Mark Wahlberg interview: Deepwater Horizon, spandex

Mark Wahlberg chats to us about Deepwater Horizon, missing this summer's movie, Jason Statham and Timothy Spall...

Mark Wahlberg reunites with his Lone Survivor director Peter Berg for Deepwater Horizon, a film centred around the oil rig tragedy of 2010. It’s a strong film, all the better for finding the parts of the story that weren’t screened on 24 hour news channels worldwide.

Wahlberg stars in and produces the film. And he spared us some time to talk about it…

The construct of this film reminded me a little of the first Alien, in that it spends so much time setting up characters, introducing us to their trivialities and bits of their life, so that when bad things happen, you’re far more invested in them.

With Deepwater Horizon, you invest a lot of time before you get to what’s on the poster. How much of that is you as a producer, and as an actor, and is putting proper human beings on screen what you’re after?

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I’m certainly looking for that. This was a rare occasion where a studio was willing to take a chance on a character-driven piece. It has a disaster backdrop, but it’s essentially character-driven. It has fantastic action and effects, but like you said, it takes a while to set it up.

In a perfect world, those are the only movies that we make. But studios need to make the other version of popcorn movies, to finance the other risks that they’re willing to take periodically. These are the kind of movies that I’m personally drawn towards.

Certainly a lot of the stuff you’ve done has involved real stories, and playing real people. I’ve read some of the interviews you’ve done promoting this film so far, and you talk about how you worked hand in hand with Mike Williams, the man you play, on this movie. Were you particularly tight on this one?

Yeah. In a perfect world you involve them as much as they want to be. With this, I don’t think I’d have been able to do it without Mike. I’ve worked closely with people, certainly Marcus [Lone Survivor] and Mickey Ward [The Fighter], and other movies that I’ve done. But I had no access to oil rigs. Mike was my eyes and my ears with everything, and he held us to a very high standard. I relied on him for all the information I needed to make this character believable.

I’d never recommend scrolling too far down the internet, but I did see an interesting exchange on a message board about this film, and specifically this comment: “Everyone knows about the disaster – but few know who these men were. They were a part of what America really is. Not buttoned up suits closing deals, but hard-working men doing unafraid to bust their ass at one of the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs there is to too put food on their families table and a roof over their heads”. Was that your way in?

That’s it, yeah. I knew nothing about people working on drill rigs. It is one of the most dangerous occupations out there. These are brave men and women who go out there to provide for their family, and also provide resources that help make the world go round.

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We all know and we all saw what happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and everybody was aware of the environmental disaster. But not a lot of people knew that 11 people lost their lives. Many more should have lost their lives, but for the heroic actions of those aboard the Deepwater Horizon. That was the story we wanted to tell.

I get a sense from your work that you’re an avid script reader. You gravitate a lot towards material with an inherent intelligence, films such as Three Kings, The Fighter, and this one. But for you as an audience member, are you feeling a frustration with films that don’t credit their audience with intelligence? Do you deliberately seek out films that do?

This summer, I was extremely busy, so I didn’t get to go to the movies all that often [laughs].

Whenever I take my kids to the movies, we have a thing called ‘pick it or kick it’. We love watching the trailers. We always get mad at my wife because she’s running a bit late, so we’re going to miss the trailers, and that’s a big problem! We decide what movies we want to see based on the trailers!

But I’m very optimistic at the same time, because around this time every year, adult-themed movies will come out, and they’ll be good ones, and they’ll be successful at the box office. And studios will still claim poverty, and kick and scream, but we’ll figure out ways to manipulate the system and get these movies that we want made.

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Am I frustrated? Yes. Did I see all the crap that came out this summer? No. I’m not as frustrated as some people maybe, but I’m always optimistic that good things are around the corner!

I’d be a terrible gossip columnist, as I was unaware whether you had children or not.

I’ve got four.

One of my frustrations with my kids is that too many films are disposable, and disappear from their brains soon afterwards. I was curious, because this film is a PG-13 in the US, 12A in the UK. Was that a commercial necessity, given the price of the film, or is there a desire to get younger audiences to see a harsh true story, such as this?

I would be comfortable with my kids seeing the movie. The cultures are different in the US and the UK. We have a big problem with language and nudity [in the US], whereas here it’s maybe a little bit more acceptable. But a movie like this: we didn’t have to work really hard to go from an R to a PG-13. There were a couple of things that they asked us to change, that were very minimal. Language wasn’t really an issue. So I would be comfortable with this particular movie.

Then there’s a movie like Ted, which you could see as harmless fun, that my wife certainly would have a huge problem with [them seeing]!

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The irony is that there’s more kids on the back of a school bus likely to have seen Ted than will see Deepwater Horizon.

[Laughs] Exactly. I was just with my kids in France, and two kids came running out of a restaurant, wanting to take a picture with me. And I was like, how do you even know who I am? I figured they’d seen Transformers or something. And they said ‘we love Ted, we love Ted!’. My kids looked at me and said, ‘Dad, these kids can see it?’ And they were clearly younger than my eldest! So yeah, that was a problem.

It would have been potentially terrifying if they’d said Boogie Nights rather than Ted!

[Laughs] Thankfully my kids don’t know that one yet!

One of my frustrations with many modern interviews is that we get access to people like you, and people just want to ask whether you’re going to be in a superhero movie. So I want to skew that the other way, really.

