'Mile 22' Star Lauren Cohan On Training With Navy SEALs And The Peter Berg Experience [Set Visit Interview]

Mile 22 is one of those action movies where all the characters seem to have catchy and cool names. Take, for instance, Alice Curr, an Overwatch operative without much of a home life who's ready to call it quits. Curr is played by Lauren Cohan, who's perhaps best known for her work on a niche television series called The Walking Dead.

Curt is a part of Jimmy Silva's (Mark Wahlberg) team trying to get a corrupt cop (Iko Uwais) with valuable info out of Southeast Asia, but along the 22-mile journey of gunfire and explosions, everything goes sideways. While filming an action movie sometimes sounds like a rigid experience, that's not the case for a Peter Berg movie. We visited Bogotá, Colombia, earlier this year, where Cohan told a group of us all about the experience of making a movie with Berg. Read our full Lauren Cohan Mile 22 interview below.

[Note: This interview was conducted in a press conference format with other assembled journalists.]

Did the character change at all from the initial script to production at all?

Not too much. I think the essence of her was always sort of a little bit fierce, slightly reactive within a personal space but very buttoned up within her job space. That was definitely what appealed most, the necessity to completely turn off and compartmentalize her life and parts of her brain, but still really display and have access to these very vulnerable and raw emotions when it comes to her family. Her home life, which she doesn't have very much of.

Do you feel like you get to explore the character more being on a Peter Berg movie?

Nobody can ever describe how much you explore a character on a Peter Berg movie until you're doing it. Yeah. [Laughs]

Do you feel like your character's changing through the process as you're working with him and you're taking stuff out?

Yeah, it's not even changing, it's just the script feels so much... It's not like I read it and then I think, "Whoa, she's totally different," I just read it and I say, "Great, this is an awesome template, now we go and just explode everything." She's still the person that's in the script for sure, but there's so much freedom in the way that Pete directs and works with us. I've said it to him probably 14,000 times that we're completely spoiled for everything else now, because it's a very free, very buoyant energy, very fun and funny [work environment].

For some of these scenes which are very serious, and intense, it's amazingly light-hearted and silly and fun to get there and to find it. He communicates with us throughout the whole thing. It's been an amazing experience. We're all really, really in it together, and you don't feel the stiffness sometimes that you get when you have to get yourself back in the moment, and cut and stop and start again and find it. It's such a living, breathing process the whole time.

Ronda [Rousey] mentioned that she was involved with an earlier iteration of the script, and that when they did this version, her character was kind of split in the two, and then a lot of the emotional aspects of her character were given to your character. Can you elaborate a little bit about the emotional aspects of your character?

Yeah. I never saw any of the other scripts, the only one I saw was the one that we're working from, but I think what I find interesting about this character is the, as I said before, how she has to compartmentalize everything, and she has this life, a daughter at home that she doesn't get to see. And yet this ground branch, the CIA, operative life is the one that she chose, but she's really at a point now where she's ready to not need to make so many sacrifices and ready to have more balance. I feel what's interesting with all the characters is that they're really, really straining at the seams.

Everybody is just ready to be done, whether or not they know what that even looks like, and how they'd even be in a life where they didn't do this, and where the mission didn't come first, and where they didn't have such hard and fast rules about putting the survival of a sort of impersonal mission ahead of all of your connections and your ties. That's what's so kind of heartbreaking in the film, seeing the bond that like Ronda and Alice, and ultimately Lee...and how that really challenges why they chose this life in the first place, and why they continue doing it and what it says about us as, I don't know, I feel like everybody can sort of relate to being mission-oriented and then who are you without the mission?

Is your character kind of like, "One more and I'm out, boss, this is the last one"?

Essentially, yeah. "This is the last heist. Then I'm going to go back and have a normal life." That's a big part of the relationship with Silva and Alice. He drills into her over and over and over things that she already knows, but she begins to question them, and I think that that threatens his motivation too. Because if they're so in lock-step and she begins to say, "Maybe I don't want this anymore," does that force everybody to sort of look at the, "Why do we do it?" Especially the risks and the failures that end up happening within this mission and how big the price really is.

Can you elaborate on the logistics of filming in the cars? We talked about it earlier, and it sounds like almost impossible.

It's really cool. We were really lucky, we had weeks of rehearsal and prep before shooting. We started shooting in Atlanta. Kevin Scott, who directs the second unit, and has sort of created all these amazing mechanisms to do these stunts with, talked us through and showed us videos and photos and stuff. None of it really prepares you for how you get this shit done. [Laughs] Especially in very, very bumpy streets and with cameramen strapped to the sides of cars that are supposed to look beaten up and are sometimes beaten up.

It's been really fun. I mean, some of the rigs are, I can't remember what it's called, the one where actually our driver is on top of the car and we're just driving, it's pretty surreal. You're whipping around corners and nobody's holding the wheel, but they are.

As an actor, what is the pressure to not mess up in those scenes, because they're so elaborate to stage?

