For the last decade, Mark Wahlberg has played such a bad ass on the big screen that’s it hard to remember him as the Calvin Klein model/Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch Hangin’ Tough with the New Kids on the Block boy back in the day. He’s definitely paid his dues in Hollywood and has now become one of the top leading men. ComingSoon.net talked to the actor about his new film, We Own the Night, in which he plays a cop who has to get tough with his brother Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix) who is on the opposite side of the law.
ComingSoon.net: What was it about this project that made you want to both act in it and produce it? Wahlberg: Well, I had worked with James [Gray] on “The Yards,” and he was writing his next screenplay and he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. He had originally set it up at Warner Brothers. I had introduced him to Lorenzo di Bonaventura, after we made “Three Kings.” I had finished “The Yards” and I was very excited about my experience of working with James and just thought he was a super talent. So he wrote the script with me in mind, and then it was very difficult to get it off the ground. We finally got it going, got it out of Warner Brothers, and we had approached a couple of independent financiers, and we were finally able to get the movie made. So anything that James is going to do, I would love to be a part of.
CS: Why is it so hard to get films like this made? Why don’t studios like to take risks anymore? Wahlberg: Well I think originally, they had it budgeted for like fifty million dollars, and I think they ended up making the movie for like twenty or maybe twenty-one million dollars. It was just an expensive movie, and it was a risk that they didn’t feel like they were willing to take, I guess. But we were glad that we got to make it the way we did, I think with the amount of money that was spent, it really became a labor of love, and everybody just committed their time. James is the kind of perfectionist that if given the opportunity, he’d still be shooting right now. So it was good that he only had a certain amount of money to work with.
CS: What did you have to lose, with that thirty million? Wahlberg: Just my salary. [laughs] I don’t know what Joaquin [Phoenix] makes. But my salary for sure. But you know, it was a really tough time, because I was about to make another movie, I was about to have my second child, I had left shortly after my first child was born, to work, and that was a very difficult experience. So luckily he was able to work it out to where this is something that I was trying to get made for such a long time, then it got to the point where I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to be a part of it, which was difficult for me. I had just worked on “The Departed” with Marty [Scorsese], and I didn’t want to just play cops, although this is a very different role, still you know, putting on the uniform just kind of reminds people of something in the past. But like I said, he was able to work it out, I shot for like four and a half weeks, and then I was able to go off and do the other movie, so it worked out great.
CS: Did you need research for this role, or did you use what you learned from “The Departed”? Wahlberg: No, because my main focus in this was studying post-traumatic stress. Dealing with that. I’d done some research on it when we were doing “Three Kings.” But that was the big focus. I certainly didn’t need to worry about any police department stuff. There was a lot more. I was speaking a lot more Russian in the movie. I haven’t seen the final, final cut, but I believe that some of the Russian was cut out.
CS: Does fatherhood change things as an actor in choosing roles? Wahlberg: Definitely. Certainly the kind of roles that I’m gonna play, and it would be extremely difficult to sign on to do a movie like “Boogie Nights” now, knowing that I have little kids, and a little girl who asks a ton of questions at four. We’re gonna still have to have the conversation, but I don’t want to work forever, I’ve been really focused on me for quite some time now, and they are definitely the priority, so I figure, I got a few more years to work really hard, and then if I can make a movie every year and a half or something, then that would be nice.
CS: Do you like the brother dynamic that is in many of your movies? Wahlberg: Certainly. I come from a very large family, and I can certainly identify with that.
CS: How was it working with Joaquin? Wahlberg: I love Joaquin [Phoenix]. We have this chemistry, and there’s a familiarity there, you just kind of rely on one another. But he’s intense, too, so he was smoking a lot of cigarettes. And he wants to talk about every scene. So you get in a room, and you’re in a room for two hours in the morning, it’s first thing in the morning, he must smoke twelve, fifteen cigarettes, just kind of mumbling about how much he hates this scene, and why, and my part’s great but his part’s bad. And then of course, we get in there and do it, that’s when it all kind of happens. My approach is, to know the lines, James is extremely specific, so I’ll go to him right away, and I’ll tell him basically to give me a line reading of the whole scene, because I know it’ll turn into that anyway. He’ll tell you, “okay, show me – no, you probably know better than I do,” and then you’ll do something, and he’s like, that’s not what I’m looking for. And he’ll kind of show you anyway, I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not gonna do that with a first time director, certainly, but you know, a writer-director with such a specific vision, I don’t mind being there to just do what he asks me.
CS: Joaquin said he doesn’t enjoy the process of acting, is that real or just something he projects? Wahlberg: I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. I think he enjoys it, but I think he likes also being kind of a dark and tormented artist.
CS: Do you tell him to shut up and stop grousing and just do the scene? Wahlberg: I think I just left the room and went to my trailer and took a little nap or something. Let him and James figure it out. But no, you know, everybody’s process is different. Working with Bobby Duvall, I mean, the guy’s playing my dad, he’s the only actor that I ever saw in every movie and he reminded me of my real dad. So, when I found out that he was playing the part, I was ecstatic. And he just kind of comes in, and he knows his lines, and you just try to make it real. And but like I said, everybody’s process is different.
CS: Are you involved at all still in “Entourage”? Wahlberg: Thrilled with the success. We got the ball rolling, and everything else is up to this guy now, sitting in the corner. This is my manager and partner, Steve [Levinson]. But no, those guys – they’re so good, and they’re on such a roll, you just wanna tune in on Sunday like everybody else. I stopped watching the dailies, I wait till the rough cuts come.
CS: How much longer do you think it’ll go? Is there a finite end in sight? Wahlberg: Until those guys self-destruct. Until [Jeremy] Piven implodes. It’s just one of those things. [laughs] They can go as long as they want to go. It’s the number one show on the network. I can’t go anywhere without somebody coming up to tell me how much they love “Entourage.” Young, old, men, women, it’s just one of those things. So I’m thrilled. And they’re not compromising as far as the quality of the material goes. They only can really churn out twelve to fourteen episodes, but each one is better than the last.
CS: Do you plan on directing? Wahlberg: I’d love to give it a shot, for sure. I’ve definitely got the interest.
CS: Are you actively looking for projects as a director? Wahlberg: No. I just think when the right thing comes my way I’ll know that that’s the thing I should take that leap with.
CS: Do you enjoy producing? Wahlberg: Yeah. Yeah, I love it. Anytime we can help talented people bring their vision to life, it’s a beautiful thing.
CS: How’s Joaquin as a producing partner? Wahlberg: Well let’s put it this way. He called me and said there was a scene in the movie that he didn’t like, and we’re producing it, we should do something about it. It’s a scene that he’s in, and I’m like, “well, what about it?” He goes, “I don’t know, I didn’t see the movie.” I’m like, “what are you talking about, you gotta see the movie!” He’s like, no, “you’re the producer, you gotta tell James to cut it out.” I’m like, “well you’re the producer, you gotta watch the movie and tell me what you’re talking about.” [laughs] He doesn’t like watching himself, though.