'Mile 22' Star Mark Wahlberg On His Routine, Working With Peter Berg, And Box Office [Interview]

Mark Wahlberg is unleashed by director Peter Berg in Mile 22. Playing the unabashedly unsavory hero Jimmy Silva, Wahlberg gives a high-wired performance that never runs out of gas. If you like your Wahlberg fast and loud, Mile 22 has the performance for you.

Wahlberg's work is reminiscent of some of his great supporting turns where he gets to play a character a little off-center and let loose. He makes Jimmy Silva feel like a supporting character that happens to be the star of the movie. The role is not too far off from the idea of a hothead character like Tommy from I Heart Huckabees (one of Wahlberg's greatest achievement in my book) becoming an action hero for the U.S. government. The actor recently spoke to us about his fourth collaboration with Peter Berg, his very impressive work ethic, box office, and more.

Jimmy Silva doesn't feel like the typical hero of a movie who saves the day.

Absolutely. That's what we were looking for.

How do you prepare to play a character like that before shooting, who's always at an 11?

When we talk about what I had to do to prepare, I just had to make sure that I could come with that energy every day and stay on like that. Because I'm a pretty mellow guy. I usually spend most of my energy before 8:00 in the morning, and that's before I get to the set. So then to be able to turn that up, to crank that up even higher. But you know, Pete and I, we made three other films, they're all based on true stories and tragic events. This was our idea going and having a good time.

What do you usually do before you get to set? You said you spend most of your energy before shooting, so what makes you feel ready to shoot? 

So I'd get up about 1:30, 2:00 in the morning and go work out. Then in a perfect world, if the weather was good, I'd go play golf at like 5:00, crack of dawn, first light. Play about 18 holes and then come to the set. And then eat and start shooting. But the great thing about Pete is, I don't think we ever shot a 10-hour day. Because even if we're doing 5, 10 pages of stuff, because it's handheld and everything, he'll give us time. He'll give the crew time to light, but then there's no marks or nothing, we just kind of go. We shoot pretty quickly, so usually like a six, seven hour day. And then go home early, eat a meal, go to bed and get ready for the next day.

Is that speed how you prefer to work? I always imagine working that fast, you go by instinct and don't second-guess much. 

No, but we're also...we spent so much time in the development stage, the pre-production, that we know what we want. I spend so much time preparing that I know the script inside and out. I read it out loud at least four times a day. And then even the stuff we've already shot, so I know exactly where we are if we're not shooting in continuity, I'm still on top of it. So I'm kind of like the continuity script supervisor for Pete, because he'll be like, "Oh let's do this." And I'll be like, "We did this whole monologue in this other scene, you know." And he's like, "Oh yeah, you're right, you're right." I'm prepared, but we still have time to try things. You know we can do what's on the page and also throw that out the window and be able to try stuff. So that's where the preparation is key. If you show up and you're like "okay, let's figure this out," you're screwed. You're gonna be there for 16 hours. But if you're prepared, you're ready to go, you can kind of get in and bang it out. And then save more time for the next day.

In the original script, Jimmy Silva was more of a supporting character and a villain. Did you get to read that draft? 

Yeah, yeah. I committed to making that movie right away. I love the character and I loved the idea of playing this kind of villain and just getting in there and tearing it up. And then it just kind of evolved into Jimmy's story, or Jimmy being the central character and then...I still didn't want to try then to soften him up or dumb him down. I wanted him to be the same kind of abrasive, unapologetic guy. I've always looked at Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive. This guy's got a job to do. He doesn't give a shit who's right, who's wrong, or anything in between. It's the job and that's it.

Have you ever used any other performances, like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, as a reference for a performance? 

Yeah, it depends. There are things where there are no real references. And you know, or if you have a true story, playing a real person, you've got that to go on. Even like The Fighter, I would dissect every other fight film that was ever made. For various reasons, to see how the fights were shot, how realistic and believable they were. But yeah, it's nice to have some sort of reference.

Did you speak with any consultants on the film about how someone like Jimmy Silva would act and operate? 

We had some guys, former CIA guys that were consultants on the film. Lea Carpenter, our writer, she has vast knowledge of this whole world: CIA, Overwatch, Brown Branch, all of these various organizations and pieces of CIA and government. I don't know how she's had access to all of this information, but she does. So it was all right there on the page. And then when we went to Bogotá, we went to the US Embassy, we thought, "okay, we'll get to see some guys that are active and on the job. You know they definitely live and exist here." There were rooms where people would open the doors, stick their head out and say, "Oh Mark and Pete are here," and they'd wave and that was the extent of it. We didn't get to talk to them, they kept them all pretty much away from us.

Mile 22 trailerPeter Berg shoots very immediate, up close action. 

Yeah, you feel like you're in the middle of it.

Knowing the camera is gonna be that close to your face, especially during dialogue scenes, does that change how you work at all? 

