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:
- Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
- Leonard Nimoy
- Zachary Quinto
- Zoe Saldana
- John Cho
- Karl Urban
- Bruce Greenwood
- JJ Abrams
- Anton Yelchin
Also check out:
- Premiere red carpet interviews (including Simon Pegg)
- Los Angeles Press Conference (including Chris Pine)