During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Eric Bana talked about why he wanted to sign on for The Forgiven, why this was the most intimidating character he’s ever played, the experience of working with Forest Whitaker, shooting in a maximum security prison in South Africa, and leaving the prison jumpsuit behind. He also talked about trying to figure out what to do next, what he looks for in a project, and the possibility he might direct again.
Collider: When this came your way, did you read the script first, or did it start with a conversation with director Roland Joffé?
ERIC BANA: I read the script and loved it, and couldn’t believe that Roland was asking me to do it. At that stage, Forest [Whitaker] was already attached, so I was able to read it with him in that role. I was just beside myself that he was coming to me to play Piet. We had a couple of great long telephone calls and I said yes, straight away. It was such a rare thing. Every actor dreams of finding scripts like this, but they’re very hard to come across.
This seems like a very challenging, complex character to dig into. What was your way into finding your performance for this?
BANA: You’re right, this is probably the most intimidating character I’ve ever played. The key to the character, for me, was just throwing myself into South African history. There was so much about South African history that I needed to know, before I could stand any chance of understanding where Blomfeld’s warped sense of entitlement came from. It just made no sense to me, and I knew it was going to take a mountain of work. Oddly enough, that just came in the form of learning about the history of the Afrikaans and what had happened, and trying to understand how he could end up with so much hate. Obviously, Roland was very helpful, in terms of giving us enough to learn because you had to be convincing in your hate, in order to make that character work. It is a risk and it is a huge challenge. For Tutu to work, you have to believe everything that’s coming out of my mouth, and that’s a lot to take on. It was just one of those ones where you have to really jump into the deep end, and trying to learn and understand a lot of the history was the first step.
When you do something this dark and intense, did you also have to take extra care of yourself when you weren’t on set?
BANA: Yes and no. It was a very short shoot, so I just led a very, very simple existence for the month, or whatever, that we were shooting. I enjoy being quite monastic when I’m playing that sort of character. I don’t try to shake it off too much. I just try to sit with it, and then deal with it when it’s over. It was okay. It wasn’t a very long shoot and it was a very intense schedule, so that really helped. It’s not a character that I’d like to play, over a period of months.
Do you ultimately feel that Piet Blomfeld is someone who’s worthy of forgiveness and redemption, or are there some people who just aren’t worth forgiving?
BANA: I like the premise of having two people who are at polar opposites of something, that were forced to sit down and try to communicate their sides. They’re so far apart that it would appear as though middle ground would be completely impossible, in the course of their lifetime. The fact that Tutu was able to move the needle, even a tiny bit, was incredible. We see people holding their ground in arguments in 2018, where there just isn’t room to move. That’s politics, around the world. We’re constantly disillusioned because we see people so unwilling to yield or to listen or to mediate or to compromise. I thought the premise was a really interesting one. It’s only at the very end, after he’s dead, that we discover that Tutu had an effect on him and it’s only a very small amount that he yields. We do get a look at how he became what he became and how his own warped sense of history created this narrative. In a lot of ways, the way into the character was one of just total belligerence. It wasn’t a case of believing exactly what Blomfeld believed. It was playing someone who’s own sense of what they believed in was unmovable and they’re unflinching in their belief.
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