I don’t think I’d look good in a cape!

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Going through your work, you seem to gravitate towards heroes who don’t know they’re heroes. That you’re picking stories that are either true, or could be true, and playing characters who are not extraordinary by power, but by action. Again, is that conscious? Is that what appeals to you in stories you personally like?

Absolutely. I find that so inspiring, that an ordinary person can do some pretty incredible things in specific circumstances. I find that particularly inspiring.

John Badham has written a pair of – to an outsider like me – really interesting books about directing film. And he argues that many directors are intimidated by working with very famous actors, not least those producing films themselves. I don’t get a sense that your relationship with Peter Berg is that. But I am curious: where do you stand on that in your experience? Do you ever find that directors are somewhat in awe, especially when you’re producing too?

I think it comes down to control, right? You don’t want to have an acclaimed director all of a sudden listening to someone saying we’re going to do it this way. I started producing films out of necessity. I was never given the first crack at great material, so I thought I had to go out and find my own destiny, to find material and develop things. But people, talented filmmakers, I’m always encouraging them to do their thing.

If I’m in a situation with a young filmmaker who doesn’t have much experience, I certainly want them to have as much control as possible, but I also want it to succeed. I want the film to be good. I want everyone to be great in the film. I create a positive, collaborative environment for people to create their best work. But I can understand [where Badham is coming from]: we’ve seen it in the past where it works and doesn’t work.

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It’s important to you, too, to hold the ladder, and to give a chance to others on their way up?

Yeah. And then also, it’s pretty clear that if I’m working with a writer/director and I’m an actor for hire, then I’m servicing their vision. I’m working with Michael Bay right now [on Transformers: The Last Knight], and he knows that I’m there for what he needs me to do. I help out with the other actors, especially the younger actors. But I’m there to service his vision.

In other films, as if I’m kind of driving the train, I’m still going to encourage them to do their best work, and to make it as good as possible.

One of the things we try and do on our site is use the reach we have to try and get to people on the wrong side of fortune, who are looking for a break, or maybe just someone to believe with them. I’ve been reading about your foundation, and the work you do, and these messages are more powerful coming from someone like you than us. Can I ask you this, then: to anyone reading, who is struggling, who has lost confidence and lost belief in themselves, is there a message you could pass out to them?

Yeah. I’m living proof that anything is possible. It really comes down to hard work, dedication, commitment, and sometimes not taking no for an answer. Anything is possible. You really have to put the time in, and the work. If you go out there and you work really hard, things don’t always work out. But if things don’t work out the way you want, you feel much better about yourself if you’ve given it your all. You have to find confidence and belief in yourself.

There was an interview with Kevin Costner, I think from earlier this year. And he was asked if Dances With Wolves could happen now, in an era of massive blockbusters and little else. And he argued that Dances With Wolves happened because someone drove it to happen, and got it through the system. That that’s something that’s still possible.

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Yeah, very much so. I love the making of Dances With Wolves too. That’s a great documentary.

[We share a bit of Dances With Wolves documentary love here].

You’re in the UK now, so I have to ask you this. The high priest of action cinema is Jason Statham, and so I’m honour bound to ask you what your favourite Jason Statham movie is? Do you have one?

Yes. [pauses, like a true pro]. The Italian Job [grins].

Jason actually is a really good friend of mine. He’s a sweetheart of a guy, and I had a blast with him. I would probably say Lock Stock!

He’s a good man. You know my other favourite English actor?

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Go on!

Timothy Spall.

Ah, great! Does that make you a Mike Leigh fan too?

[Eyes light up]. Oh, man: Secrets And Lies! [does amazing Timothy Spall impression that doesn’t really work in print] [then another]

Do you heavily follow British film?

You know what, I’m just into movies period! I’m still waiting for the call. Will Ferrell and I, we’re both frustrated that we’ve not been offered the chance to play proper Brits yet! We’re talking about maybe doing a comedy where we would actually be successful American actors who move to Britain, to try to become successful British actors. Of course, it gets really bad!

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Are you going to get Mike Leigh to do it?

I’d love Mike Leigh to do it!

You’d have to improvise it from scratch.

That’s what we’re best at!

You still have Daddy’s Home 2 coming up with Will?

Possibly, yes.

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The one that seems to have fallen off the radar is you did 2 Guns.

With Denzel Washington, yeah!

There was sequel talk of that at one point. Has that just petered out?

Yeah. It’s one of those things. I’m not really accustomed to being in the sequel business. It’s one of those things that if people demand it, and we can make it better than the first – which is not an easy thing to do. If not, I’d rather take a crack at doing something original.

So what is next for you?

Well, Pete[r Berg] and I have just finished Patriots Day, and now I’m trying to figure it out. We’ve been working on The Six Billion Dollar Man for quite some time, with Damien. And it’s a complete opposite spin on the superhero movie and capes…

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You don’t like capes, do you? I’m getting a sense of that.

[Grins] No! Capes! The spandex! I’m not sure I could pull it off.

Do you think The Six Billion Dollar Man is getting closer?

Yes, very. Bill Monahan, who wrote The Departed, is doing a pass on the script right now.

I don’t think I’d have the confidence of walking around in my trailer in a cape!

I’ll do it if you do it.

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Maybe for Halloween!

Mark Wahlberg, thank you very much!

Deepwater Horizon is in UK cinemas now.

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