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EXCLUSIVE: Interviews with Eric Bana & Clifton Collins, Jr.

It is has been said that for serial films like Trek and Bond, they are only as good as their villains. And even though the new Star Trek film picked some classic bad guys, these working-class Romulans are of a kind we have never seen before. In our final release week interview, TrekMovie talks to the leaders of the Romulan pack, Eric Bana (Nero) and Clifton Collins, Jr. [interviews contain spoilers]

 

Interview with Eric Bana
After spending most of the last decade on Australian TV in both drama and sketch comedy, Eric Bana got the notice of Hollywood in 2000 for playing the title role in Chopper, playing a kind of lovable tattooed thug (sound familiar?). Since then he has gone on to work with the likes of Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down) and Steven Spielberg (Munich) and he even took a crack at a superhero film (Hulk).  In our interview with the Aussie, we talk about how he prepared to play the Romulan Nero, how he brought a bit of that cheekiness from his comedy background, and we find out a bit more of what we missed out on with that part of the film that ended up on the cutting room floor.

 

TrekMovie: Your’s is the only major character that is not based on an original character from the TV show. Did you feel that was more liberating for you?

Bana: On face value I thought I would be more liberated, but I was wrong in assuming that I would be more free than the rest of the cast. I thought the rest of the cast did an amazing job of being free, even within the constraints that they had, and I was pretty fascinated by that. I don’t know that I would have done the role, if it was a pre-existing character. It was the opportunity to come up with something new that intrigued me. 

TrekMovie: One of the things I was most taken with in regards to your performance, is that you play a very different kind of Romulan. Did you do any research into the Romulans? And what other influences did you look at for inspiration? Maybe even pirate movies?

Bana: My point of reference was always Nero as he was written and I tried to develop my ideas based on his genesis. I always go the exact opposite when I was preparing. I watch no movies and definitely nothing vaguely related to what I am about to do. I never used other films in my research. It was basically about It was essentially working on how this guy would look, sound, feel, walk, behave – based on everything that happened to him, and the fact that he was Romulan, obviously. I didn’t want to be overly humanized and overly likable, I just wanted his vengeance to be understandable. Just because I think it is more interesting for the audience. I never like it when we have to accept our villains just because they are villains..  


Bana wanted audiences to understand Nero

TrekMovie: Did you want him to be sympathetic — for people to relate to his plight?

Bana: I think it is impossible to not relate to his plight. The fact that he thinks Spock is responsible for the destruction of his planet immediately gives you carte blanche to be pissed off. And I think any human can look at it and say he is not justified in what he is doing to a degree. It always makes conflict more dramatic when you understand both sides. I didn’t want people to root for him or get confused as to who they are going for, but I wanted him to be interesting.

TrekMovie: Compared to other famous movie villains like Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, Khan, etc…there was something kind of quiet about Nero. Like that scene where Nero calls over to the Enterprise and right after he kills all those people and is about to destroy a planet but he just says ‘hi Christopher’ just like a friendly neighbor. Was that JJ’s direction?

Bana: That is what you get when you have a director who is happy to let actors be free, essentially. I saw no reason why he had to act scary. There is this real sense of cheekiness and humor in the script that I found compelling and I saw no reason why that could not extend to Nero, basically. There is no reason why we couldn’t have some fun with him and in a way I find villains far more threatening when they have license to be cheeky and funny. It essentially came there and being in the moment and being allowed to muck around. There were plenty of even crazier and funnier versions of that, and more sinister versions, but we just went for it.


Bana working with director JJ Abrams on the Narada set

TrekMovie: We just reported about how the whole Nero in Rura Penthe part of the film was cut, which probably took a couple weeks to film. Did JJ have to break that to you?

Bana: You mean the whole thing with him in prison and breaking out of prison…He told me long before seeing the film that they were doing that. I always had complete faith in JJ and so whatever choices he was making was the best for the movie. It didn’t bother me at all. I thought it was cool sequence. I loved seeing that patience in the character. I think we still get a sense of it enough so we keep some of those dramatic elements in the story, we just don’t see it. Saved for the DVD I guess.

TrekMovie: Do you think by cutting the sequence the audience could be losing something in understanding Nero, or do you think it enhances his mystery?

