Quite a few odd things happened during this interview, which occurred on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon at the Toronto International Film Festival. First of all, I started interviewing Peter Berg much earlier in the day, but we had to stop, then delay it until later in the afternoon (long story). Then, once we got going again five hours later, Berg starts quoting my review of Deepwater Horizon, which I thought was impossible because it wasn’t supposed to publish for another seven hours. (Yep, we messed up. My favorite part is when Berg asks me, “So, I’m an ‘angry’ director, huh?” He was smiling when he said this, so I take this as a sign that he didn’t want to punch me.)
Then, with no warning, Mark Wahlberg shows up in the room, who I was supposed to interview later, separately. Instead, he joins this interview. I’m mentioning all of this because if this reads at all a little “all over the place,” well, adjustments had to be made on the fly.
As mentioned, Wahlberg stars in Berg’s Deepwater Horizon, an account of the explosion off the coast of Louisiana that resulted in one of the largest man-made environmental disasters in history. Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, an electrician on the doomed rig who is our entryway into what happened and what went wrong.
In 2015, I interviewed Wahlberg for Ted 2 and somehow we got on the topic of a game he plays with his family called “pick it or kick it.” I asked if The Force Awakens is a “pick it” or “kick it,” I was told “kick it.” Wahlberg swore he wouldn’t be seeing the new Star Wars movie. I had to know if this turned out to be true. Also, I asked Wahlberg about that fact King Arthur is somehow in the next Transformers movie, a fact he seems to find as surprising as the rest of us.
My reaction to Deepwater Horizon is that it made me mad at BP all over again.
Peter Berg: Yeah. Well, I mean it’s an understandable reaction. The big issue for me, I actually can divorce myself from rage – BP is a huge company – but I participate in a capitalist society.
We all do.
Berg: And I use fuel. We’re all complacent, a bit. We all participate in the oil business in that regard. But where things really went off the tracks was with these two BP executives, who were scared. They were embarrassed that they were 40-odd-million dollars over the budget, they were getting some pressure. Those were the two guys who really fucked up. And you can look at a culture of pressure and greed…
Something created them and that attitude…
Berg: Yes. But those guys should have had the majority to take their foot off the gas when it was obvious that things weren’t going right and forget about the money for a second and say, “Well, let’s do this properly.”
I was kind of expecting to see Mark Wahlberg as the “in your face” character, yelling at everyone how wrong they are. But he plays an understated role here.
Berg: Mark is so smart and willing to take his own ego and put it over here. And he’s all about the story and he particularly likes doing these kinds of movies – different experience than Ted and then something like Daddy’s Home. You know, he loves that too, but that’s a whole other world. But I think when he does a movie like Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, or Deepwater, he doesn’t feel like it’s all about him.
[Wahlberg enters the room.]
Oh, we’re doing this all at once?
Mark Wahlberg: Yeah, do you mind? We’re better together.
We were talking about you.
Berg: He just wrote a great piece on our movie, by the way. It came out and I just read it.
I said it needed an angry director.
Wahlberg: He doesn’t get angry. We call him Sweet Pete.
Berg: We play with a certain amount of intensity. We like to lean in… and we want to do good work, we want to do our best. But we really do feel like we’re part of something bigger, which is what makes these movies worth doing.
Wahlberg: The great thing is, too, when doing that, everybody else kind of follows suit, you know? You kind of set the tone. It’s not about the individual experience.
You both have Patriots Day, about the Boston Marathon bombing, coming out in December. In a perfect world, would you rather there be more distance between Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day?
Wahlberg: They’re very different. Very different. And both important. But I think we need Patriots Day to be seen by the world as soon as possible with everything that’s going on, all over. So, no, I think that movie sooner rather than later.
Berg: This is a fucking timely film. And when you realize that you’re watching a film about the Boston Marathon bombing: about the community of Boston, yes. But it really speaks to Nice and Florida and San Bernardino and Paris.
Wahlberg: Everywhere. Colorado, Newtown.
Berg: It’s just a very different experience. If I didn’t feel that way, I’d agree with you more.
Wahlberg: We definitely had that conversation. Everybody certainly had an opinion, but I don’t think anybody could argue how timely that movie is and how important it is to have it out right away.
