Arts Express: Mark Wahlberg Talks Lone Survivor

If you ask any actor about the toughest role to play, they’ll usually say that it’s somebody who exists in the real world. But what seemed to be a double challenge for Mark Wahlberg in Peter Berg’s Afghan combat thriller Lone Survivor, was not only inhabiting the persona of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. But reenacting his desperate physical and psychological flight from danger, however simulated. As to whether or not Wahlberg feels he’s got what it takes, well, he’s feeling just a bit over the hill these days. Though it seems to have something to do as well, with balls, benches and SEAL guys helping their wives make dinner.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a SEAL in real life?

MARK WAHLBERG: I’m 42 years old! So…

Well, maybe…before!

MW: You know, as a man who always wants to, you don’t want to sit on the bench. I wanna be in the game. You know, I always want the ball. So, you would think.

But it’s not a question of physical ability. It really comes down to that mental toughness. That I think, sets those guys apart from a lot of other guys.

You know, the guys who can’t get through the training. And graduate. So I don’t know. I have no idea!

Making such an intense movie, did it help having your family around on the set?

MW: Yeah! Yeah, it does. And you know, it was really interesting to hear those SEAL guys talk about when they go home to their families. And they can’t discuss what they do.

And you know, like it’s trying to shut off what they just came from. Like they were on some sort of mission and special ops.

But now they’re at home, and they’re taking their kids to school, you know? And they’re helping their wives make dinner.

But it’s always comforting to have your family there. Absolutely. They’re here now! Which is nice. So…

But I asked them, do you want to come to work with me? And they said, Daddy. Your job is so boring, absolutely not!

So did you bond with the real life lone survivor soldier?

MW: Um, Marcus doesn’t like me at all! No! For me obviously, I was, I had the good fortune of meeting the guy I was playing.

And spending time with him, and have him kind of be there, through the entire process. And helping me with anything, that I wanted or needed.

He’s a very, very special individual. And it’s an honor to know him, and to see the kind of man that he is. And I’m certainly inspired to be a better man because of him.

Now about that bridesmaid confusion of yours – she would be at the wedding, as a bridesmaid.

MW: Thank you for that! I realize that. Especially having been married myself now! And for quite some time.

But we were trying to infuse some humor. Especially when they were about to get really serious.

So that was just something that we improvised. On a day we were playing around! But actually, it went on longer and longer.

I would start singing a song, a Cold Play song. But those guys wanted too much money for the song, so we couldn’t use it in the movie!

How about all that tumbling down those big cliffs? Ouch.

MW: Like the falls and all that stuff, you know originally this was gonna be a big budget movie. So you would have had cables, and green screens.

But we did the movie for price. And I think that’s why it feels so intimate and real. And authentic.

You know, the first stunt man to go down the cliff, when he landed at the bottom of the cliff, he went right on to a stretcher. And right to the hospital.

But everybody was there. And the SEALS were there. So you had this immense pressure to stand up and be a man. So everybody was like overly punk’d!

But you know, we just did what was required. And you know, bumps and bruises. But we wanted to make it feel real.

And you know, it seems like it’s all been done before. But something so simplistic as that, is having such an impact. Because it’s pretty damn real.

And because we had such a short amount of time, we had two units going at all times. So if you were the second unit – our second unit director was a stunt coordinator – you’d be doing a lot of action stuff.

Whether the falls, or certain parts of the gun battle. And then I’d run back off to Pete, and we’d be in the village doing that stuff. So we were kinda always all over the place.

And a lot of the times we’d be together. But then sometimes, like those guys with my doubles, I’d be like, bye guys! You’re gonna get your ass kicked!

So we knew what was gonna happen. But every day was, it was rough. But like we all said, we all got to go home at the end of the day.

And we knew we were doing something special, we were part of something special. So it was never about one individual, it was really about telling those guys’ stories. So…

When I first heard about the idea and Pete asked me to do it, I thought just selfishly as an actor, wow. What a great opportunity.

You know, to play a kinda showy part. And then when I read it and realized what it really entailed and what it was about, then obviously my perspective changed.

And it never was about me after that again. It was really about the guys that we were portraying. And every single person.

Both in front of and behind the camera, we all felt that same thing. It was a very special and unique set of circumstances, that I’ve never experienced as an actor before on a film.

And even when watching the film, I don’t think about what we did. I think about what happened to those guys. And what Marcus was able to endure.

And you know, to be able to survive. And to tell the stories about his brothers. That was a very special thing. And I think we’re all proud to be a part of it.

And we were embraced by the SEAL community, because of everybody’s intention going in. You know, it was just to tell their story, and to make a tribute.

Not just to them, but to everybody who has ever walked into a recruiting office. And certainly to their loved ones. And everybody who ever suffered loss.

Did this movie or the book it’s based on, make you think differently about war?

MW: I didn’t read the book before I made the movie. Only because I had read the screenplay first.

And I’ve been in situations many times, where you’ve adapted a piece of material. And you always feel like something has been left out.

And I thought Pete did a really good job writing the screenplay. I was completely immersed in that world. And felt it.

And so I didn’t want to then go back and read the book. And start complaining about, well why isn’t this in there. And why isn’t that in there.

And then you know, you could debate that for hours. But I read the book after. And I did feel, like why isn’t this in there, and why wasn’t that in there!

But that’s how it goes. Yeah, there’s no room for sensitivity up on the hill. Up there fourteen thousand feet!

You can cry like a baby if you want, out of relief on the way down the mountain at the end of the day. But no, everybody loved that.

It was just, you know, everybody was there for the same purpose. So, whatever we had to do to get it done.

Whether it was Pete barking at you, or the SEALS, it didn’t matter. Everybody was there for the same reason.

There was no egos. We were all a team. We were all trying to do something unique. Uh, what was the rest of your question?

Did this movie change your feelings about war?

MW: Uh, yeah. You know, I don’t like war, but I love soldiers. You know? They’re not the guys who decide whether or not they’re going in.

And they don’t really care. They have a job to do, and they go and they do it. Would it be nice to live in a world without that? Absolutely.

I don’t want any of those guys going over there, risking their lives. But that’s what they do. And you know, that’s why we made this tribute to all of them.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.