Bana: That is a really good question. They would definitely get to know him more and his plight would be more understandable. In some ways I think it could have made it more threatening. I always loved this notion of a villain who is extremely patient. Someone who is waiting 25 years to exact his revenge. That is far scarier than someone who just reacts to the moment. In some ways it may have added to the threat level.


You will have to wait for the DVD to see Bana’s Nero in prison, patiently waiting to exact his revenge

TrekMovie: So as a car nut, what did you think of your ride? What did you think of the Narada as a ship and the sets?

Bana: When I first saw drawings of the Narada I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was awesome that they were going for this kind of animalistic looking breathing craft. I thought it was a great contrast to the Enterprise with the sleek, clean lines. I thought the Narada was more a throwback to Blade Runner, with the gritty, very mechanical, with wires exposed and walkways you can fall off and hurt yourself on, even on the actual set! I loved that there was something totally unexpected and crazy about the aesthetic of the Narada. And it was quite a big set too, bigger than it needed to be in fact, but that was JJ wanting to pay attention to having as much tactile realness.

TrekMovie: Was that a difficult or uncomfortable set to work on with how dark it was and all the water, etc? I understand you passed out at one point.

Bana: You had to be aware of where you were and what you were doing for sure. Like if you wanted to move around you had to be specific and careful. So it was very unusual and not like any set I worked on before. Any time you throw water into the mix, it always raises the level of anxiety for sure. But it was crazy. I thought the designers did an amazing job. I loved that he had the boldness to do all those things.

 

Clip with Bana and Collins on their Narada

 

INTERVIEW WITH CLIFTON COLLINS

The first Romulan you meet in the film is actually not Nero, but his right hand man, Ayel, played by veteran character actor Clifton Collins, Jr. The actor has dozens of credits to his name, but it was his role as the killer Perry Smith in Capote in 2005 that has got him the most buzz, and a few acting nominations. For our interview with the actor we talk about how he prepared to play a Romulan, what it was like fighting Kirk and how he ‘needed a moment’ on his first day on the job.

 

TrekMovie: What was your research for the role in terms of the Romulans and Star Trek?

Collins: I started off by looking into the movies, but in the back of my mind I was thinking that this isn’t those other Star Trek’s… so I stopped after Kirstie Alley appeared, although she was beautiful, so that threw me off. So I just worked with JJ on the balancing act of how much emotion to show or not show and we played with a range of things.  

TrekMovie: Did you find it difficult to convey emotion with all those hours of makeup on?

Collins: It is not the time that makes it difficult. Eric’s prosthetics were a bit thicker, but we had special latex that moves fairly well with skin so I could furrow my eyebrow and it would move.

TrekMovie: Regarding the character of Ayel, what was the quintessential thing about him that was the core of what you were trying to do with your performance?

Collins: Ayel is like any other commanding officer who serves a higher ranking officer like Nero, you want to do your best job, but there is this sense of evil over our people — granted we have a beef and bone to pick. There is a deep-rooted revenge aspect. So for me to create Ayel I worked closely with JJ, and I loved hanging out with [Eric] Bana, just for that camaraderie. Ayel is very meticulous, what is interesting is I found myself to be one of the more serious Romulans. There are so many light-hearted moments in this movie, like a giant buddy picture.

TrekMovie: So there was a big fight scene with you and Chris [Pine], was that you or a stunt guy?

Collins: That was all me…and that was mostly Chris, but you got to be careful cause that’s Captain Kirk man! You can’t hurt him until you wrap. But I have been doing my own stunts since I was fifteen and I was teaching martial arts when I was seventeen.

TrekMovie: Did you and the stunt guys try to develop a Romulan style of fighting?

Collins: Yes. With someone like Spock who is very passive, so he would have an aikido style…but the Romulans were straight out brutal thugs. Like Neanderthal type stuff, they are very strong. I would have love to have done some jumping, spinning kind of stuff, but that is not who these guys were. 

TrekMovie: You and Eric had an opportunity in this film in that you weren’t stepping into someone else’s shoes, was that freeing? 

