The pairing of actor Mark Wahlberg and director Allen Hughes for the new film BROKEN CITY seems like a pairing that has been years in the making, and that is in fact true. The two came up at about the same time in the 1990s--Allen as part of the Hughes Brothers team (with brother Albert) to make landmark films such as MENACE II SOCIETY, DEAD PRESIDENTS, the great documentary AMERICAN PIMP, and the Jack the Ripper spin FROM HELL. The last film the Hughes Brothers made together was THE BOOK OF ELI in 2010, but Allen had been stepping out as a solo act with a short in the anthology film NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU and as a producer and occasional director of the series "Touching Evil." (He also directed the Dr. Dre, featuring Eminem "I Need a Doctor" music video.)
Around the mid-'90s, Wahlberg started showing up in supporting roles in films like RENAISSANCE MAN and THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, but it didn't take long for him to come into his own as a lead in FEAR, TRAVELLER, and the career-altering BOOGIE NIGHTS. Since then, Wahlberg has moved from acting in dramas and action films (such as THE PERFECT STORM, THE ITALIAN JOB, PLANET OF THE APES, I HEART HUCKABEES, FOUR BROTHERS, and THE DEPARTED) to comedies (DATE NIGHT, THE OTHER GUYS, and last year's unexpected mega-hit TED) to producing films and TV series, such as "Entourage," "Boardwalk Empire," "In Treatment." Another acting turning point for Wahlberg came in 2010, with his lead role as Micky Ward in THE FIGHTER (a film he is considering a sequel for).
The reason for this particular gathering of three is BROKEN CITY (which Wahlberg also produced), a corrupt police/government dramatic thriller, casting Wahlberg as a disgraced New York City cop who manages to get away with a bad shoot, but still loses his job. The city's mayor (Russell Crowe) sees Wahlberg as a hero and promises to give him a job at some point, which he does many years later--the job of following the mayor's supposedly cheating wife (Catherine Zeta Jones). Needless to say and not at all surprisingly, things are not always what they seem. This interview took place the morning after Wahlberg and Hughes introduced a screening of BROKEN CITY before an enthusiastic crowd. Please enjoy the interview…
Mark Wahlberg: Hey, dude.
Capone: Hello again.
MW: How are you?
MW: Glad to see you last night at the screening.
Capone: Sure thing.
MW: It was pretty crazy over there.
Capone: You’re a better judge of that than I am.
MW: I was going to have to pull out the old “Good Vibrations.”
Capone: How does that help, exactly?
[Everyone gets settled as the publicists talk with Wahlberg.]
MW: Apparently, we are on a tight schedule.
MW: How are you?
Capone: Good. So is Allen coming or no?
[Publicist says, “Yes, he will be joining you two.”]
Capone: Michael Bay sent down some footage in December of PAIN & GAIN, which I think was the trailer plus a little bit more. Man, that looks like a fun movie.
MW: It is sick. Oh my god, I can not wait for that movie to come out.You know it’s crazy, because Michael is so good at comedy--he came from BAD BOYS and stuff--so you get it, and there have been funny moments in all of his movies, whether it’s ARMAGEDDON or THE ROCK. For whatever reason, it surprised me. I love to improvise, and we just hit it off so well on that movie, which is why he wanted me to do TRANSFORMERS  with him. We had something that was really cool and interesting, and I think we just took it to a whole other level. He didn’t know how obsessed I was going to become. When I first went to LA, I was always in that Venice Beach/Gold’s Gym in Venice scene with all of those body builders…
[Allen walks in.]
Allen Hughes: Hey, Steve!
MW: …I was already obsessed with that world, so for me to be improvising, and then him throwing out other lines out at me, we just clicked in a way.
Capone: And that doesn’t seem like something he does a lot of in his movies.
MW: Michael Bay. He saw some footage from PAIN & GAIN. Have you seen the trailer yet?
AH: No, I haven’t. I didn’t know there was a trailer out.
Capone: And actually [Wahlberg's PAIN & GAIN co-star] Anthony Mackie is going to be here in a couple of days for GANGSTER SQUAD, so is there anything I should say to or ask him?
MW: Tell him I said, “What’s up, Juilliard?”
MW: I had a great time working with Anthony. We spent a lot of time talking about a lot of different stuff. He’s a talented guy. I try to tell him always, “Just keep your eyes on the prize. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”
AH: That it is.
Capone: Right now…
MW: [Doing his best Brando as The Godfather impression] “I told Terrence Howard the same thing. He didn’t want to listen.”
