In his first regular TV role in nearly 20 years, Eric Bana has gone dark.
The Australian actor stars as the eponymous mysterious lover in Dirty John, Bravo’s true-crime series based on the breakout podcast of the same name. Created by Alexandra Cunningham (Bates Motel), the show tracks the relationship between a successful but lonely business woman named Debra (Connie Britton) and the dashing but peculiar man she meets online, who claims to be a doctor. Things start out dreamy and steamy, but those close to Debra quickly send some warning signals: Something isn’t quite right here.
Those already familiar with the story know things get bleak, fast: Blood will be shed and shocking secrets will be revealed. But that doesn’t mean Dirty John can’t have some fun along the way. Bana keys into this in a breakout performance that starts out equally slimy and beguiling. To get the scoop on how he got into character, trying to find the show’s tricky tone, and what it was like working opposite Britton, EW caught up with Bana by phone. Check out our conversation below. Dirty John airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Bravo.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how did you get involved with Dirty John? Were you familiar with the podcast?
ERIC BANA: My agent called me and explained that they were doing a really interesting true-crime series. There’d been a series of articles and then a podcast that was really high quality. They were looking at turning it into a limited series. I immediately went to the podcast for a sense of what’d happened and how much it’d lend itself to TV. I thought it was fantastic. I sat down with the producers; I’d already met Connie before and was a huge fan of hers. She was attached to the project already, so it wasn’t difficult to connect the dots.
What was your initial conception of John, when you listened the first time?
The thing I enjoyed about it is that he’s largely a mystery. We’re getting a lot of pieces of information about things that have happened. We weren’t really getting a whole lot of information about him. I was intrigued by that. I knew that there’d be a pretty unique opportunity to flesh that out. While people who’d listened to the podcast would know a lot, there’d be a good amount who wouldn’t know or would be seeking to know. We’d be in a great position for that. Obviously I was fascinated by his behavior and Debra’s reaction to his behavior — the fact that this thing goes on, hopefully not to this extreme, but it does happen in real life — so it was a great thing to be talking about.
How did he come off in the podcast versus the show for you?
There’s not a whole lot in the podcast to flesh out about John. He had no friends. It was the fact that he didn’t seem to have any friends or close family nearby that really piqued my interest. I always find that to be a highly suspicious thing about someone. What makes them mysterious also often makes them very dangerous. It forces us to wonder and try to fill in the gaps. When you’re trying to fill in the gaps about someone, it’s obviously a fair warning sign.
He’s such a romantic charmer in the beginning — claiming to be a veteran and a doctor, swooping Debra off her feet. How did you want to play him there?
It was initially about committing to John’s belief in the romance. It’s not that hard to imagine someone falling for [someone like] Debra and enjoying their time together. I do believe that initially they share a bond and a very passionate romance. I don’t think all that was necessarily made up by him. It’s just a case of having enough material that we could sell to the audience — that it was a genuinely good time in the beginning, while also planting some seeds. We had some fun planting pieces of information for people, to be revealed much later in the season. It really was just about having the right material to support the romance in that first episode, episode and a half. It gets us going and allows the audience to believe that this is something real — that it won’t go badly after all.
How did you enjoy working with Connie?
It was wonderful. I really benefited from working with someone as intelligent as her. It wasn’t just about playing the scenes for what they were at that moment in time. We’re constantly thinking about every other episode after the one that we were filming, and how what we were doing was going to affect what’d happen in episode 5 and episode 7; constantly tracking what the ramifications were as the choices were made, particularly for Debra. Connie was so well-calibrated in all of that stuff. She’s just a delight to work with and a great partner.
Something feels off about John from the beginning. Was it important for you to indicate John’s more menacing qualities early on when we’re more in the throes of the romance?
I guess that’s underscored by lies that are told. Anytime we can see that someone is telling a lie, it always lays a sort of mistrust. We have plenty of that early on. The chilling side of him initially is a byproduct of his lying. I wasn’t deliberately trying to make him reek of mistrust in the initial stages. Quite the opposite.