To paraphrase the popular cliche: a busy Mark Wahlberg gathers no moss. In addition to leading the action-thriller “Contraband” (in theaters Friday), Wahlberg has a plethora of other features in various stages of development: a star turn in the Seth MacFarlane comedy “Ted” (out later this year), a leading role opposite Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the currently filming “Broken City,” and a seat in the producer’s chair of a little something called the “Entourage” movie. Put another way: reading Wahlberg’s Google Calendar is probably even more complicated than the heist his character in “Contraband” tries to pull off — and that involves counterfeit money, a crooked ship captain and one crazy Panamanian drug lord.
Based on an Icelandic movie, “Contraband” finds Wahlberg starring as Chris Farraday, a home security expert who was once the world’s best smuggler. He’s forced back into the life when his wife’s younger brother gets caught up with the wrong guy (Giovanni Ribisi).
Wahlberg rang up while walking to church on a Saturday evening in December to discuss his new movie, whether he’ll work with David O. Russell on the planned sequel to “The Fighter,” and why you shouldn’t expect the man formerly known as Marky Mark to get behind the mic again anytime soon.
“Contraband” is your third released feature film as a producer — what did you learn on “We Own the Night” and “The Fighter” that helped in the process?
My philosophy is to always surround yourself with the most talented people possible. Both in front and behind the camera. We were lucky to get a great cast and a great crew and a great piece of material. We found the original and we thought, “Wow, this would make for a great American film.” Then we really hit it off with Baltasar Kormákur. You know, listen, the situation is always different — you’re always going to be faced with new and different challenges. You just gotta approach everything, in my opinion, with a positive attitude. If there’s a will there’s a way — you can figure things out.
Balthasar didn’t direct the original film, but he starred in it. Was there any concern about giving him the project to direct?
He had directed other films we had seen, so we knew he was a filmmaker. I felt very confident in his abilities. My only concern was that he would be referring to his performance and I wanted to do my own thing, make it my own. That was the way he was looking at it as well, so we got along great. I got him a — you know, he’s going to be directing, hopefully, this new movie at Universal called “Two Guns.” He’s a talented guy.
His style kind of reminded me a little bit of Tony Scott.
He did a great job shooting the action, he did a great job stylistically. But I think the character stuff, and the nuances between the characters and how complex and layered they were, was really appealing to me. He’s an actor first, and that’s his focus. All the direction he was giving the actors was really spot on. And the freedom he was giving the actors — because, you know, you’ve got a lot of talented people and you want them to bring their own thing to it as well. The first one didn’t have much humor, it certainly didn’t translate — we had a lot of freedom to improvise and to try to make light whenever we could, because the subject matter is very serious.
Do you like working with guys who are trying to make a name for themselves or do you prefer an established director?
I’m always looking for the next great talent.
Like you did with David O. Russell in “The Fighter,” and “Broken City” with Allen Hughes, you’ve been finding these guys who have fallen off the radar a bit and resurrecting them.
I certainly resurrected David O. Russell. He was unhireable. And I had to convince everybody that I could manage him and handle it, and that he could pull it off. But yeah, listen, there’s nothing better than somebody that’s hungry and needs it. You really get the best of somebody. That doesn’t mean I won’t work with somebody who’s got a string of hits. [Laughs] It depends on the project and the person and the circumstances.
Earlier in the year you were talking about a sequel to “The Fighter”; are you still going to do that with David?
No, we will probably go in a different direction, because we want to make a completely different movie. We don’t want to necessarily make a sequel that kind of picks off where the first one left off. We want to make a movie that focuses on Micky Ward’s relationship with Arturo Gatti. Despite the fact that they inflicted all of this horrible punishment on each other, they became extremely close. Micky had no choice when it came to his relationship with Dickie [Ecklund, played by Christian Bale in “The Fighter”]; it was his brother. But he chose to befriend a guy who was trying to kill him in the ring. He really respected him and they were honest with each other outside of the ring. That’s a bizarre thing.
Are you trying to get that to the script stage right now?
Scott Silver, who wrote the first one, is going to be writing the script and we’ve hashed out the idea. He’s hopefully going to start writing if he hasn’t already.
I know you haven’t done any sequels before. Is that something you’re averse to doing?
It would have to be better than the first, and that’s not easy to do. They talked about it for “The Italian Job,” they talked about a “Departed” sequel, a “Shooter” sequel. I’m interested in doing something completely different. Or, if it can top the first, it’s worth exploring. But if it’s not on the page, it’s not going to happen.
You’re really good at switching from drama to action to comedy. Do you have a game plan for your career?
Yeah, it’s all calculated. We always usually saddle up to do the complete opposite of the last thing that we did. And then you got to balance when they’re going to be released, what quarter they’re coming out. So right after “Contraband” we went and did this Seth MacFarlane movie that’s a rough comedy [“Ted”], and now we’re doing “Broken City,” which is a crime thriller and drama. That’s a movie that could come out a soon as next year. Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler, I mean we got a stacked deck here.
Sounds great. Let’s do a lightning round on some of your other projects: What’s the status on “Two Guns”? You said you’re going to re-team with Baltasar?
Yeah, we’re hoping to get a costar that we want. We’ve made an offer and we’re waiting to get a response. That’s the next thing.
What’s up with the “Entourage” movie?
Just waiting for Doug Ellin to write the script. As of now, I’m just producing, but I might do a cameo.
You were rumored for “Three Mississippi” — a reunion with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
Yeah, they wrote that. I’m supposed to have dinner with Will Ferrell when I get back to New Orleans. He’s down in New Orleans shooting a movie as well. We’re supposed to have dinner and talking about that. [Street revelers shout at Mark] Hold on. [To fans] Hey guys. Hi. Enjoy your stay, be careful. Bye.
Hey, sorry about that.
No problem! I heard that guy say Marky Mark to you. Do you ever get annoyed when people say that?
No. Obviously, there’s a time you do something and you try to distance yourself from that past — because you’re trying to do something else and it wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish — but I think we’re far enough away from it now that, you know…
Right. You do have an Oscar nomination now and all. I know that’s in your past, but you once had a passion for music. Do you ever want to do that again, but feel you can’t do it because of the stigma of “Marky Mark”?
So music is totally done for you.