Eric Bana striding through the doors of a beach café in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia—a city not exactly lousy with movie stars—is a conversation-stopper. And when he chooses a table uncomfortably close to the bathroom, he’s also the cause of rampant incontinence. But Bana is oblivious to the endless parade of gawping women. He’s here to discuss a passion of mythic proportion.
On Wednesday, the actor will be in New York to present his directorial debut, Love the Beast, at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary, made over three years (“I would make it between jobs—nobody knew,” he says), traces the actor’s 25-year love affair with his 1974 Ford Falcon XB coupe, a Mad Max–style muscle car he bought at 15 and still owns. “It’s a hard sell,” he admits, “a film about a guy, his car, and his mates.”
Long before his career as a stand-up, his film career, his marriage to his former-publicist wife, Rebecca, and his two children, there was car racing. Bana started as a teenager, initially on Friday nights at legal drag races and, as recently as last month, in a support category of the Australian Grand Prix. “Cars were it,” he says. “Driving was more important than nightclubs and drugs and rock and roll.” And it was the Ford Falcon that became “the campfire” around which he and his buddies gathered. Much of the film is about those relationships in a working-class suburb of Melbourne—a place few tourists ever see—and Bana’s doomed bid to conquer the grueling Targa Tasmania rally.
Bana, who has four movies coming out this year (including Star Trek), is already bristling at the possibility that his critics will label his creation a vanity project. “I hate that term,” he says. “It’s offensive to anyone who has directed, because it implies that only if you’re making a film that has something closely to do with you would you be interested in what you’re doing.” As for the Tribeca audience, and given that he’s been playing Trojans (Troy), Israelis (Munich), and Brits (The Other Boleyn Girl), Bana wonders if another reaction might be: “He’s Australian? I had no idea!”