'Mile 22' Set Visit: Mark Wahlberg And His Team Get Sh*t Done

It's a hot day in Bogotá, Columbia, and Peter Berg is throwing jabs at the air. From a distance, it looks like the filmmaker and Wild Card West Boxing Club co-owner is amping himself up before filming two explosions and more pieces of an action scene for his upcoming movie, Mile 22. The Friday Night Lights and The Rundown director appears ready to conquer the day, which is packed with explosions, drones, actors playing dead, and the extraordinary Iko Uwais (The Raid) busting some heads.

Below, check out our Mile 22 set visit report.

Only 18 Miles Left to Go

Crowds are watching as Berg & Co. put on a show at Centro International de Bogotá. Anyone in the city who witnesses either one of the two explosions is catching quite a sight (and maybe a fright). What they don't see, however, is Mark Wahlberg as Jimmy Silva. The actor isn't present on this day of filming, when Silva and his team are ambushed by a team of killers sent by the big bad of the film, Axel (Sam Medina), a man who wants what Li Noor (Iko Uwais) knows: the location of nine pounds of radioactive isotope. The corrupt low-level cop's intel is valuable enough for Silva and the rest of CIA's super secret Overwatch division (based on Ground Branch) to try to get him out of an unspecified city in Southeast Asia, where the story is set – not Bogotá.

Silva's team – Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), Alice (Lauren Cohan), and Douglas (Carlo Alban) – are only four miles into the journey and they're already taking heavy fire. There are motorcycles and slain gunman surrounding one of their vehicles, and some of the men are playing dead very convincingly. Berg and others describe the pace of the movie as aggressive, so things only escalate after the attack.

Light-hearted fun Mile 22 is not. With the mission at hand, Silva's crack team aren't always cracking jokes and dropping one-liners, and neither are they always protecting one another. Berg describes a team that sounds a little more unique than a team that sticks together until the end: "It's kind of every man for himself in this movie. Different types of camaraderie. Mission comes first." While Overwatch may leave a man or woman behind to continue the mission, Cohan still thinks the story has "a lot of emotion and a lot of heart, and a lot of really cool fighting."

Mile 22 picks up running, too, without a whole lot of setup and exposition to tell audiences all about Jimmy Silva's team. Screenwriters Lea Carpenter and Graham Roland's (Amazon's Jack Ryan) story is light on backstory. "It's not an origin story or anything like that," Rousey says. "You're thrown into the middle of it and you get to know the characters as you go along, so it's not like you get an introduction and then the movie starts. The movie starts and then you start to really figure out who these people are depending on how they react to different situations."

Ronda Rousey on the History of Mile 22

The former MMA fighter was originally going to play the lead role in Mile 22. In 2015, it was announced Rousey and The Raid star were going to break a whole lot of bones together in an earlier iteration of the project. After Mile 22 took some time to get going and Wahlberg read the script, however, the story changed and Wahlberg became the leader of a more team-oriented story.

Rousey explained how the project, which she honestly never thought would get made, evolved since its beginning:

"I think Pete [Berg] was doing some sort of martial arts movie, where he was helping somebody out and he wanted to make a real modern martial arts film [called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny]. So he was going to produce something with me and Iko Uwais. It started with a whole different script. It didn't really work out. Then the script started from scratch for Mile 22. It originally was me and Iko, and I had to help him move twenty-two miles. It was kind of like The Raid, where they had to fight through one big building. We had to fight from one mile to the last. Then Mark [Wahlberg] became interested in the role of Silva, which was originally my mentor who betrayed me and we had a big showdown. But once a big star like Mark signed on, Pete decided he wanted to direct and he rewrote the whole thing. It's a completely different movie then it was when we originally put it together. The only similarity now is the title. So Pete rewrote the entire script so [it wouldn't be] pigeonholed as a martial arts movie, so [it would be] commercially viable for any audience."

If there's a director who could capture Rousey's intensity on film well, it's Berg. The fighter has acted in a few projects, like The Expendables 3 and the Entourage movie, but Mile 22 lets her flex new acting muscles. "Ronda does barely any fighting in this movie, and we just get a chance to see what an amazing actress she is," Cohan says of her performance. "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 and pushes, and pushes, and pushes, so, so informs this character." Berg split Mile 22's original female lead into the two roles played by Rousey and Cohan, whose characters have a close bond in the movie.

Mark Wahlberg Ain't Got Time to Cry 

While Wahlberg is most famous for his escapist entertainment, he's yet to do a popcorn movie with Berg. The two have made some heavy dramas based on true stories – Lone SurvivorDeepwater Horizon, and Patriot's Day – but there's less pressure for their fourth collaboration, according to Wahlberg (who did a phone interview after the set visit with Empire Magazine):

"He started talking to me about playing this particular role, and you know, it was going to be kind of a smaller role in the film, then it turned into the lead. I think for both of us the idea was to get away from the true stories and just have some fun. Do something that's character-driven and really smart, but also be able to have some fun. Not have to deal with a real-life tragedy and all the stuff that goes along with that – the survivors and victims and families and stuff like that."

