With director Rupert Wyatt’s (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) The Gambler opening Christmas Day, I recently participated in a roundtable interview with Mark Wahlberg . As most of you know from the trailers, the remake stars Wahlberg as a literature professor whose gambling spirals out of control, affecting both himself and those around him. The film also stars Brie Larson, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, and Michael K. Williams. As you might imagine with a script by The Departed scribe William Monahan, the film is loaded with incredible dialogue and tense, edge-of-your-seat sequences.
During the interview Wahlberg talked about if he had any apprehension about remaking the 1974 film, Monahan’s script, losing weight for the role, how he got into acting, his connection to Boston, if he takes any credit for Warner Bros. making an Aquaman movie because of Entourage, if he’ll play a superhero in the future, doing Deep Water Horizon with director J.C. Chandor, how they’re talking about making Six Billion Dollar Man and Howard Gordon is currently writing the script, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Question: Some people are nervous and apprehensive about touching classics and some people would consider The Gambler a classic, was there any apprehension on your part about making this film?
WAHLBERG: No, we did it with Planet of the Apes and Charade and The Italian Job, no – when I read the script I’d had some fairly bad experiences with the remakes and I was trying to stay away from that for a while, but then we had a good experience with The Italian Job. But I read the script, and I’m a huge fan of [William] Monahan. We worked together on The Departed, he wrote American Desperado for us, and I was in his movie that he directed called Mojave. We have a great rapport and I just loved the material and the part. I talked to Jimmy Caan and he gave me his blessings, I talked to [James] Toback and he gave me his blessings, so it just felt like it was cool and different and we could make it our own while still paying respect to the original.
Talk a little bit about Bill’s script. Was it one of these things where you read it and you’re like, “Yeah, we’re doing this”?
WAHLBERG: Yeah, I read it on the plane and you just start reading lines out loud. And you realize that it’s going to also attract some great talent because they all have an opportunity to come in and play some really juicy parts, do their thing, and showcase their abilities in a really cool way – John Goodman, Jessica Lange and everybody else. I normally have to go out and court people and the material really attracted everybody so it was fairly easy to get everybody on board.
As an audience member I think most of us come out of the screening and want to smack you because we don’t understand this character and what his motive is. When you were making the film did you always know in your head how you were going to play it?
WAHLBERG: Yeah, I always wanted to push the envelope as much as possible. We knew we weren’t making a character that was going to be necessarily likeable, but we wanted him to be interesting enough and compelling enough in how brash he was and how unapologetic he was that people would at least find it interesting to see what was going to happen and how it was going to turn out.
Did you feel like he was a gambler?
WAHLBERG: No, I feel like he just chose gambling as the tool to kind of strip himself of all those things in his life that were basically holding him back from finding out who he really was and what he was really supposed to be doing with his life.
Do you have to like a character that you are playing? Some people say they have to have some kind of redeemable qualities.
WAHLBERG: Um…I like him anyway, but don’t judge me by that [laughs]. I mean, for me, watching a movie – the best part of a great movie is a great villain and I usually have a tendency to root for the bad guy, so yeah, I always tend to like the characters that I play. I’m convinced that I am this person and I’m OK with whatever they do.
You talked a bit last night about how you rolled into acting. What did you expect when you got into acting?
WAHLBERG: You have to take everything I say with a grain of salt. [Laughs] I mean, how do I not get away with saying stuff, making stuff up? I hear people on the TV talking about Harry Styles “Oh, he’s joking 60% of the time.” They don’t hold him accountable for anything he says, why am I held accountable?
Has playing this character affected you personally in anyway?
WAHLBERG: No, I mean it certainly inspired me to [whispers] continue to further my education. [Laughs] Yes, it’s definitely done that. I thought I would just have to not swear…
What was it like growing up in a house of Wahlbergs, was your family always a group of entertainers or did you all just kind of roll into that?
WAHLBERG: It was always entertaining in our world, our idea of entertaining may be different from other peoples – gang fights, free for alls – those things were part of every day routine. But we loved each other and we were supportive of one another. My mom was always a bit of a showman, my dad loved the cinema. So yeah, it was in our blood, but it wasn’t something that seemed possible because of our surroundings and the environment we were raised in. Did I ignore one of the questions?
Yeah, you did, but that’s OK.
WAHLBERG: No, go back. So, what did I say last night? I feel bad, sorry.
You were talking about how you rolled into acting, what did you expect when you became an actor and what did you actually get?