No, it doesn't. Jacques [Jouffret] was the DP on this film and has also been the main operator on all the films that I've done with Pete. All the films that I've done with Bay. Even Invincible I worked with Jacques so much, we have this ability to kind of dance. If there's something that's got to come into frame or the lighting is bad, he'll kind of direct me in one direction while I can kind of push him in another direction. We always just keep going and keep rolling until somebody will yell cut. Even like that tracking shot in Lone Survivor, after we decided to let the guys go and we're all kind of walking up the hill and I've got the rear and I'm doing security in the back, I would just keep turning and stopping and looking and Jacques would keep following me and keep going. It ended up being one of the more memorable shots of the movie. It kind of tells the story of, "Oh no, we probably made the wrong decision but I don't want the blood of these kids on my hand, I'd rather go and fight and do that sort of thing." We've created a lot of moments like that.

I've talked to some actors who don't seem to care about the technical side, but you seem more mindful of it. 

Of course. You've got to know what everybody's doing, why they're doing it, and respect what they have to do. Yeah, a lot of actors think it's just about the acting. If all those guys just walked away, you'd be doing a one man play on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard there. You know, it takes a lot. Even the first time I made a movie I was always fascinated by the process, what was happening behind the camera. Who everybody was and what their responsibilities were. So yeah, being aware of those sort of things, absolutely.

You produced Mile 22 and started producing more heavily the last few years. Does producing influence the acting choices you make?

For sure, for sure. We like working with people that we know and that we trust, that we can count on, and are reliable, really good at what they do.

You've worked with Michael Bay, David O. Russell, and James Gray a few times in addition to Peter Berg. What usually makes you comfortable with a director, knowing you're in good hands?

If it's somebody I know and trust, fantastic. I'll be there to service your vision. You know guys who have a very specific vision, they know what they want, they know that I can deliver what they want. If not, I'd rather just take the helm than [put] my career in somebody else's hands who's unsure of what they're doing and can wind up being a disaster.

It sounds like you and Peter Berg were on the same page from the beginning, but does making four movies with the same director change in any way how you approach your work?

Yeah, I think we just learned a lot from each other. We rely on each other quite a bit. We also push and motivate each other to work hard and be better. But yeah, you know it's funny because you get spoiled working with Pete and the way that he shoots and the way that he...because he was an actor, so he creates this environment for you to be at your most creative and productive. And then you go on other sets and it's just like, okay. It's beauty lighting, we've got to set up this dolly, and you know, you're in your trailer. That stuff just makes me crazy.

You and Peter Berg are very into sports as well. I imagine you relate there. 

Well, aside from us having complete opposite tastes in football teams. He's a Giants fan, and I'm a Patriots fan. Giants have beat the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl. He never lets me live that down. But no, in all sports across the board. And just being guys, guys being dads, having really close relationship with our dads. A lot of those things. We have so much more in common.

Are you looking forward to pre-season?

Absolutely. Well, I'm looking forward to the regular season. The summer is just so slow. World Cup was great; it gave me something to kind of watch and pay attention to. But if it's just baseball then it's pretty bad. And the Red Sox are doing fantastic. They've got the best record in major leagues. But I don't really watch other than to make sure that they're staying ahead of the Yankees. The four and a half games that they're up, I don't really want to watch until playoff time. Football makes the year go by quickly.

Yeah, it gives you something to look forward to.

Yeah, you got the Sunday game, you got a Thursday game. You got a lot going on during the week. Usually I'm shooting during football season so it makes the weeks go by quicker.

What's opening weekend of Mile 22 going to be like for you? How important is the box office performance of a movie for you?

Well, I would say as a guy who's name is above the title and as a producer of the movie, you know STX is spending a lot of money to make this movie, I want to make sure that it's as successful as possible. The more people see it, probably the more interest there'll be in doing another one. So you can say that you don't care...I mean, I only read the reviews that she'll [referring to his publicist] send me that are the good ones. Unless it's just a really bad one that I heard about, I can't help taking a peek at. But you can't help but care. But it is what it is. You go up, you take a swing, we've done everything that we could to make the best possible version of the movie, and then do as much as we can to get the awareness out there, and drive people to the theaters.

People have a lot of choices. They can go catch the movie later on on pay TV, or whatever they want to do. And you got to create unique and interesting stories that people want to go and discover. Maybe opening weekend is not the most important thing if you have a movie that has legs. I've had movies that don't open like gangbusters, but they had legs and they go and they make a profit. And I've had movies that'll open number one at thirty million dollars and still won't break even. So it's all important to me, that's for sure.

I certainly care about all of it, because you know these guys have trusted us to go and make this movie and hopefully they're gonna make a profit on their investment. And I understand that, I'm a businessman. So yeah, you want to win, every chance.


Mile 22 is in theaters now.