While Wahlberg previously delivered some of his most understated performances with Berg, he's playing "a very unapologetic, in-your-face guy, who likes to talk" in Mile 22. The Boogie Nights and I Heart Huckabees star isn't playing a brooding anti-hero; his performance is inspired a little by Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. "He's a guy who plays by his own rules and doesn't really answer to anybody," the actor adds.

Wahlberg sees Jimmy Silva as a potentially career-defining role. When it comes to his action movies, Wahlberg has yet to play an unforgettable action hero, a John McClane or John Wick who you want to follow in a trilogy. Working again with Berg, who does make consistently strong work with the actor, maybe at the very least we'll see Wahlberg play an action hero with a little more meat on the bones than usual.

No Handcuffs on Earth Can Contain Iko Uwais 

Our arrival on set is immediately followed by a silent greeting from Berg. Without saying a word and with a knowing smile on his face, he nods and eyes the group, and then finally points to two bloggers present to follow his lead. He walks them over to where they'll practice a stunt with Iko, who, at the start of the day, has to take out an armed group of men while handcuffed in a car. Watching him practice these stunts – defeating stuntmen and bloggers with only a car door and a seatbelt – was seeing an artist go to work.

Berg gave Uwais a lot of freedom with his fighting style in Mile 22. With his team, the actor choreographed all his fight scenes, of which there are two or three in the movie."Every fight scene I'm handcuffed," he says. "It's a new experience for me as well. It's going to be fun. It's less free. It's challenging for him because if I fight with two hands it's more free. Because I'm fighting with one hand, it makes it more of a challenge." Uwais' longest fight in the movie is, give or take, close to three minutes long.

Like every other actor we talk to on the set, Uwais is having a new experience with Berg, who "changes everything on set." The actor is working much faster than usual on Mile 22 as well. What takes three or four days to film in Indonesia, he says, only takes one day with Berg and his crew.

Kevin Bacon Doesn't Call Him "No Marks" Pete for Nothing

Peter Berg moves fast. He shot Mile 22 in 43 days in Bogotá, Colombia, and Atlanta, Georgia, which is impressive given the movie's scale. Out of the sets I've visited, he's been the most active and quickest director I've seen at work. He usually appears on the move and rarely behind a monitor. Most remark about how prepared he is in knowing exactly what he wants, but he also how he likes to toss the script aside, throw some curveballs at the actors, and see what happens on the day.

In Mile 22, Lauren Cohan's (The Walking Dead) character, like the rest of the operatives on her team, is "straining at the seams" and perhaps ready to call it quits. Cohan's character is basically the same as she is on the page, but even for a production as big as Mile 22, there's room to explore with a director who's not interested in actors hitting their marks, Cohan says (who also shares a nice piece of trivia about Friday Night Lights):

"When I first came onto the project he said, 'You know, this is the way I work and I don't like to use marks.' I was doing a Funny or Die episode with Kevin Bacon when I got it, and he was like, 'Pete Berg. "No Marks" Pete.' Like everybody was sort of like, 'You won't get marks, you won't get preparation.' You do get preparation, but... the most fun part I think is Pete will be like, 'Okay, so what do you think if we do this? Just roll! Action!'

It's so good. I remember hearing a story from them about when they did Friday Night Lights, and they'd have the actors and the football players coming off of the bus, and coming off the bus to go to set, and there would be cameras just there in their faces to capture everything before anybody was ready to act. I think that's the most refreshing part of it, is that it's you know, it's just the capturing of action and interaction. It doesn't feel like acting."

Peter Berg Likes His Explosions Big and Real

As Berg has done with most of his work, he is relying primarily on practical effects. "Yeah, as you can see," he says, after the second explosion goes off. Even with all the crew and cameras around, the set is convincing and tactile, like you're walking around the aftermath of an ambush. There are also about nine blocks closed down to accommodate filming, so with all that space and the large surrounding buildings in Centro International, the scope of the setting feels huge.

Berg wants to make a hard-hitting and aggressive action movie, which is why it's no surprise he was very much influenced by Iko Uwais' most famous films:

"A lot of this was inspired when I saw The Raid. Big fan of Iko's and what Gareth Evans did in The Raid. And, 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 Li; he's up there."

Right after a round of fist bumps after explosion number two, Berg briefly speaks (more so jokes around) with the group of us. It's five minutes of rapid-fire answers, not really an interview, but it's a memorable five minutes and a good laugh to finish off the day. This is the conversation in a nutshell:

How did the script change when Mark got involved?

More commas.

He likes commas?

Everyone likes commas.

The director, who once considered shooting in Hong Kong, is clearly pleased with the decision to film in Bogotá, which has a unique atmosphere and energy we haven't seen in a big summer movie yet. The city is sprawling, bright and rich with color and history, and what has to be some of the most beautiful street graffiti on the planet. So much of the city is inherently cinematic. If you're going to have a cast of this caliber fighting to survive, Bogotá sure is one epic place to shoot a Peter Berg action movie.


Mile 22 opens in theaters August 3, 2018.