Between tentpole blockbusters and nine-figure budgets, Mark Wahlberg has managed to build an interesting, unusual side hustle: making visceral, almost verité films, often ripped from very recent headlines, with the director Peter Berg. This year alone, he’s added Deepwater Horizon — which, to be fair, also had a nine-figure budget — and Patriots Day, about the Boston Marathon bombings, to Lone Survivor, the first movie of this kind that the pair attempted. And besides starring in these projects, Wahlberg’s producing them as well, making them a significant part of his current movie-star schedule. Ahead of the release of Patriots Day, Vulture caught up with Wahlberg to discuss why he felt compelled to make the movie so soon, the difficulties of this type of filmmaking, and knowing that failure was not an option.
You did this and Deepwater Horizon this year. What to you is important about making these movies that are telling recent stories?
In the case of Deepwater, everybody knew about the environmental disaster, but not much mention was made of the fact that 11 people lost their lives, and what those brave men and women did to stop the blowup from happening. They could’ve all just basically run for safety, and they stayed there and put themselves in harm’s way. I thought it was a very heroic story that should be told, to honor them. And with this particular story, I think it would’ve been easier to not make it, but it’s so important to tell the story as things continue to happen all over the world. The way my city and my home responded made me extremely proud, and the message of love and hope, people coming together, is extremely powerful and extremely important as well.
The moment at the end of the film where you connect it to other bombings and terrorist attacks around the world was interesting. How did you guys try to keep it nonpartisan and nonpolitical?
It was always just about the people who were affected. Will it spark debate and conversation? Absolutely, and that’s okay. But we just wanted to make sure that it was about the people and how they reacted and responded, and how inspiring it is to see people like Patrick [Downes] and Jess [Kensky] just radiating so much love and light and hope. It’s remarkable. You can’t help but wonder, Oh my God, if it happened to you, how would you respond? Would you run toward the problem or would you run away from it? Would you be able to get back up and keep moving forward and have such a positive, optimistic outlook on life in the future? I don’t know. I really don’t, and I hope I never have to face that question. I would like to say that I could be as brave and courageous as those people, but I don’t really know.
I feel like there aren’t that many actors who have reached the level of success that you’ve reached who keep making movies that look as hard to make as you do. Your character spends the whole movie in a knee brace. What about those kinds of difficult performances still attract you?
I don’t know. I just feel like I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been, and there’s so much more that I want to accomplish and take on. A lot of people have a tendency after a while to get complacent and find their sweet spots. I just want to tell stories. The more that I’m in control as far as producing and acting, the more I learn. Like, Oh, we did this right, and this could’ve been better — let’s take another swing.
What have you learned about this kind of naturalistic, reality-based filmmaking?
First and foremost, just make sure we’re as accurate as possible. With this, no matter what, first thing we had to do was go and start talking to the people, to the victims’ families, to survivors, to first responders and law-enforcement agencies. We had to communicate to the community what we we were trying to do, what our intentions were. Once they understood that we were coming from a good place, then we got an overwhelming amount of support. And then, you’ve just got to make sure that you’re surrounding yourself with people who you can hold to that high standard as well. The great thing about making a movie like this is it’s no longer about your individual experience. When you’re making a movie, whether it be Transformers or even Ted or whatever it is, it’s like, Okay, I’m making this movie, I’m making a comedy, I haven’t made a comedy, this could be good for my career, this is different, this could open doors to doing other things. You don’t think about these things when making a movie like this. You have an enormous amount of responsibility and pressure, and you’re doing it for something that’s much bigger than you.
Were you ever afraid of crossing that line of trust with the people you’re making the movie for and based on?
Yeah, that’s not an option. That is not an option. That’s why I would talk Pete to death about how important it is, or let’s go back to this part of Boston so you understand. Boston’s not just a city where a lot of people come to get a great education and party and go to Lansdowne Street on Thursday and Friday and Saturday night. Getting really into understanding the people, the neighborhoods, and that sort of thing. But he never once said, “Stop,” or, “Enough,” or, “I get it.” He always wanted to know more, and he was always willing to keep going, and that’s why he was the only guy to make this movie. I remember sitting there saying, “Oh, wow, no, it’s going to be too much [exhales]. You shouldn’t do it.” But they were going to do it anyway, so I said, “Okay, if they’re going to do it, we’re going to control it, we’re going to own it, we’re going to make sure that somebody from there is leading the charge.” I didn’t think about anybody else other than Pete after our two other experiences, knowing how much he cares, how committed he is to getting it right, and how sensitive he is when it comes to stuff like this. It was a no-brainer.
And I told him, look, the one thing I know right away is we’ve done a movie about Navy SEALS, but those guys wanted action, they sign up because that’s what they want to do. People know the hazards of the job, it’s one of the more dangerous occupations out there. But this is women, children, people going to root their loved ones on at a road race. It’s such a festive, joyous occasion. People are just coming from a long, cold winter, it’s finally warming up, everybody’s in a good mood, the Red Sox are playing. I remember as a kid at a very young age sneaking on the train and going downtown without my parents’ permission and just being in the middle of all of it. To have something like that happen there … When you’re now going to talk to these people who lost loved ones, it’s different, you need to be prepared for that. I remember after our first meeting, Pete was like, “Whoa.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s what it is.” But we’re also sitting there and talking to Pat and Jess and people like that and being like, “Wow.” The amount of love that radiates from these people is so powerful. This is what the movie is about. This tragedy happened, but look at the light that’s shining from this place, and these people. And that is encouraging, because there is a lot of darkness in the world, there’s a lot of bad things happening, but there’s far more good happening. It’s just, they don’t spend a lot of time reporting that stuff. Anytime you turn on the news or open a newspaper, it’s filled with the bad stuff. So of course, why wouldn’t they start making it seem like us making this movie would be a negative thing. But once I heard from the people and the community, I was reminded of how important the movie is. As long as we get it right.