Collins: You know with all the grandeur of the franchise, none of that hit me until the first day when I walked on and JJ asked me to look down that barrel and announce to the USS Kelvin that this is Star Trek. I have made like seventy-something films and it felt like my first time. JJ was like ‘are you ready for this?’ and I was ‘no’…Oh my god Clifton you are doing Star Trek! It all caught up to me, but the grandeur and the responsibility, which I hold for all of my characters, but this thing is different.

TrekMovie: But was it easier that you weren’t playing a Kirk or Spock and it was a new character without that pressure?

Collins: But it is still Star Trek, so had I had someone’s shoes to fill, I probably would have had that moment way earlier.

 

TrekMovie’s Final Pre-release Interview series
For the last week we have been running a series of final interviews before the release of Star Trek with cast and crew. Here are the other’s from the series:

 Also check out:

 

 

Sort by:   newest | oldest
May 9, 2009 9:36 pm

Bana elevated his material considerably; he’s really a kickass actor.

Chingatchkook
May 9, 2009 9:43 pm

#1 – He is indeed. I just got back from the movie, one of the real surprises was how someone like Eric Bana who presents as a pretty clean and level fellow off camera (and out of makeup) can so completely transform into one really badass badguy. I remember early on in the development of the movie that the producers wanted to have a really big name on board, perhaps Russsell Crowe as the villian. While I like Russell Crowe’s work and think that he would have been terrific, Bana hit the ball out of the park as the villain. Paramount casted Nero spot on by choosing Bana.

Shaun Bryer - Morrisville, Vermont
May 9, 2009 9:47 pm

I really wish they had left the scenes with Nero and his crew on Rura Penthe in the film. I would have loved to have seen Klingons, and I think it would have cleared up some confusion for non-Star Trek fans about “what was Nero doing for 25 years? just sitting around in space waiting for Spock?” This was explained in the movie, but I think would have created more of a back story for Nero had it been left it. Can’t wait to see the segment as a deleted scene on a DVD release though.

Loved the movie…can’t wait to see it again!

Shane Zeranski
May 9, 2009 9:48 pm

Great actor, Bana.

May 9, 2009 10:06 pm

I look forward to the DVD release , I want to see the Klingon prison aspect .

The Spirit of Truth
May 9, 2009 10:15 pm

Bana is an amazing actor…..I still cry when Hector dies in Troy….and I’m a straight guy!!! Nero is like a mix of Khan and the Borg Queen….mad as hell and ready for revenge….

I love that inspirational poster about Khan, saying he could have taken the high road and just left….this is true for Nero too…

Also, Ayel, is just a bad ass… when a character on the screen makes me want to hit him…he is doing his job…

Great movie all around.

T'Leisha
May 9, 2009 10:20 pm

Bana was great in this movie. I think his character really worked. I especially liked the “Hi Christopher, I’m Nero” line, which made quite a few people in the cinema laugh out loud. I think that the humourous and nonchalant way in which he delivered his lines in that scene made him a creepier villain. This coupled with the fact that this “creepy bad guy” was also one that the audience could empathise with, was what made him so great.

Drew
May 9, 2009 10:22 pm

#3 i agree. Nero just sits and waits for 25 yrs to capture Spock. Its interesting that if it was Nero’s plan all along to destroy The Federation, why not just start doing that after the destruction of the USS Kelvin? Go from one planet to the next.

How did the rura penthe deleted sequence fit into all of this? Was Nero and crew captured by the Klingons to serve as prisoners for 25 yrs only to escape?

I realize that Delta Vega was an error on the writers part. Since Vulcan has no moons its safe to assume that Delta Vega was just a close by ice planet to Vulcan and you could see the destruction from there as elder Spock did.

One thing that i couldnt get.. perhaps I missed something, When Kirk was marooned on Delta Vega, he meets old Spock after being marooned by young Spock. A coincidence?

Penny
May 9, 2009 10:22 pm

23.5 M on Saturday :)

RetroWarbird
May 9, 2009 10:43 pm

Clifton’s line about Kirstie Alley had me laughing my butt off.

I’ll be seeing this tomorrow, and I’m more and more excited every day.

