Eric Bana on Challenge of Creating a Version of Real-Life ‘Dirty John’ You Won’t ‘Wanna Turn Off’

“Because, ultimately, if we don’t buy and believe Debra’s attachment to him, we’re dead,” Bravo series star tells TheWrap

Dirty John - Season 1
Photo by: Nicole Wilder/Bravo

Eric Bana knows he’s playing a very unlikeable guy on Bravo’s “Dirty John,” the new limited series based on the Los Angeles Times true-crime podcast of the same name.

But he also knows it’s his job to make you — and Connie Britton’s Debra Newell — like the unlikeable John Meehan as much as possible. Or, as Bana tells TheWrap, at least create a version of him that was “not something you’d wanna turn off after the first 30 minutes.”

On the TV adaptation of “Dirty John,” Debra is smitten with the charismatic — yet creepy — John, just like the real-life Newport Beach-based interior designer was with the real-life con man she met online.

Their fast-tracked romance frightens Debra’s two daughters Terra (Julia Garner) and Veronica (Juno Temple), prompting the girls to investigate the man who is wooing their mother. But try as they might, Debra does not heed their warnings until it’s almost too late. (We won’t spoil how it all ends here. That’s what the podcast — and now the show — is for.)

Debra’s inability to see John for who he really is sooner is frustrating, but believable, because he is charming — even while he’s freaking her out. And that aspect of adapting the story was of the utmost importance to Bana.

“Because, ultimately, if we don’t buy and believe Debra’s attachment to him, we’re dead. So we were constantly making that our priority,” Bana told TheWrap in an interview ahead of the new Bravo series’ premiere.

The actor says there was a sense of “freedom” that he got from “Dirty John” director Jeffrey Reiner to craft his version of the con man.

“We worked really, really well together and we were really open to exploring John,” Bana said. “And I wasn’t as overly interested in him, per se, as I was in his personality type and the type of creature that that sort of person is. So that was a challenge.”

“And then it was a case of trying to calibrate the level of deceit to this character, how much to that character, how much do you hide from the audience,” he added. “That was a delicate calibration from myself and Jeff.”

While Bana says John was a “challenge to play,” there wasn’t really anything he liked about the character himself — except how much of a mystery he is.

“I didn’t waste time trying to empathize with him,” Bana said. “I didn’t waste time trying to find all the bits about him that I liked or didn’t like. I just really try to focus on him being believable. But I liked the sense of mystery, because I think what makes us intrigued by those kinds of characters is that we don’t really know them.”

“The more we don’t really know about a character, they become more interesting to us,” he added. “When we know someone 100 percent inside and out — we know where we stand with them, we know how they are gonna behave — that’s a lot less interesting. And I knew John was a really great opportunity at a very, very mysterious person who doesn’t play by the rules, and who societal norms don’t apply to.”

Read TheWrap’s interview with Bana’s co-star Britton here.

“Dirty John” premieres Sunday, Nov. 25 at 10/9c on Bravo.