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Interview: Mark Wahlberg Talks ‘The Gambler,’ Blackjack Research, J.C. Chandor’s Upcoming ‘Deepwater Horizon’ & More

Interview: Mark Wahlberg Talks 'The Gambler,' Blackjack Research, J.C. Chandor’s Upcoming ‘Deepwater Horizon’ & More

It seems a Hollywood project is never more than one or two steps away from Mark Wahlberg’s involvement. The past decade has seen the actor steadily grow into a producing force (“Entourage,” “Prisoners”) while still maintaining his studio-reliable leading man status (“Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Ted”), but as with “The Fighter,” the smaller projects sometimes present the harder challenge. The most recent example is “The Gambler,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” director Rupert Wyatt’s remake of the 1974 Jimmy Caan original, and it’s easy to see why – it’s an unconventional gambling flick, in which a college Literature professor attempts to burn his finances to the ground to see what’s left.

At an AFI Fest screening of the film (our review here) and a roundtable discussion the next day, Wahlberg explained that the title was a bit misleading when it came to his character, Jim Bennett. “I didn’t see him as having a gambling addiction,” he said. “I feel like he just chose gambling as the way to strip himself of all those things that were holding him back from finding out who he was, and what he could be doing with his life.” For more of Wahlberg’s thoughts on the film, which co-stars John Goodman, Brie Larson, and Jessica Lange, as well as his slate of upcoming projects including J.C. Chandor’s “Blackwater Horizon,” take a look below.

On Reading William Monahan’s Script For “The Gambler”
I read it on the plane and I immediately started reading lines out loud, and you start realizing that it’s going to attract some great talent because they all have these opportunities to come in and showcase their abilities in pretty cool ways. John Goodman, Jessica Lange, all those guys. I normally have to go out and court people but the material really attracted people.

I’ve had some fairly bad experiences with remakes in the past and I was trying to stay away from them for a little while. But then we had a good experience with “The Italian Job,” and then I read the script. I’m a huge fan of Monahan, we worked together on “The Departed” and he wrote “American Desperado” for us, I was in this movie he directed called “Mojave.” We have a great rapport and I loved the part… It felt like it was cool and different and we could make it our own while still paying respect to the original.

On Convincing The Original ‘Gambler’ Lead and Screenwriter
I showed [screenwriter of the ’74 original] James Toback the movie early on actually when he came to Boston — I had to get him on my own turf in case he didn’t like the movie. He loved it, although there’s obviously certain things that he’s never going to really love about the movie because he has his own that he’s very proud of. And I also invited Jimmy Caan over to my house. We talked about the project beforehand, we worked together on “The Yards” and we have a great relationship, but I wanted to show him and have him like it. Coincidentally I have a row of pictures in my basement with some of my favorite actors — James Cagney, Steve McQueen, John Garfield, and Jimmy Caan. Someone had given me it as a gift and he saw it and said, “Did you put that up because you knew I was coming over?”

On Real-Life Research For The Role
I was in Hong Kong finishing up “Transformers 4” so we had a little day trip to Macau. I actually went to a casino, played blackjack, won a bunch of money. I didn’t have any Hong Kong money, so I borrowed it from the guys I was with; I hit a hand that the casino owner, who was with me at the time, said he’d never seen anyone hit. I got an Ace, then another Ace, split them, got another Ace, and then I got Jack, Queen, King. I won all this money, went over to the roulette wheel, put it down on black, lost, and left with the biggest smile on my face. My friends were like, “What are you doing?” I said, “Just wait until you see the movie, you’ll get it.” It was perfect and I didn’t lose a penny.

On His ‘Gambler’ Character’s Gaunt Physique
It’s just part of the job. I prepare physically and mentally for everything that I do, and I like doing both because you submerge yourself into the character and the world and you live it ‘til it’s over. That’s why one of my favorite things is finishing on that last day because I get to have my life back, let that go and have a real sense of accomplishment. But [the weight loss] was just what Rupert and those guys and [producer] Irwin [Winkler] wanted me to look like. But I was not a happy person, no one wanted to be around me. They thought I was bad when I had too much to drink – not having food is ten times worse.

On Bringing Out His Boston Roots in Hollywood

I just remember being in LA pursuing an acting career with a Boston accent, and it was always like a bit of a handicap. So I wanted to stay away from that until I went and did movies that required that accent to great success. “The Perfect Storm,” “The Departed,” “The Fighter.” It’s also nice to have a lot of real-life experience, street smarts. They help me because I have so much to draw on apart from techniques that you learn in class. Those are good to a certain extent but I don’t know if they ring true to the average person.

My disadvantages are things that I can fix — I have the tools, I have the thesaurus. I’m not afraid to ask questions either. I’m not the guy who will sit in a room with a guy using a bunch of big words and just pretend like I know what they mean. I’ll sit on set and just ask, “Hey what does that mean, explain to me.”

On Adapting “The Six Billion Dollar Man” With Peter Berg
We’re talking about doing “The Six Billion Dollar Man,” which is very much a superhero but I don’t have to wear any kind of spandex cape. So that would be cool. But Howard Gordon is writing the script and Peter Berg and I are talking about doing it. But we got a great, great idea and it’s something that’s been in the pipeline for some time, so if we get the script right maybe we’ll do it after “Deepwater Horizon.”

On Deepwater Horizon.
The script is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, and obviously it’s an amazing story and it’s brave of Lionsgate to make a movie that size and that scale with that kind of subject matter. J.C. Chandor is an amazing talent and he’s rewriting the script now. He’s just got such a great handle on the material, and we’ve had all this research and we really had access to all the transcripts of everything that happened. I think it’s going to be spectacular.

“The Gambler” opens on Christmas Day.

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