Mile 22 set visit with Peter Berg & Co. in Bogota, Colombia
The Peter Berg-directed action film Mile 22 began principal photography on November 27, 2017 in Atlanta and filmed there through December before picking the shoot back up in early 2018 in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. When we arrive for our Mile 22 set visit on February 10 it is Day 40 of 43, with some of the production’s biggest stunts still ahead.
Mile 22 centers on Mark Wahlberg’s Jimmy Silva, the leader of a CIA special division called Ground Branch assigned to exfiltrate an important informant named Li (Iko Uwais of The Raid films) from a U.S. Embassy in a fictional South American country (jokingly referred to as “Bergestan”) to a cargo plane 22 miles away (hence the title). Of course, people try to kill them along the way.
“My character is Li Noor,” said Uwais. “He is one of the leads of this movie, siding with America trying to convince the audience that he’s a good guy. He might be a good guy or he might not, you never know, right?”
“A lot of this was inspired by when I saw The Raid,” Berg revealed. “Big fan of Iko’s and what Gareth Evans did in The Raid. I wanted to play around with Iko and his unique style of fighting. I really do think he’s heir apparent to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee and Jet Lee. He’s up there.”
Today Berg is filming the first ambush in which men on motorcycles put chargers on the gas tanks of Silva’s motorcade to blow up their vehicles… but first we get a surprise. When Berg arrives on set he’s throwing punches to get himself pumped for the shooting day. After sizing up the crowd of journalists assembled for the set visit, he pulls me out of the crowd to block a fight scene with the legendary Iko Uwais, who has one arm handcuffed to the backseat of an SUV. I’m given a prop gun and aim it at Uwais as I approach the vehicle, and – in a moment of “car fu”- he immediately disarms me, slams my head into the door and then strangles me with a seat belt, killing me. It is AMAZING. Of course, after our bit of fun the real stunt men are brought in to do the scene the right way.
“Every fight scene I have handfcuffs,” Uwais explained. “There’s a scene in a hospital where I only have one hand and I’m handcuffed onto the bed. It’s a new experience for me as well because it’s a little bit difficult to create the choreography. I work with the stunt team, and it’s gonna be fun. It’s less free, so it’s challenging. Usually if I fight with two hands it’s more free. Fighting with one hand means less actions, so it’s more intense.”
All this intense action today is being shot in a high profile area of the city known as El Centro Internacional de Bogotá, which is described as the Times Square of Colombia.
“What we’ve been able to do in Bogotá we never would have had the space, the time, the support in America,” says the film’s co-star Lauren Cohan of The Walking Dead fame. “I’m sure it would have cost five million times more money. We have just been able to do really, really, really grand, cool things here. And I think we have like nine city blocks cordoned off, and this is maybe the fourth or the fifth day that we’ve used this location.”
“Never filmed here before, very under-filmed city, Bogotá,” Berg said of the city. “Every location is new and fresh. There’s a lot of beautiful texture in the buildings. It’s just very unique colors, the way the sun has hit the paint. It’s unique and I like that. Friendliest people I ever met.”
There are between 500 and 700 people working on the film in Bogotá, with most of the same staff from the production company Dynamo as the show Narcos, which also films in the area. The Dynamo crew is excited to be filming a big Hollywood action film in Colombia that doesn’t revolve around the area’s infamous drug trade.
This is day 4 out of 5 on this ambush scene. Berg is in a utility van reviewing aerial footage with his director of photography Jacques Jouffret. This special footage being shot by a drone team is for more than just style: It’s part of the in-world CIA branch called Overwatch headed by John Makovich’s Bishop, who are observing Silva’s team with drones while remaining in radio contact with him and ocassionally dropping a bomb or two to help him out. The drone team on set films everything Berg shoots simultaneously from the sky, getting a lot of beauty shots like Michael Bay-style aerial 360’s.
As for Wahlberg’s crew in the film, he assembled some heavy hitters, including Lauren Cohan and MMA fighter turned actress Ronda Rousey (Furious 7).
Alice Curr is a CIA Ground Branch operative, and this group pretty early on in the movie discovers that they need to go a little further undercover on a very special mission with a very specific asset, and it takes them on a wild adventure, explained Cohan.
“I play Sam Snow,” says Rousey. “She’s the tactical shooting badass of the team. She’s a lot more skilled at tactical gun stuff and not so much hand-to-hand fighting, like I would be known for. It’s cool to not be leaning on my strengths so much.”
“I think the most fun part of it, in a lot of senses, is that people aren’t going to see what they’re expecting to see,” Cohan added. “Rhonda does barely any fighting in this movie, and we get a chance to see what an amazing actress she is. Yet all the things that I think make her incredibly lovable, which is her perseverance and her strength and the fact that she never gives up, so informs this character. But it’s also who she is.”
“Everyone has their different styles, but for me he’s the best director I’ve ever worked with,” Rousey said of working with Berg. “I’m not hating on anybody else. I’m just saying he’s been an actor before, so he understands what we need. He helps me through every scene and gives me the freedom to say things in my own words. But if he wants something in an exact phrase, he can shout it at me. So he gives me a lot of detail and direction. Instead of ‘That wasn’t so good, let’s do it again,’ he’ll give me the exact details of what he wants. As someone who’s been coached all their life, that’s what I need — I need coaching and direction. Tell me what you want and I’ll do it, but it’s hard to guess. Pete takes all the guesswork out of it. He’s really been a great mentor and guide throughout this whole process.”
This is stands as Berg’s fourth directorial outing with Wahlberg, whom he previously directed in Lone Survivor (2013), Deepwater Horizon (2016) and Patriots Day (2016). Although we didn’t get a chance to speak with Wahlberg on set, we did get to see the basic beats of this incredible action sequence.
In the plaza there are cars that have stopped, cars with broken windows, a yellow cab riddled with bullets, and a big Jeep with its axle blown off. Lots of debris and rubble. There are dead guys in motorcycle helmets with uzis lying on the ground. Berg directs through a loud “God Mic,” and the first take of the “real” Iko Uwais backseat fight scene is lightning fast and intense (moreso than mine).
“I did every action scene and my team choreographs every fight scene as well,” Uwais told us. “Sam Looc, Lateef Crowder and Ryan Watson, we all work on it with Rama Ramadhan from Indonesia. I want to thank STX because they really trusted me a lot because every style of fight they trusted me to create. We prepare before we shoot with the stunt team. We make the pre-viz as well for reference.”
We go into a building across the street to witness filming from a high vantage point. A gunshot blares out and a BMW drives backwards to pick up Lauren Cohan, who pulls Uwais out of the SUV and takes him to the BMW. Cut. Lunch.
After lunch they do a shot where the Beemer drives away and there is a HUGE explosion behind them. Dummies were carefully placed near the explosion to add to the realism. We see this same explosion again from street level… at a safe distance.
“It has all the real cool action beats and all those fun visual things, but it also has a lot more heart and depth,” Rousey says of Mile 22, which opens on August 3. “It goes into the grey area of what’s right and wrong. It makes you think a lot more than just a ‘let’s save the today.’ It’s a lot more complicated than a lot of these popcorn-crunching action movies. It has that in it, but it also will leave you thinking about who should you really be rooting for in the end.”