The “The Gambler” Interview
with Kam Williams
Mark Wahlberg earned Academy Award nominations for his standout work in both the The Fighter and The Departed. Mark’s breakout role in Boogie Nights established him as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents, and he has since played diverse characters for such visionary filmmakers as David O. Russell, Tim Burton and Paul Thomas Anderson.
His remarkable acting career began with Renaissance Man, directed by Penny Marshall, and The Basketball Diaries, with Leonardo DiCaprio, followed by a star turn opposite Reese Witherspoon in the thriller Fear. He later headlined Three Kings and The Perfect Storm, with George Clooney, and The Italian Job, with Charlize Theron.
Mark then starred in the football biopic Invincible, with Greg Kinnear, and Shooter, based on the best-selling novel, “Point of Impact.” He reunited with The Yards director James Gray and co-star Joaquin Phoenix for We Own the Night, which he also produced. Most recently, he collaborated with Pain & Gain director Michael Bay for Transformers: Age Of Extinction. His additional credits include 2 Guns, with Denzel Washington, Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, The Lovely Bones, The Other Guys, Contraband and Ted.
An accomplished film and television producer, Mark produced The Gambler, Lone Survivor, Broken City, Contraband, The Fighter (for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture) and We Own the Night. For television, he executive produced HBO’s “Entourage” through its impressive eight-season run. In addition, he executive produced HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” “How to Make It in America” and “In Treatment,” as well as A&E’s “Wahlburgers.”
A committed philanthropist, he founded The Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation in 2001 to benefit inner-city children and teens. Here, he talks about his latest film, The Gambler, a remake of the 1974 classic starring James Caan.
Kam Williams: Hi Mark, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity.
Mark Wahlberg: Oh, my pleasure, Kam. Thank you.
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I’ll be mixing my questions in with theirs. “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan says: He asks: Was there something about this script which appealed to your East Coast sensibilities that drew you to this project?
MW: Well, when you think about the person responsible for creating the character and the dialogue, Bill Monahan, who’s a Boston guy, obviously, his words roll off my tongue quite nicely. Previously, I’ve worked with him on The Departed, he recently wrote American Desperado for us, and I just acted in a movie he directed called Mojave. So, yes, Jimmy, that goes without saying.
KW: James Cryan was wondering whether your Boston background was of help in making The Departed?
MW: Absolutely! Absolutely! That thing was so in my wheelhouse. I told Marty [director Martin Scorcese] “Watch out, because I’m going after everybody in this one.” Although that’s who the character was. It allowed me to have a real “take no prisoners” attitude.
KW: Documentary filmmaker Kevin Williams says: Thank you for being such a good example of how to build a career on your own terms and for making such inspirational films like Invincible and Lone Survivor. Now that you are moving towards producing bigger projects for yourself and other filmmakers, how do you define success and how do you decide what to produce?
MW: You’d be surprised. My taste continues to grow and expand. I define success as being in a position where I can do a picture like The Gambler after making Transformers and other movies that have enjoyed tremendous commercial success. That allowed me to go to a studio and say, “Wow, now take a chance on me with this smaller movie that is not the typical type of film that studios want to greenlight.” It’s a small character piece about a man who’s not the most likable guy in the world that I find fascinating. And hopefully, people will find it interesting enough that the movie will be a success and allow me to keep making more films like it. So, success for me is just having a job and having the studio feel confident that I can go out there and make a movie that people will enjoy.
KW: Andrew DeAngelo, who was born and raised in Dorchester, asks: How similar is the show Entourage to your actual rise as a movie star? Were any of your real-life experiences incorporated into the show?
MW: Some of the experiences, definitely, Andrew. The only problem was we couldn’t find four guys from Boston. We originally wanted the characters to all be from Boston, which would have given them a more urban and gritty feel. But the hardest part of the casting was finding a guy who was believable as a movie star who wasn’t already a movie star. So, we then made the compromise of having these guys come from New York.
KW: When’s the screen version coming out?
MW: June. I’m very excited about it. The movie’s done. And it’s off the charts!
KW: Kate Newell asks: When are you finally going to hosting Saturday Night Live?
MW: I’ve been asked to host a few times, but I’ve never done it.
KW: Kate also asks: Who do you think does the best impression of you?
MW: Andy Samberg is the only person I’ve ever seen do an impression of me, and I didn’t think it was that accurate. I’d like to see somebody else impersonate me, especially if they can do a good job.
KW: David Roth asks: Who would win in a fight between Jim Bennett and Axel Freed, the gambler played by James Caan in 1974?
MW: [Chuckles] Axel Freed, because Jim Bennett does not fight. He will push every button, and infuriate people to the point where they want to beat the crap out of him, but he won’t be bothered by that. He will not fight.
KW: I really enjoyed the film. I loved the gritty dialogue-driven script, the earthy soundtrack, and what a supporting cast! You got great performances from Brie Larson, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, and Michael Kenneth Williams.
MW: Again, I have to credit Bill Monahan for creating these characters and writing the dialogue that attracted that level of talent. Don’t forget the great George Kennedy who had another scene in the movie that, unfortunately, didn’t make the final cut. We found ourselves in that difficult situation where the movie we wanted to make was three hours, but we had to hand in a film that was about two hours-long. Where do you compromise? How do you make a movie that is going to both best service the story and the main character? It was just one of those things.
KW: I thought it was a very powerful way to start the film with that deathbed scene where your character’s grandfather [played by George Kennedy] asks you, “What are you going to do when I leave you with nothing?”