WAHLBERG: Well I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that the possibilities were endless. Pretty early on in making the first movie I realized that this is what I wanted to do. It was one of those things because whatever reason I was fighting it, whether I was being misunderstood, not taken seriously, whatever it was, I felt like by that time I just found my niche, like this is what I was supposed to be doing. So I completely submerged myself into the world of watching movies, making my own movies, buying video cameras and lights. When I wasn’t making a movie, I was making my own movies. When I wasn’t making movies, I was watching movies. I was going back and studying film and looking back at guys that were perceived as great guys that I can identify with. It just became my life. I had The Godfather one and two on loop in my hotel. That just became my life and I knew the possibilities were endless, and because of my work ethic, and my drive, and my desire, all those things kind of helped me get where I am today, which is the first day of the rest of my career. I’m starting now like I’m just starting out, looking forward to the future and what the future holds – although that video last night did like a farewell.
[Laughs] If so you could do a whole lot worse.
WAHLBERG: But I blocked that out. No, it was nice to see where I’ve come from and I look forward to the next twenty years.
Having interviewed you for several years and interviewing people around you, there seems to be a real connection to home. The people who travel with you talk a lot about your loyalty to home and hiring people out of home, and you go home for different stories, and even working with your family right now on a show. I’m wondering where your loyalty comes from and what nurtured that in you? Most actors try to forget.
WAHLBERG: It’s just how I was raised. I tried to do that for quite a while, not because I was ashamed in any way, shape, or form of where I was from. I just didn’t want to be pigeonholed saying I could only do that thing. But that’s how we were raised. Loyalty and family are right up there on the priority list with faith. I just remembered being in LA and pursuing an acting career and having a Boston accent was always a bit of a handicap, so I wanted to stay away from that, but then the first time I went and did movies that were required to use that accent I was having great success, with The Perfect Storm, and then with The Departed, and The Fighter, so its nice to be able to tap into that. The great thing is I feel also having a lot of real life experience helps me. I feel like I have the upper hand because I have so much real life experience to draw on as opposed to techniques and things you learn in classes that are good to a certain extent, but I don’t know if they necessarily ring true to the average person who also has real life experience. Sometimes its nice to just get away and be introduced to a new world, whether it be fantasy or whatever. Making movies that to me have that kind of depth and importance in telling a real story, telling a true story, things that I made in the past, those things are important. Loyalty and family, those are the most important. [Whispers about Ella] And the thing with her is she won’t repeat anything I say until we’re negotiating for a Sprite later on. And then those things will come up, “Well you said this, you said that.”
Smart. You’ve lost the weight, you talked about losing the weight, so I want to know to know what that liquid diet is [laughs]. When I go on a diet I get very evil, and you said you were on a liquid diet for six weeks. How do you change when you’re in the midst of losing weight? You went from 197 to 137?
WAHLBERG: Yeah, you know it’s always weird people talking about losing weight and so many stories over the years. It’s just part of the job. I prepare mentally and physically for everything I do. I like having to do both, because you submerge yourself into the character and the world and you live it until it’s over. That’s why I always say one of my favorite things about making movies is finishing on that last day because I get to have my life back and let that go, and hopefully have a real sense of accomplishment at the end of it. But that’s just what Rupert and Irwin wanted me to look like, so I was like “OK fine.” I’m not a happy person, I mean nobody wanted to be around me. You think it’s bad if I have too much to drink? Never mind not having any food. It’s ten times worse. It was just you take this lemon in the morning with this microbiotic thing. It’s a little thing that looks like milk. I had this whole thing from nutritionists and doctors. Then you have eight ounces of almond milk and one scoop of fiber in the morning, and then eight ounces of almond milk in the afternoon with this other little scoop of powder, and then eight ounces of almond milk in the evening with a scoop of powder – tiny little scoops – and that was it for six weeks. Then after the six weeks you would wean yourself into as many greens as you wanted once a day, whether they be steamed or raw, and you do that for about two weeks. Then the next week you’d have eight ounces of protein once a day. That was it.
But by the time I was able to eat, and I swear to god all I was thinking about was food, I was obsessed everywhere we went I would smell all the food. I went with my wife to breakfast, we went away to Montecito, we went to church, and then went to the pharmacy and then to a breakfast place right down the street from San Ysidro ranch, and I smelled the bacon [laughs]. So I go in and I just sit down, and normally my wife’s mad because I’m always rushing her out of the store, and now I’m just sitting there. I don’t want to leave. She’s like, “Come on, let’s go.” I’m like, “No I want to stay for a while.” She’s like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m smelling the food.” She goes, “You’re just torturing yourself.” And I snapped at her, because I was like “This is all I have.” [Laughs] She drove up to the hotel, left me sitting there. By the time I was able to eat I had a giant breakfast. I had pancakes, home fries, eggs, English muffin – I wanted it toasted well, it came back light and I was like, “dude I’ve been waiting a long time for this, take it back.” Normally I just wouldn’t eat it. But I felt horrible after I ate the meal. I was sick.
