2 Guns stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as a pair of operatives from competing bureaus who are forced on the run after a botched attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel. The big problem with their unexpected partnership: neither one knows the other is an undercover federal agent. Based on a series of graphic novels by Steven Grant, the action-packed buddy film comes to theaters August 2.
As the cast promoted the film in New York this weekend, I had a chance to attend a press conference where Washington and Wahlberg along with co-stars Paula Patton and Bill Paxton discussed their experiences making the movie.
How the co-stars created chemistry:
DENZEL WASHINGTON: We went to a Lamaze class together [laughs].
MARK WAHLBERG: I’ve always admired him. We’ve got a lot in common, we both have four kids. I was able to go to him for advice and pick his brain both personally and professionally. We’re both professionals, so even if we didn’t hang out all the time, we both enjoy our job and we’re both serious about it.
DW: And Mark’s a good guy, a regular guy like me.
MW: A church going family man.
DW: He hasn’t lost his way. He’s not tripping.
This film marks the first time the two actors have starred together. What they thought about working with each other:
MW: We’ve known each other for a while, but what surprised me was how willing Denzel was to just try anything. We wanted to add humor and kind of shake it up a bit and combine the comedic elements with the dramatic aspect of the movie. And also how giving he is as an actor. He was really supportive of me.
DW: Coming off of Flight, I was looking to have more fun. So when I read the script and heard that Mark was involved I was like, “Oh okay, I can be safe.” Because Mark is not just funny, but he has a warmth and a heart about him that I’ve loved. I watched Ted the other night, that’s a sick movie. How did you do that fight scene? That was crazy.
MW: That was embarrassing.
DW: But you were willing! You got spanked, everything. So all of that. He really helped free me up to go just for it: “Don’t worry about being too silly.”
Paula Patton also had great things to say about Washington, who she previously worked with on 2006’s Deja Vu:
PAULA PATTON: I was fairly new to acting when I first got a chance to work with Denzel and I have to tell you, it was like taking a master class. It changed everything for me. He didn’t tell me what to do but I would just watch him, and you never knew what he was going to throw at you. For the first time as an actor I really felt like I was in the moment. That’s the amazing thing about Denzel – he’s like a jazz musician. The scene might be written one way and he might come at it a totally different way on each take, and that keeps you on your toes. It changed me as an actor and so going back to work with him again, it was almost like a refresher course, because he’s one of the greatest actors of our time.
Like many action movies, this is a testosterone-fueled ensemble cast. Patton is the only woman, playing a DEA agent who blurs the lines between on- and off-duty. What she thought about crashing the “boy’s club”:
PP: I kind of feel like a man sometimes a little bit, so I didn’t feel like I was crashing it. I’ve learned men don’t like to talk, so I keep quiet and I listen. I’m very opinionated but I’m not a chat chatter. I don’t hang around the monitor, I don’t really socialize so that you can put everything into the scene. You just keep the chemistry for the scene. I can’t tell you what Denzel’s favorite food is, I don’t know a lot about his personal life, which works so then you can just come in and be the two people you’re supposed to be and give a hundred thousand percent to it.
As love interests in the film, Washington and Patton share some hot and heavy scenes. Patton mentioned the response from her husband, singer Robin Thicke, and added that the nudity in the film was her idea:
PP: The day before we were going to shoot the scene, I was thinking about it. These are people that have been together before, and they’re having a conversation and had just made love, and it just seemed really phony to me to have a shirt on. And so I just kind of sprung it on [director Baltasar Kormakur]. I came to set and I’m like, “No, I’m not going to be wearing a top.” I asked Robin before and I said it doesn’t feel natural. And he goes, “Go for it babe, absolutely.” We don’t really get hung up about those kinds of things.
But once I decided to take my shirt off Denzel was like, “Well I’m going to take my shirt off too.” Balt was really great too. I remember he came in the trailer and was like, “Listen, if you’re gonna do this, promise me you won’t pose. I’ll take care of you if you breathe and your gut gets out.” I was like, “Okay cool, let’s do it.”