MW: It’s funny, because that scene was originally supposed to take place in the middle of the movie. But then, we thought that maybe it would be good to open the movie with that scene, because Jim’s dad wasn’t a part of his life, and his granddad was the only person that he was connected to.
KW: Yeah, I think it worked really well. Sangeetha Subramanian asks: What’s your favorite food to eat on set?
MW: If I’m not training then, gosh, anything: donuts… Kentucky Fried Chicken 20-piece hot wings… corned beef hash and eggs… But because I’m training right now, I’m eating very healthily: almond milk… Ezekiel bread… chicken… fish… I’m on a strict diet right now, so I’m not having any fun eating. Normally, our caterer makes these wonderful chocolate chip cookies for lunch. It was my one treat of the day, after getting beat up on the mountain while shooting Lone Survivor. I’d eat a couple cookies and then take a 15-minute nap on the top of the mountain.
KW: What movie are you in training for?
MW: Will Ferrell and I are teaming up again on a film called Daddy’s Home. In the movie I play a Special-Ops soldier who has just discovered that Will Ferrell’s character is married to my ex-wife and is my children’s stepfather. So, I have to come home and try to win them back and take him out.
KW: I thought you guys were great together in The Other Guys. Wasn’t that film where The Rock and somebody else died in the opening scene?
MW: Samuel L. Jackson.
KW: Yeah, that film was hilarious. Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: If—because for over two decades you have been trying to right the wrongs while being a model for youth—you are able to obtain a pardon from the Massachusetts Parole Board, how might your potential pardon be a possible inspiration to others who have committed wrongs in their youth?
MW: Hopefully, it will show them that it isn’t too late to turn their lives around. People are always speculating about what the reason was for my requesting a pardon. The important thing is that ever since I realized all the wrongs that I had done, I have been trying to correct them for the past 27 years. I just focus on my work with inner-city kids, and in my community, and on my philanthropic work. If I am awarded a pardon for my philanthropic work, great; if not, I will continue to be involved in the community and to work just as hard, if not harder, to prevent kids from going down the same road and making the same mistakes. But hopefully, we’re still living in the land of second chances. Even my going back to school was to inspire young people that it’s never too late to get your education. That’s all I can do, and try to be the best father and husband that I can be.
KW: I’m sure you’ll get the pardon. You’ve earned it. Good luck! The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
MW: Gosh! It’s of being alone with my dad. He drove a truck for a living. But he had a few free hours in the middle of the day, between the morning shift and the late afternoon shift. Because I was the youngest of nine, I could have him all to myself when they were at school. We’d watch movies at home, or go to the movies, and he introduced me to the guys who still inspire me today. The first movie I can remember ever seeing was Hard Times with Charles Bronson and James Coburn. My dad also introduced me to the likes of Jimmy Cagney… John Garfield… Robert Ryan… Steve McQueen… James Caan… Those are my fondest memories.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
MW: I see a guy getting old. I try to not look in the mirror too much.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
MW: Peace and harmony in the world.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
MW: Working with talented people and challenging myself as an actor.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
MW: Not much. Dad’s just gotta put on a suit and go out there and take some pictures. I do understand that going out and promoting the movie is a big responsibility, and part of the reason they give me the job in the first place. I also like to get out there to promote a positive message about the importance of family and faith and of doing the right thing.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
MW: That “never give up” attitude, not taking “no” for an answer, and working twice as hard as the next guy. Doing it the good, old-fashioned way. Real hard work pays off.
KW: What exercise regimen do you follow to stay in such great shape?
MW: It changes. I’m only doing whatever the next role calls for. To give you an idea, I’m at the halfway point of shooting this movie. I woke up at 3 AM today, and had egg whites and Ezekiel bread with almond butter 5 minutes later. At 3:15, I was reading my prayer book and saying my prayers. At 3:30, I was in the gym for an hour, doing jump rope, and all types of high-impact functional movement exercises: kettle bells, dumbbells, step up planks, battle rope, rip cord trainer, etcetera. I came back up here and had a shake. Then I went to the basketball court and played 2-on-2 for an hour. Came back here and had a roasted chicken, tuna salad and a big sweet potato. That was all before 6 AM. Then, I went to do the Today Show and Michael & Kelly. Then I came back here, had two turkey burgers and an avocado. Then I did 90 minutes of phone interviews before having a filet mignon with sautéed spinach. Then I went to a meeting at 1:30, came back here and had another roasted chicken with steamed carrots. And when we finish, I’m going to read my script and start learning my lines for the scenes we’ll be shooting tomorrow. At 6 PM, I’ll take a shower, and wait to get a call from my wife letting me know that she and the kids landed safely. At 7:15, I’ll go to sleep, and wake up at 3 AM again tomorrow.
KW: That’s amazing! I remember speaking with Anthony Mackie, for Pain & Gain, and he credited you with helping him sculpt his physique for that film.
MW: There’s nothing better than meeting somebody with a great soul, and a great spirit and a good heart. I took him to the gym the first day we met in Miami. Then we had a nice meal and a big shake. And he and I have remained close. He just called me the other day to ask me how I was doing, since we’re shooting in his hometown, New Orleans. So, I hope to see him and get together with him. He’s a good guy who’s going to have a great career. I told him that he’ll be able to do whatever he wants for as long as he wants, as long as he’s patient. And you have to always be ready. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
MW: As a great servant of God who tried to give back as much as possible, and as a great father and husband.
KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?
MW: Picture books of all my kids when they were young, a lucky pendant, a few receipts, a couple of credit cards, a spiritual relic and a couple other mementos, and a two-dollar bill I got from a dear friend.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Mark, and best of luck with The Gambler.
MW: Thank you, Kam. Bye.