Do you think this is your best role that you’ve played yet?
WAHLBERG: I think it was the most interesting and challenging yet, but hopefully just different. I’ve been really trying to get American Desperado made for quite some time and pushing that uphill. It’s very reminiscent of The Fighter. It’s one of those things where it has the potential to be awesome, it just has to be the right way. So Monahan, we keep getting him to work on the script, we need to find the right filmmaker, but we’ll get it done eventually.
There’s something to be said for having an education and having had the work ethic to have gotten to where you are right now. I want to know what advantages and disadvantages that has had in your career.
WAHLBERG: The advantage is that I have so much street smarts. You can get any college professor that I’ve worked with in preparing for this movie and he can’t survive two minutes where I come from, but the disadvantages are things that I can fix, because I have the books, I have the tools, I have the thesaurus, I have the dictionary. I’m not afraid to ask questions either. I’m not the guy who will sit in a room with somebody who’s using a bunch of big words and just act like I know what they’re talking about, or sit on set with somebody and they’ll be trying to explain something and not using layman’s terms and I’ll just say, “Hey, excuse me, what do you mean by that? What does that mean? Explain to me so I just understand.” I would just always feel like I could have done more or maybe it just takes more work, but the work is what makes you great and the work is what makes you prepared, so I don’t mind doing that and if things ever came easy, I don’t think I would be in this position.
So now that there’s an Aquaman would you like to take credit from Entourage? And what do you think about Jason [Momoa] in the role?
WAHLBERG: I don’t really know much about it. It’s in the Batman movie right?
WAHLBERG: No, I don’t take any credit for it. Hopefully it’s going to be great. I just really knew that the Batman movie was happening and the whole Ben Affleck thing was a controversy at first, because they were going to shoot in Detroit right after we were there doing Transformers. I met Zack Snyder a couple times and I like him a lot. And Amy Adams was in the first one, I don’t know if she’s in the next one. But I don’t know anything about it. I wont know until I see it with the boys. We go to Century City and they’re sitting there and the trailer comes up and they say “pick it” or “kick it” and if they kick it we’re not going to see it. And now, because you have a tenancy to go to the theater and a lot of things look the same. You may see ten Marvel trailers and a lot of them have a tendency to look the same, so they’re getting a little more picky. Before it was like any kind of action superhero adventure movie came up they wanted to see it. Now they’re getting a little more picky.
Any plans for you to be a superhero in the future?
WAHLBERG: We’re talking about doing Six Billion Dollar Man, which is very much a superhero, but I don’t have to wear any kind of spandex cape. So that would be cool. Howard Gordon is writing the script and people are talking about doing it, but we got a great, great idea and it’s something that’s been in the pipeline for quite some time, so hopefully if we get the script right maybe we’ll make it after we do the Deep Water Horizon.
How’s that going and are you happy with the script?
WAHLBERG: Awesome, the script is one of the best scripts that I’ve read in a long time. Obviously it’s an amazing story and it was very brave of Lionsgate to make a movie that size and that scale with that kind of subject matter. J.C. Chandor is an amazing talent and he’s re-writing the script right now and he’s got such a great handle on it and the stuff that he’s doing with the characters is amazing now that we’ve had all this research and really had access to all the transcripts and everything that’s happened. I think it’s going to be spectacular.
Let’s just talk real quick about football.
WAHLBERG: Oh my god, how about that dude? They lose one game, it’s over. They woke up the sleeping giants and the dragons and it’s over. Football.
You watched the Manning game I’m assuming?
WAHLBERG: Of course.
So you were very happy? Or were you a little nervous?
WAHLBERG: Was I nervous? Yes. And my wife was there so it was a Sunday, my kids were out, only my youngest son was home and I was going to pretend like, “You know what? I don’t care they’ll either win or lose.” And of course no appetite, can’t eat my lunch, can’t sit in the bed. My wife wants to take a nap, she’s reading her iPad, and I’m bouncing all around. I had to go downstairs in the basement and watch. It was very satisfying. We got a good chance now of getting the number one seat, beat the Colts, beat the Chargers, three home wins.