What kind of wavelength are you guys on now? With Patriots Day, you’ve now done three movies in three years.
Wahlberg: I have no problem professing my love for this man.
Berg: If you think about moviemaking, you’re actually making a movie, you come together, everybody does their best, and then they split up and they never work together again, right? And it’s like with any kind of relationship. He’s a big movie star, right? So we first meet each other, I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me. We spent half of Lone Survivor trying to kind of figure each other out and, by the end of the film, we actually started figuring each other out and really have a friendship. Well, normally, “Okay, see you later, have a great career.” But if you come back together and do it again, now we’re already at a point of comfort and by the time that’s over, either we’re going to hate each other’s guts or we’re going to become real friends, and the latter happened.
Do you think that’s why we see this happen so much, like with DiCaprio and Scorsese?
Wahlberg: It depends on the people. But I think with Pete – and I’m not just saying this, he knows that it’s true – Pete will call me and start talking about an idea and I just say, “I’m in.” You know? I don’t do that with everybody else. Anybody else, for that matter.
Berg: We also have very similar work ethics.
Wahlberg: Well, the hunger, too, the drive.
Berg: A lot of hunger.
Wahlberg: You have people who are getting tired or lazy. Like two animals here that are ready to pounce, and once you get a taste of something that’s good and that works and that’s fulfilling, it’s actually creative and–
Last time I spoke to Mark, he said he watched movie trailers with his family and asks, “Pick it or kick it,” to determine if they will see that movie. You said you kicked Star Wars: The Force Awakens “to the curb.” This was last summer. You really never saw the new Star Wars?
Wahlberg: I went and saw it.
You said you were going to “kick it.”
Wahlberg: I did. I did. And then the entire school bought tickets and then my wife was like, “Okay, the kids are going to the theater.” It was like, “Okay, we’re going now to Star Wars and then watching the movie with my kids and their entire school at the Grove.” So I saw it. “Pew, pew, pew, pew.”
You swore you’d never see it.
Berg: I didn’t see it.
Wahlberg: I saw it.
For some reason, I can’t imagine you buying tickets to Star Wars.
Wahlberg: But what happens is [Daddy’s Home director] Sean Anders and I were talking about the release date for Daddy’s Home and he’s like, “Nobody puts their movie near Star Wars. Everybody’s going to see Star Wars. I was like, “I’m not going to see Star Wars.”
You kicked it.
Wahlberg: He’s like, “Of course you are. Everybody’s going to see Star Wars.” I said, “Dude, I’m not going to see Star Wars. Not everybody’s going to see Star Wars!” Daddy’s Home then secretly made a quarter of a billion dollars.
Berg: I saw that one.
Wahlberg: Will Ferrell’s largest movie internationally by a lot. By a lot.
Battleship was a disappointment at the box office, but then you made Lone Survivor, which did really well. Is it easier to get people to listen to you after a success?
Berg: It’s always better, but I just really try to take the long haul. I mean, I’ve been up and down and I know that neither is a permanent position. And I try to stay in the middle… you know, just because they think you know what you’re doing doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing. You’ve still got to work, right? And you know that things can change very, very quickly.
I have to admit, I was surprised to learn King Arthur would be making an appearance in the new Transformers movie.
Wahlberg: Yeah. I was a bit surprised, too.
Berg: Are you King Arthur or are you a descendant of King Arthur?
Berg: No comment?
Wahlberg: I can’t give away anything!
Berg: Okay. I’m just curious. I don’t know anything.
You seem healthy this time. When I spoke to you for Lone Survivor, you were filming Transformers 4 and you had a neck brace.
Wahlberg: I’m doing good. All the heavy lifting is done. I’ve got two more days of action at Pinewood, but it’s basically just on a gimbal, getting spun around. I’ll probably get nauseous, but I won’t get hurt. But I trained and had a physiotherapist anytime things got a little sketchy.
I want that to be the story. I want him to be a descendant of King Arthur.
Wahlberg: Well, you know, it’s one of those things where you will be pleasantly surprised about a lot of that movie.
Berg: I never underestimate Michael Bay. Don’t underestimate him.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.