GaryS
May 9, 2009 10:49 pm

9.yeah ,They HELD!
Held onto the audience from yeserday that is.
It was 24million yesterday
Just barely a 2% drop today.

Andrew C
May 9, 2009 10:53 pm

I hope when the DVD comes out and we see the Rura Penthe scene that there is an explanation for where the Narada is while Nero is in prison.

One that hopefully doesn’t have Nero claiming it from the Klingon tow truck lot.

Shaun Bryer - Morrisville, Vermont
May 9, 2009 11:00 pm

lol, I know…i was wondering that. I find it hard to believe that Nero’s entire crew was captured by Klingons, served time and survived on Rura Penthe, waited 25 years, found the Narada somewhere, and then managed to wipe out 46, or however many, Klingon ships that Uhura hears were destroyed. Something doesn’t add up. I’m sure it’s clear in the sequence that was deleted. I’ll anxiously wait for it.

May 9, 2009 11:05 pm

Hey Bana,

I’m still not sure what you’re so pissed off about. Spock did what? Why was he the only one that could’ve? But JJ makes great director looking hands so it’s all okay.

JohnWA
May 9, 2009 11:32 pm

The in-universe explanation:

Without Spock’s red matter device, the Narada’s just a big drill. It’s like having a nuclear missle without a warhead.

The real reason:

Movie audiences generally like planet destroying “death rays.” If you think about it, these doomsday weapons are usually very impractical. And, of course, they always have some sort of fatal flaw that the heroes exploit to defeat the bad guy. But they look cool and that’s what matters.

Sure, given the “conventional” 24th century weapons he has at his disposal, Nero could’ve simply lobbed a couple of torpedoes at Vulcan and poisoned the atmosphere. Or something to that effect. But that’s not as fun visually. Viva la death rays!

Prentice of Borg
May 9, 2009 11:43 pm

Regarding Nero’s 25 years of waiting, here’s a possible scenario off the top of my head; After the Kelvin collided with the Narada, the ship had to be seriously damaged. Odds are Nero and his crew set out in shuttles/smaller craft to grab supplies. Perhaps Nero and his team got bested by Klingons and were jailed. It took 25 years for Ayel and crew to a.) repair the ship and b.) track down Nero and stage his rescue.

Would have loved to have seen it, but I agree that it doesn’t serve the larger story, so it gets cut from the movie. On the bright side, that means there’s a neat surprise for us when the movie is released on DVD.

Even still, I wished more explanation went into this whole “transwarp beaming” nonsense.

Millennium Vulcan
May 9, 2009 11:49 pm

Did anyone else see Nimoy, Pine & Quinto (aka Pinto) on the SNL Weekend Update segment?

Chain of Command
May 9, 2009 11:54 pm

Cool interview. But now that this film is a wrap who can they get to play Khan for the new Star Trek II? LOL

OK, I know that’s not going to happen.

Anyway:

It might be kinda cool to see the next movie deal with some type of amazing discovery and maybe not have a traditional black hat villain. I’m sure someone could come up with a pretty amazing story that would show these guys truly going where no man/one has gone before. I also think it will be important for the next film to have its’ own formula. I don’t think the new Star Trek films want to fall into the same trap the TNG movies fell into (Bad Guy has weapon/device and Picard/Crew must blow it up before the countdown clock on the alien ship hits zero).

In any event I’ll be seeing Trek again tomorrow!

Sci-Fi Bri
May 10, 2009 12:14 am

Nero placed very well on my villain chart, i give him 3rd overall of star trek movie villains

1 Khan
2 Kruge
3 Nero
4 (christopher plummer’s klingon in ST6)

Sci-Fi Bri
May 10, 2009 12:16 am

17:

yes, it was awesome. nimoy was awesome too at the end.

Jordan
May 10, 2009 12:29 am

People may be discussing this elsewhere on the site, and I don’t know, but I have a really cool TNG connection to the new, totally incredible film: I remember Roberto and Alex in an interview (posted on this site) referencing the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” If you go back and look at that episode, (obviously the visual FX and inferior by the new movie’s standards) but the black hole that enabled Nero and Spock Prime to travel into the past looks EERILY similar to the “time displacement with no discernible event horizon” that the Enterprise D encountered, the rift that enabled the Enterprise C to be thrust unknowingly into the future creating…. AN ALTERNATE TIMELINE. Am I just crazy, or is there a deliberate connection there? haha, I sure hope so! I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

ucdom
May 10, 2009 12:32 am

I really enjoyed the entire movie, it is RIDICULOUSLY entertaining, and I practically wept with joy at some moments.