Capone: It looks like you’re playing someone who is not that bright?
MW: No, he's not.
Capone: Not just you, but all of them.
MW: No, but I’m the leader. I’m the ring leader. Yeah, they’ve done horrific things, but you still kind of want to root for these guys. That’s the fine line. That was the thing Michael and I were always trying to tow that fine line of what we can do and what we can get away with. There’s a scene with me and these little kids in the neighborhood--I’ve got to tell you guys after--I’m telling you, it’s the sickest scene that I’ve ever done in a movie, me talking to these kids and the shit that I say to them. But you root for these guys. I had to go from working with Allen--he made me get as light as I possibly could--then I had seven weeks to get to 200 lbs.
Capone: I watched that trailer again last night after the screening, and I thought “He doesn’t look like that now.”
[Wahlberg proceeds to tell an off-the-record story about the lengths he was willing to go to prove he did not use steroids to get big for PAIN & GAIN.]
Capone: So you took this script from the black list and you financed it independently. You didn’t go through a studio initially. Is it more satisfying when you have to work a little more to get something made, when you don’t have that studio backing?
MW: We had this discussion early on, “Do we go with a studio and then we’ve got somebody micromanaging us and trying to tell us what we’ve got to do?” or “Do we just do our own thing?” And Randall [Emmett, the producer who arranged much of the BROKEN CITY financing], who is a friend of mine--he used to be my assistant--he started working with Harvey Lerner and started financing movies and then he started asking me. He was always offering me these movies. Do two weeks with this movie with Nic Cage and this and that, and I would always just say no. Then finally I went to him and said, “Do you want to make a movie together? This is how we do it. We’ve got the script. We'll get a Russell Crowe. We'll get somebody great, but you’ve got to give us the money and let us do our thing.” He said, “Fine, fantastic.”
AH: And that’s what makes the movie, I think, raw and colorful and gives it the character. We couldn’t have done that with a studio.
MW: You know what's so gratifying? I was thinking about it today when we were sitting in there talking. I remember us just being on the set and nobody bothering us. We had nobody there telling us to do this and that.
AH: He came up to me… I remember this moment where he was like “Dude, it’s just us.” I don’t know if I will ever experience that again. It really was just looking at the movie star and the director and going “Just us.”
MW: The casting, working on the script, getting all the pieces of the puzzle together, it was always just the two of us doing our thing.
Capone: Did you get a sense when you had this script that this would have been the kind of script that people would have tried to mess with at a studio level?
MW: That’s why it was on the black list. Look, they want to do the big tent pole event movies or the smaller movies, and this is kind of one of those in-between movies. If you look at movies over the last 10 years, there’s still always a lot of adult-themed movies that are very successful, you know? Look at ARGO or LINCOLN, all of these movies are very successful. The year of THE FIGHTER, there was THE KING’S SPEECH and THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and all of those movies were hugely successful.
AH: That’s what it was… KING’S SPEECH.
MW: Well I remember that, because [THE FIGHTER] lost to them.
MW: [mumbles] Stuttering ass… I should have had a stutter! See, if I'd had a stutter and a limp, we would have won!
Capone: In this film, you've got your corrupt politicians and your corrupt police and these contractors. This has a very '70s paranoia to it. Was that something you guys were looking for in terms of vibe? There’s that wonderful distrust of authority figures here that came after Watergate.
MW: I was attracted to it because I grew up watching all of those movies with my dad, but that’s not necessarily what I was looking for.
AH: To Mark’s point, back when they were making those types of movies in the '70s where it was the golden era of cinema, it was always about corrupt and dark and edgy--great narratives and great characters. That was before Hollywood had its first blockbuster ,and they were like “Oh, we don’t have to do these things anymore.”
Capone: I I read, Mark, that you had wanted to work with Allen and had contacted him about working together a while ago.
MW: Well we would see each other here and there, yeah. After seeing MENACE II SOCIETY, I was obviously a big fan.
Capone: As you talked over the years, did you get that idea that you had a shared sensibility about the kind of movie you wanted to make and the kind of movies you liked? What were some of those things that you talked about?
AH: I always thought he was just a really gifted actor in the most uncanny way. He’s got an edge and a scrappiness to him that would lend itself to the type of cinema I’m into, want to make, and have been making. So, it always was so overtly obvious that it almost went over my head.
MW: I just thought he didn’t like me and didn’t want to work with me, so when I finally got the call I was like “Damn.”