The notion of messing up, I think that's kind of what I was trying to get to earlier, it's the notion of messing up just doesn't even exist, because you just keep going. The way that Pete shoots, you just keep going and if something's not quite right, or you want to go back, we don't have to start the whole thing over again, he's just there on what we're calling the God mic. He's like, "Hey, can you do this?" Then he'll throw Iko lines in Indonesian or lines in English, or me lines in Indonesian or lines in English. So Iko and I are saying, "Okay, how do you say that in this language? Okay, how do you say that, okay, cool." We would just repeat it back and forth to each other, and it's such a team.

The stuff in the car was so especially fun, because we had you know, the four of us basically driving around and, first of all we're driving so fast we couldn't actually hear very well, the direction. So if somebody hears the direction, it's, "Okay, it was this. It was this. Okay cool." So it really informs the team that we are in the film, but also just us feeling like we just have each other. We just have each others' back. All we want to do is everybody stay in it and have fun and get it right and give it the right emphasis and the right energy, and give it stakes, the way that the story needs. It's very, you don't even have time to worry if you're doing it right, because you're going to get told if you're not and it's going to be okay, so you just kind of keep going.

We've heard today about working in Atlanta before the shoot with SEALs and Rangers, and I wanted to ask how that might have influenced the team dynamic between the actors, and also how you built your character in this almost improv environment during production?

Yeah, we do, we had such an extensive amount of rehearsal that I think it really freed us up in the improv environment. We trained with honestly some of the best men that can train you at being really proficient with weapons. I had what seemed like an exhaustive amount of training, loading and reloading every different type of gun, and firing. And it was funny, because in the beginning I thought, "No, no, no, I get it." Then as I said to Ray Mendoza, who's one of our Navy SEALs, "Ah, you have to get it so you can forget it." It was just days and days and days. I was like, "I get it. No really, I get it." He was, "Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope."

Then three days later, I thought, "Okay, I get it because I forgot it." You do. It's like learning the language or an accent, or any other part of the role. It was good. That's what Kevin said to us in the beginning too, and Pete, they said, "You know, you're going to, you're not going to come away from this film able to look like you can play this character. You're going to actually come away from this film with a new skill," and that's completely true, and it's been just awesome. We've been through a Navy SEAL, CIA, Peter Berg boot camp.

How is the firearms training different on this than on The Walking Dead?

Well, on Walking Dead, we're never really supposed to look like we are assassins. In this, you have to look like it's completely second nature and it's just been years, and you don't even look when you reload. It's just, you just can do it in your sleep. So that's been fun and I remember thinking, "Forget this stuff. Forget this stuff, so you don't look too proficient when you go back." But of course I won't! [Laughs]

Was this a project that you went after or did Peter Berg come to you?


Why did you want to go after it?

I just had an opportunity to audition for it, and I made the audition tape, and I think like most things, especially when it feels really right, it's most easy to let it go after you've done an audition. I thought, "Well, I know I connected with it," and it's either supposed to be or it's not supposed to be. The process was really fast. So much faster than anything I've ever done. I did the tape and then I got feedback, and I heard, "Pete really liked your tape." I thought, "Okay, cool. People like tapes. That's what happens." Or they don't, that's also what happens.

And then I had a cup of coffee, because he and our costume director were in Atlanta a week later, and we had a cup of coffee, and on the spot he said, "I love your tape, it was exactly what I wanted. Do you want to do the movie?" We had had this great big long creative conversation, and then at the end of it he said, "By the way, you know, blah, blah, blah." I stood up and I thought, "I have to walk out of this restaurant quick enough before I start crying," because it was such a cool experience to actually have such an organic, simple, no bullshit connection. That's him in a nutshell. That is him in a nutshell. It was really cool.

Could you give an example of Peter Berg's attention to detail?

Oh yeah. It was really fun, because we have a scene where I interrogate Iko, and right at the beginning of rehearsal, Pete said, "See if you can learn some of this in Indonesian." We had – it wasn't downtime, but we had a couple of weeks where we were just rehearsing. Actually, I was still doing Walking Dead, but for most of that time we were rehearsing for the weapons and fights.

I was hanging with Iko and Ryan, who's an interpreter, and I just said like, "Can you just teach me every single dialogue scene that Iko and I have? I want to learn all of it in Indonesian." So we had it at our disposal. It's a really beautiful, fun language to speak, too.

So we went to do the interrogation scene, and Iko had it all like perfectly down in English and Indonesian, and vice versa. So we were able to be really fun with it and really spontaneous. Pete was like, "Why did you guys learn that?" We said, "You told us to learn it!" He was like, "Okay, cool." Then within that scene, because we had that, which is how he operates so often, we can say, "Let's get this done and then let's just go crazy." He'll give audibles and have different ideas for the scene, and so we would go off on a tangent, and I'd sort of try to get information out of him in different ways. So we would have just different lines of interrogation basically. Different tactics. Some of it was so twisted.

Pete would go, "Okay, let's try this. Okay, let's try this. Okay, let's try this." You just see his face beam. It was just really fun and we're always kind of all packed in close together. He's not miles away. You know, our crew is so incredibly quick. I mean we move around, we reset, we try this way, we try that way, and everybody just, it's just this sort of like organism. That's a testament to Pete creating this team and working with the same people over and over. It's second nature to everyone. They sort of all know how he thinks and they can adapt and create really quickly. It makes for a good flow.


Mile 22 opens on August 3, 2018.