Bill Paxton plays one of several villains in the film, a “honey-tongued CIA asset” unleashed to track down the two operatives. After filming he found it hard to leave his character, and his accent, behind:
BILL PAXTON: When I read the part I felt like a kid on Christmas day opening up a present he’s been hoping to get for a long time… You start doing that Louisiana accent, it sounds like honey coming out of your mouth. I just loved the speeches and the crew and Balt were entertained by it. I think this is the part Balt [who’s also an actor] would have wanted to play and I could tell he was kind of living vicariously through me. It’s a tough thing to kick because I’m from Texas originally and I have a drawl, but I had a lot of fun with the accent.
Among all the action in the movie, Paxton acknowledges his preparation was more emotional than physical:
BP: What was nice about my guy was because he had the government behind him in some regard, he didn’t have to be a tough guy. He could actually be very cordial, very friendly. And so it was actually more of an exercise in moral restraint.
According to the cast, some of their toughest scenes to film involved Washington and Wahlberg’s characters being tortured in a bull pen:
DW: That bull scene, it was funky in there. It was where they sold cows, the auction room.
MW: That was the day [co-star] Edward James Olmos was intentionally forgetting his lines. He really loved us being up in that position. He had that big s-eating grin on.
BP: It was about 1,000 degrees, a bunch of cattle pens outside of New Orleans. It was the middle of the summer and I’ve got to tell you, there was quite an “ambrosial” smell. All the sweat in this movie is a hundred percent real.
MW: I thought it was no big deal being hung upside down until all the blood’s rushing to your head. It was not fun. And then I actually started complaining a few minutes before [Denzel] did because it’s not a fun position to be in. But it’s a really cool scene, very different. We haven’t seen it before.
DW: The bull enjoyed the scene.
MW: Because he kept saying, “The bull doesn’t give a s-. He doesn’t know we’re making a movie here.”
On making audiences laugh vs. getting them emotionally invested in a drama:
DW: For me, I have less experience with this. So I wanted to go out there with somebody who knows that territory better than I do. And it’s film, so it frees you up to try new things.
MW: I approach everything the same. I try to make it as real as possible. If I’m going to make people laugh or make people cry, it’s always the same approach for me. But if I start doing pratfalls, somebody please pull the plug on me.
DW: And that isn’t easy. There’s a pressure. “I’m supposed to be funny.”
BP: It’s unfortunate that the world doesn’t get to see Denzel’s funny side as much, but he’s a great comedic actor and [here] he gets to play an alter ego in this, this undercover guy. So I could see he was having a lot of fun with that persona. I told him, “Man, you should do more comedy.”
On incorporating improv into the written material:
DW: We went for it.
MW: I worked with Baltasar before so he was comfortable with me kind of doing my thing. Improvisation can always make a scene better as long as it makes sense with the moment and the story.
DW: People have said to me for a long time, “You’re funny.” And I say, “Well, I’m quick.” But being funny on purpose take after take, I don’t know. That’s why say it’s new territory. So by improvising, something might come out that might be good. And it’s film, so they can cut it if it ain’t good.
Beyond the comedy, there are some serious themes in 2 Guns as well – indictments of the way federal agencies work and drug and immigration policy. But Washington says he wasn’t concerned with that when making the film:
DW: I didn’t think about that. My wife and I went and saw Fruitvale Station last night. It ain’t that.
He also acknowledged that their film comes at a time when more serious issues are happening in society:
DW: I did tear up [at Fruitvale]. At an interesting point too, somewhere between the girlfriend’s reaction and the mother’s reaction. It was really interesting talking to my oldest daughter. Between that and the Zimmerman trial, she said, “Dad you’ve got to understand, this is the first time we’ve dealt with these issues in my lifetime.” She was too young for Rodney King and she studied history and Civil Rights. But she said, “For my generation, this is one of the first events.”
Above all, he cites this period in his career as a time to start fresh:
DW: It’s a privilege to be able to do what I do, so I’m just trying to bring one hundred percent of myself to each and every part. When I did [Broadway play] Fences a couple years back, it just kind of woke me up. It was like, “Okay, I’ve got to get back to the basics.” In every way – through the script and in myself. So I made a commitment to just work harder.
2 Guns opens wide on August 2. We’ll have a review of the film posted soon. Find the trailer below: