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Actor Eric Bana: 'Ricky Gervais acted like he was my father'

Of all the expectations Eric Bana had of working with Ricky Gervais in new film Special Correspondents - good humour, laughter, mickey-taking - being mollycoddled by his co-star and director wasn't one of them.

"He kind of pretended to be my father a little bit," recalls the 47-year-old Australian with a laugh. "He was always concerned about what I'd be doing after work, and what time I would be going to bed, and I had to remind him that it's none of his business."

Despite the onset of jet lag when we meet for our interview - Bana had landed in the UK after flying in from Melbourne, where he lives, just a few hours before -the actor is lively, and relishes poking fun at Gervais (54), who, he adds, was "very good as a boss".

"We'd go out for a very early dinner, because he's like an old man, and he'd say, 'what are you going to do now?'," reveals the 6ft 3in star.

"And I'd go, 'well, I'm going to learn my lines, and I'm going to have to have a second meal because we had dinner at 6pm'. He'd be like, 'what time are you going to go to bed?' And I'd be like, 'I don't know, about midnight', and he would start getting concerned.

"He has old man tendencies, but he wears them proudly. It was quite funny, actually."

In the film, Bana plays struggling radio journalist Frank, whose arrogance and decadent lifestyle have hindered his career. With his job on the line, he fakes frontline war reports from the comfort of his hideout above a Spanish restaurant in New York's Queens district, taking his sweet-natured technician Ian, played by Gervais, down with him.

"This is the perfect adult lie, that just gets bigger and bigger," says Bana, who admits he was a "successful white lie-teller as a kid".

"I think it makes for good humour to watch people dig themselves into a bigger and bigger hole."

In the age of the Twitterstorm, where misunderstandings - or, less optimistically, lies - can go viral in no time at all, sparking re-tweets and furious comment pieces, Bana has a novel solution.

"I almost feel sorry for people who have to apologise," he says.

"I almost feel like we should ban apologies, just cut that stuff down to nothing. Because, most of the time, if you do something bad, I don't even think you have the right to apologise.

"They should just take the apology out of the equation, because then people feel like they've gotten away with it."

But in Special Correspondents, the joy is in seeing Frank and Ian take more extreme action to cover their tracks, meaning plenty of awkwardly funny situations to capture.

Although corpsing (acting slang for spoiling takes by giggling) is frowned upon on many sets, with Gervais at the helm it was par for the course.

"It was such a relief to not have the pressure not to laugh, because sometimes it makes it worse," says Bana, who also stars alongside Vera Farmiga, Benjamin Bratt, America Ferrera and Kelly Macdonald in the film.

"I like a bit of a laughter on set, and when you're working on a drama, sometimes it's a really good release. There's nothing worse than someone going, 'now listen, we've got to nail this before lunch, serious'. That just makes it worse. I think Ricky's attitude towards that is good. You know, if you're going to laugh, laugh; let's move on."

Bana cites Special Correspondents, alongside 2009 Judd Apatow comedy Funny People, as a career highlight.

"I like working with directors who enjoy having fun and who take the product, but not the process, seriously," he says.

"It would be nice to do more of that work: you know, go home at night and feel like you had a fun day at work, rather than a very serious day."

Starting his career on the stand-up and impressions circuit as a wholesome, take-home-to-your-mum type comedian, Bana went on to write and perform comedy sketch shows on Australian TV.

He came to wider prominence in 2003's Hulk, Black Hawk Down, Star Trek and the big-screen version of The Time Traveller's Wife, and will soon be seen in upcoming drama The Secret Scripture alongside Rooney Mara, and action-adventure Knights Of The Roundtable: King Arthur.

"I'm lucky, because I get to bounce around and do different things. I'm usually trying to find something I haven't done before, or something that excites me, and I never know what it is until I read it.

"I'm pretty patient with waiting for things to come along, so I just read and read and read, until something gets me excited."

He's not keen on crafting his own series or film scripts, though.

"I'm too lazy," he confesses with a shrug. "I like taking other people's material and ideas."

Now that his two children - daughter Sophia and son Klaus - are teenagers, does this affect which roles he takes on?

"They get pickier as they get older," teases Bana, who married publicist Rebecca Gleeson in 1997.

Thankfully, they approve of Special Correspondents.

"Oh, they're very happy with this," Bana insists, with a knowing smile. "They're very happy with a comedy and they love Ricky, so this got a big tick."

  • Special Correspondents is available on Netflix now. netflix.com/gb

Belfast Telegraph