The Romulans are pretty good – if anything I thought Ayel was better than Nero. It’s a real shame the Rura Penthe sequence isn’t there, because the audience is left to wonder how the hell Nero lost an ear and has dirty great scars over one side of his head! And where was the Narada all that time? I can’t believe the Klingons didn’t break it down for tech or scrap!

May 10, 2009 12:43 am

SNL Live Update

****heads? WTF ? Lenny! What gives?

Honestly, I cringed. I hope people’s kids weren’t watching.

Sci-Fi Bri
May 10, 2009 12:44 am

“I can’t believe the Klingons didn’t break it down for tech or scrap!”

maybe the burger kingons kept is safe…

Sci-Fi Bri
May 10, 2009 12:49 am

23: are you saying that a hate-mailing minority of trek “fans” should not be called ****heads?

what about a hate mailing group of any people? that’s certainly a ****head action… sending hate mail.

Simon
May 10, 2009 1:01 am

#13 – 47 Klingon “Warbirds”

JJ & Co. always have a reference to the number 47 in their projects.

The Happy Klingon
May 10, 2009 1:12 am

I dont know if anyone had noticed but the Romulans are wearing KLINGON boots, split toe and all. Im assuming they got these on Rura Penthe or off of dead Klingons (along with their sidearms).
Also, I just saw the movie tonight but I could SWEAR after McCoy is told by Spock he is the new CMO that he looks off screen and says.”Nurse Chapel, I need blah blah blah” and you hear “Yes, doctor” in Majels voice. Its very quick and Urban says it as hes leaving the camera view and then it cuts away.
Maybe Im nuts but another person heard the same thing.

May 10, 2009 1:27 am

#26

Actually, I believe 47 has been a staple reference in Star Trek since TNG. Since then, it has also caught on in popular television culture as in joke to Star Trek’s obsession with this number.

For further information on the origin of this phenomenon refer to the following link:

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/47

May 10, 2009 1:27 am

#27: I heard the line as “Where’s Chapel? I need blah-blah-blah …” and didn’t hear the response, but yeah, similar, and definitely at that point in the film.

Sci-Fi Bri
May 10, 2009 1:50 am

26, 28:
[minor spoiler]
also, right after the bar scene, he enters the shipyard where the shuttle is leaving for starfleet academy. keep an eye out for the sector, its sector 47 that the enterprise is built in.

yea, i’m a big fan of 47…

May 10, 2009 2:23 am

There isn’t for me a single performance in the whole movie that could be criticized even slightly, they are all great or brilliant, and it’s the best I’ve ever seen of EB.

Trekee
May 10, 2009 2:44 am

Spoileriffic-

Regarding the 25 year wait… it’s not just revenge on the federation Nero wants, he also wants revenge on Spock, but he also needs the Red Matter from the Jellyfish to make his singularities. So Rura Pente aside, he couldn’t do what he wanted to do without the wait… VERY single minded.

I thought both actors were great, there was some excellent close ups of Nero just looking devious and scary.

Alf, in pog form
May 10, 2009 3:15 am

Is it a coincidence that Eric Bana starred in a film made here in Australia 2007 called “Romulus, My Father”? (as the character Romulus no less)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus,_My_Father_(film)

It’s a conspiracy I tells ya!

May 10, 2009 3:46 am

Anthony, any chances of an interview with Michael Giacchino?

ucdom
May 10, 2009 4:00 am

The BBC’s Newsnight review gave Star Trek a mixed bag of comments. One guy, who clearly had no idea said that he thought the use of names like Tiberius and Nero indicated an empire metaphor that was supposed to reflect the modern clash of civilizations and the war on terror….

Utter tosh.

