You know him as a badass Delta sergeant, a green monster, and, most recently, a doting assassin. But away from the screen, the actor is something of a mystery, which is just fine with him. To really understand the man, you have to hit the racetrack and strap in beside him.
Bana had long dreamed about bringing together his two passions — racing and film — but he never knew exactly how. “I remember Globe had just released a surfing documentary called The Secret Machine,” says friend Hill, “and Eric saw it and was like, ‘I don’t understand why someone doesn’t do that with motor sports.’ ” Hill assumed it was just a bit of beer talk, until Bana came back to him a week later with a plan to make a small, personal documentary about his old Falcon Coupe, Love the Beast, now on DVD.
For the film, Bana and his three old school buddies did one final restoration of the Falcon, which took two years. When they were done, the battered old muscle car emerged as a gorgeous, cherry-red, 600-horsepower monster. Bana then had a bit of cinematic inspiration: To see what this thing would really do, he’d enter it into the Targa Tasmania rally. Hill told Bana he thought it was a terrible idea — that he’d probably end up scratching the car. “No, I put so much into it; I’d never risk that,” Bana told him. “I’m gonna be really careful.”
Bana and his friends headed down to Tasmania, a rugged island off Australia’s south coast, for the rally: five days over 1,150 miles of steep and twisting rural roads. Bana’s friend Tony Ramunno, a winemaker, was his in-car navigator — despite the fact that neither he nor Bana had driven the course in more than a decade.
Even with her recent upgrade, the Falcon was still a big, heavy car, not the ideal machine for Tasmania’s tight corners and slippery roads. But by day four, Bana was feeling confident. “We were going hard,” he says. “We really got into a rhythm, and I started to push it.” A camera mounted in the Falcon shows an intense-looking Bana at the wheel, determined to make up for the time he lost the first few days. “Eric is an intrinsically competitive guy,” says Hill. “I knew that once he got into the heat of the event, he’d push that car as hard as he could.”
As the Falcon came off one very steep hill and into a hard right turn, Bana jammed the brakes, but the tires couldn’t get traction. The Falcon violently careened down into a ravine, slamming into a gum tree.
The fact that both Bana and Ramunno walked away unhurt was a minor miracle. Ramunno even had the presence of mind to grab a camera out of the glove box and film a dazed Bana numbly staring at his car. “I have no recollection of that at all,” Bana says. “I remember he was shouting, ‘Get off the fucking road!’ because I was just sitting there, about to get hit. It was not physical shock. I’ve been in accidents before. I think it was just…I literally couldn’t believe that I’d suckered myself into driving the car so hard.” The Falcon was totaled. The film ends with a devastated Bana anguishing over whether he should rebuild the car again. He did, though it has taken him more than two years.
“It’s straightened and painted. We just gotta rebuild the engine, do a bit of rewiring and replumbing, and it should be good to go,” he says. “I’m just looking forward to being able to drive it and enjoy it.”