of the words that are on the page and he was not like that. And that doesn’t surprise me when you think that you’re working with a director who has extensive acting experience.

Movie Fanatic: There are so many elements to Lone Survivor -- brotherhood, the ultimate sacrifice and some great humor in there. When you first read the script, was there one thing that popped out to you?

Eric Bana: I thought they had done a great job of capturing the spirit of the book. I had read the book, by chance, some years earlier. I was very aware of the subject matter and the story. And it was weighted very different. The first third of the book deals with SEALs' selection process and it’s a fascinating look into Marcus’ (Luttrell) early childhood and his obsession with wanting to become a SEAL way before going to the selection. And the third act of the book deals with the extensive drama that unfolded once the three guys were killed on the mountain and what he dealt with after that. The book is primarily focused on that middle act. Initially, there was an adjustment reading the screenplay that I could see why. 

Movie Fanatic: You said you were aware of the book before, when did you hear they were making a movie and how did you get involved in being a part of a book you clearly enjoyed?

Eric Bana: I was given the book many years ago, as I said, and I heard that Pete was attached and I’ve known him for a long time. He came to me with a movie ten years ago when no one knew who I was out here. The project never came together, but we stayed in contact and he called me up and said, “I’ve cast the four main roles, but would you consider playing the mission commander?” I just jumped at the chance. I wanted to be involved and I clearly always wanted to work with Pete. And I knew going in that it was going to be a pretty special project to be associated with for various reasons.

Eric Bana Lone Survivor

Movie Fanatic: What surprised you the most about Pete?

Eric Bana: There are a lot of moving parts, almost an overwhelming amount of advice and information on the set. From active Special Forces people to some that were retired to some with extensive movie experience, it was a delicate balancing act. You don’t often have that mix -- there is usually just one advisor. In this film there was a combination of all those factors and it had to be a hard thing to juggle and he did that effortlessly.

Movie Fanatic: Whoever I talk to about this movie, especially with my chat earlier with Emile Hirsch, is there an added responsibility portraying a real story?

Eric Bana: There is, but there is also a danger with it because you can allow that to be a little overwhelming. I always thought that the only way that we were going to be honoring these people was by making a great film, that if all our intentions to honor them were going to amount to a film that was super accurate, but not a great film, then we would have failed. Pete had to strike that balance to be respective to that memory, but at the same time the film has to work as a movie. It’s not a documentary. I’m always cognizant of that fact. I loved The Kingdom. And I knew that he could do it. 

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