May 10, 2009 4:25 am

35. ucdom – May 10, 2009

Yes, that guy was quite comical in his total isolation from modern entertainment, incredible how he totally didn’t get it even enough to give a viable critique of the film. Overall for a high brow Newsnight review and a blockbuster style big budget feature, the reviews were great and deservedly so.

ucdom
May 10, 2009 4:43 am

I go with Mark Kermode (check out his BBC blog) who says it’s brilliant fun and everyone should see it.

Shat Hands
May 10, 2009 6:00 am

#3

I agree. Whilst I loved the film and Bana’s performance, it would have been great to have more of him and to fully understand the characters motivation.

I read Countdown before seeing the movie so I was clued up but the general concensus between my friends was that they needed more Bana.

Can’t wait for the DVD!

Charlie
May 10, 2009 6:15 am

amazon.co.uk and play.com STILL DON’T HAVE COUNTDOWN FFS. Useless. It still says 29/4/09 for the release date for Spock’s sake.

I even went into HMV on the 7th (just before i saw the film) and they didn’t have it either.

cugel the clever
May 10, 2009 6:25 am

7. T’Leisha

I totally agree.

It was a brilliant choice for Bana/Nero to contact the other ships in such a casual way “hi christopher, i’m nero”, “hello”, etc.

This proves that the actor and writers REALLY understood how an “everyman” miner would act in such situations. Nero (and anyone who is not a trained soldier) absolutely would communicate in these casual and awkward ways.

This small thing is even more proof of how well JJ and the crew “got it”.

May 10, 2009 6:34 am

I wonder if there were any visual cues that Bana and his ship have aged 25 years. Will have to look out for that next time.

opcode
May 10, 2009 6:48 am

I actually felt for Nero when he dies. There was something sad and tragic about that. I think I could relate to his motivations, and in a certain way his death is more dramatic than Khan’s, though he has less screen time and less character development…

New Horizon
May 10, 2009 7:04 am

I have to agree with those who think the rura penthe scene should have been left in. Just would have given the character so many more layers to see what he had been through. :(

The film moves at such a breakneck pace, perhaps that scene could have been the breath it needed.

Not a perfect film, but I still quite enjoyed it. I hope the next film raises the bar with some true trek wonder, excitement and exploration. As challenging as this film was to the writers / producers, I believe the greater challenge will be coming up with a sequel.

We’ve seen movie after movie of badguys…it’s time Star Trek got back to Trekking again.

U.F.P., $Version=0
May 10, 2009 7:15 am

There was an editing mistake I noticed. When Kirk makes his leap on the N arada, Ayels ‘gun’ is already on the deck. Movie rocks.

Pragmaticus
May 10, 2009 7:25 am

Anthony, please post the rest of your interview with Clifton Collins. You know what I’m talking about – the part you alluded to about going to high school together.

Pragmaticus
May 10, 2009 7:26 am

41 – There were – when we first see Nero, his ears are both pointy and he’s clean-shaven. When we next see him, his right ear’s point is gone and he has quite a bit of stubble.

Patrick Gleeson
May 10, 2009 7:33 am

#1: I agree 100%.
There is a huge gulf between the Romulans Nero here and Shinzon from ‘Nemesis’.
There is no empathy at all for the latter, Tom Hardy was woefully miscast -not something you can say about Eric Bana. One of the highlights of this film for me was his performance.

Maltz
May 10, 2009 7:36 am

Clifton’s Kirstie Alley comment caught my attention. Yeah, she was beautiful. RIght after Star Trek II came out, I thought that a logical progression would be to push the original cast off to the side (there, but not front and center) and zoom ahead ten years with Saavik as the Captain of the Enterprise and David as the science officer. That’s not the way the arc went, and I remember being very disappointed at the contrived way they brought back Spock in the very next movie.

And then I saw a tabloid magazine in the grocery store checkout line yesterday. “Kirstie Alley says: I’VE GAINED 83 POUNDS!”

Now, you talk about a timeline I wish I could reboot….

Kirk's Girdle
May 10, 2009 7:41 am

re: 18 Khan = Antonio Banderas.

Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Kirk's Girdle
May 10, 2009 7:42 am

I think a better line for when Robau sets off Nero would’ve been, “Where are you from? Are you…. Vulcans?

AHHHHHHH!

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