Capone: Combining what your character does at the beginning of the film and then adding the substance abuse, you try really hard to make us not like this guy. What were some of the things you wanted to bring to this character that we hadn’t seen you do before that you thought were important in terms of his flaws especially?
MW: Well I just wanted to make him real, you know? I was talking to a journalist earlier and he was like, “He didn’t seem too concerned with apologizing for what he did.” I said, “What’s he supposed to do? In the middle of a breakdown go 'I’m so fucking sorry!'?” No, just make it real. I would root for a guy like that. It is what it is, this is the world he lives in and exists in, and when you’re navigating in those waters, this is what you get.
AH: We all love a great redemption story.
Capone: And it seems more important that you understand him more than like him in a story like this.
MW: And I don’t want Russell’s character to out-prick me!
Capone: Speaking of which, the scenes that you guys have together are so critical, and he is just so great at doing that slick politician, right down to his bad spray on tan. I assume that’s not real; maybe it is. What do you learn from working with a guy like that?
MW: You know when you’re working with a guy like that, it’s going to elevate your game. We didn’t talk about the scenes; we didn’t talk about anything. We didn’t rehearse. We had already been shooting for five weeks before Russell came, and it was like he walks on the set, I’m on the set, Allen’s like, “Do you guys want to rehearse? Do you want to discuss?” It was like, “Hell no.”
AH: We would set two cameras up at a time and say, “Let’s start firing.”
MW: “Let’s go.” We would laugh and we’d joke in between, but you’re not competing against each other per se as actors, but the two characters are obviously competing against each other, and like you said, those scenes are so critical to the movie, if that doesn’t work then what else is there? That’s why it was important for us just to dive in and shoot the big scene first. Why not? Then we could play around.
Capone: What was the first thing you did with him?
AH: The first scenes with them together was that main face off at the end of the movie in the Mayor’s home office, and it was tense on the set, not between these two gentlemen. Everyone was very anxious. They say boxing styles make fights, and I think that everyone was so excited about this combination and also anxious, because these guys are quite powerful in person. To see them together, I remember looking at the crew and talking with the crew and invariably it was, “Who do you think could really beat who’s ass in real life?”
AH: That came to me a lot. I know the answer, though. [Allen points to Mark.]
Capone: Some of my favorite scenes actually are between Mark and his P.I. assistant. I’ve only seen Alona Tal once before, in a movie she made called UNDOCUMENTED. She is so great in your film. How did you find her?
MW: It was such a process too, because a lot of people wanted a name, so we read every single person, but she just came in. She had an attitude. There was another girl, the girl who is on "Girls," Allison Williams--she had an attitude in there too. She was on tape, and they were like “Eh,” but I was like “No, bring her out.” I could tell she was feisty, but she was a little on the younger side. But Alona just came in and did it every time, you know? And people would fight the process and say, “No, no, no. What about this one? She’s coming out in this.” I’m like “Okay, let’s read them." But then look at the tapes.
AH: She didn’t care about anyone in the room. She just started firing at Mark, and she stepped up to Mark in a way that none of those other young ladies did. And you know the most important thing too with Mark is, this is the way you want to see him and ladies want to see him too and to see that chemistry, because everyone in the movie is concealing something or has a secret. She is the only pure character, I believe, in the movie who is not hiding anything.
MW: It was one of those things too where you're in this bad relationship with somebody that you really shouldn’t be with, not that there’s anything wrong with Natalie [Martinez, who plays Wahlberg's wife], but it's just the world that she's in and the direction that she’s going; it’s never going to work. How is this private eye going to keep this actress? Then you have something great right there who makes sense for you.
AH: You saw the movie, right?
Capone: Yeah, last night.
AH: You saw when he goes to premiere? That was a headfuck, man. That’s a headfuck. I remember trying to figure out how to take the curse off the actresss thing.
MW: I purposefully didn’t want to see the footage [of Natalie doing a love scene in the movie] until we were actually there shooting the premiere scene [where Mark first sees the footage].
AH: Every guy’s nightmare, literally in your head, is your girl cheating on you, so you have this movie in your head, and I remember going “This is a headfuck that’s never been done before. He’s going to see his girl getting tossed up.”
Capone: The movie in his head is now on screen.
MW: Show him the trailer real quick.
[They watch a trailer, with Allen laughing and saying things like "This is Michael Bay at his best." "Oh!" "You got big." "Oh shit." "It looks great, man."]
AH: I’ve got to say, I did not expect it to look and feel like that.
MW: It’s cool, right?
Capone: It was good seeing you guys again. Thanks a lot.