Missy Schwartz
May 01, 2009 AT 02:45 PM EDT

It’s been an Eric Bana kind of week, PopWatchers. On Tuesday, day 6 of the 2009 Tribeca film festival, I headed on down to the Apple store in Soho to cheer on my colleague Dave Karger, who moderated a public discussion with the Aussie actor. The occasion was the North American premiere of Bana’s directorial debut, Love the Beast, a documentary about his 25-year relationship with his 1974 Ford XB Falcon Coupe. It’s a loving exploration of the world of racecars and car enthusiasts, culminating in Bana’s participation two years ago in the five-day, closed-road tarmac race known as the Targa Tasmania Rally. Then on Wednesday, a few hours before Love the Beast debuted at Tribeca, I chatted with Bana about his love of hot wheels and the very important matter of a steel cage fight between two of his baddest bad-ass characters: Chopper and Nero.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Are you enjoying the Tribeca fest?
ERIC BANA: Yeah, I’d love to be getting out and seeing some films, but it doesn’t seem too possible at the moment.

There’s a documentary here called Racing Dreams about young kids who dream of NASCAR that’s supposed to be good.
Yeah, I really want to see that. I really would love to.

You should try to get a screener.
That’s a good idea, actually! [Note to Racing Dreams director Marshall Curry: You might want to get on that. -ms] But yeah, to have my film here is really thrilling. It’s exciting to be a part of a spirit of filmmaking where someone has an idea and just goes out and does it and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

How and when did you come up with the idea for Love the Beast?
The seed of the idea was many, many years ago. It stemmed from two factors. One was a bit of frustration, that a lot of so-called car films actually make me feel less like I’m from that world. I find them quite marginalizing. My producing partner is a close friend of mine and he also races cars, and we just got talking one day about how we both felt the same way. So we started kicking ideas around, just sort of beer talk. And then one day I realized that the essence of what I was talking about was my own experience. So I had to use myself as a proxy for this emotional idea that I had.

Why do you think there are so few fiction films that capture the emotional connection you tap into in Love the Beast? Is it because car movies are always centered around the action sequence or the chase scene?
I think so. I screened the second Mad Max movie at the Melbourne film festival last year, and the thing that struck me was how patient the editing was. In the midst of those action sequences, some of the cuts were two or three seconds long. These days, there’d be five or six cuts per couple of seconds. Some of the movies are great and some of the sequences are incredible: The French Connection, The Italian Job. But very few of them really capture this kind of emotion. I guess that’s why Vanishing Point is one of my favorites, cause it’s just Kowalski and the car locked together.

After the jump: “I definitely wouldn’t have called myself a Trekkie.”

addCredit(“Zombies Interactive Tout”)

The movie incorporates some great home-movie footage of you as a teenager with your car after you first bought it, in 1983.
[Laughs] I luckily had more than I thought I did. It probably appears like there’s quite a bit, but trust me, that really is scraping the bottom of a very small barrel. One thing 15- and 16-year old boys weren’t doing in the ’80s was taking videos of themselves. [Laughs]

Another famous car enthusiast, Jay Leno, is in the movie. [SPOILER ALERT!] He posits an interesting theory: that if you had rebuilt the car yourself in preparation for the Targa Tazmania, instead of hiring a mechanic to do it, you wouldn’t have crashed it during the race. What do you think?
I tend to agree with him. I still love the car, but in that event, I was treating it like a tool, like just another racecar. And as much as I love it, maybe if I had assembled the car myself in that last rebuild, maybe I would have been more paranoid about damaging it. It is pretty powerful, what he says.

The movie did very well in Australia. It doesn’t have distribution here in the States yet. What are your hopes for that?
We’re pretty realistic about it. As a storyteller, you just want people to see it. I don’t hold crazy visions of wide theatrical releases or anything like that. At the end of the day, we’ll do what we think is most appropriate for the film and hopefully find someone who really understands it. I think it could speak to a massive heartland here in the States.

This is an unusual week for you: You’re here in New York promoting an intimate, personal indie while simultaneously getting ready to jump aboard the massive Star Trek publicity machine.
It is very bizarre.

Thanks to Love the Beast, the world now knows you grew up loving cars in Melbourne. Were you a fan of Star Trek too?
No. I was aware of the TV show, but I hadn’t seen any of the movies and most definitely wouldn’t have called myself a Trekkie.

Yeah, the pictures of you in the movie, sitting proudly on top of your car don’t really scream “Trekkie.”
[Laughs] No, no. 

You play the villain Nero in Star Trek. How would he fare against another bad guy you’ve played, Chopper? In a steel cage match, who wins?
Ohhh, goodness. Well…I’ll say Chopper. [Laughs] But who knows?

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