Good Joe Bell (which premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival) is Reinaldo Marcus Green’s followup to his fantastic 2018 debut feature length film, Monsters and Men. The thing the two films have in common is neither has that big cathartic moment, because in reality that sometimes never does come. Though, he does admit he’s tempted. GOing as far to have those scenes filmed, but resisting putting those in the final cut. And what he does here with Mark Wahlberg as the title character is pretty remarkable.
It’s an unusual pairing, which doesn’t seem lost on Green. His last film was inspired by the death of Eric Garner, and now he’s directing Wahlberg, an actor who has made four Peter Berg movies over the last seven years. But, as it turns out, it’s a pretty great pairing – with Wahlberg, in a true story about a father trying to raise awareness about bullying after his gay son commits suicide, giving maybe his best performance to date. But it’s Wahlberg who sought out Green, and Green tells us how that all went down. Also, he gives us an update on his next film,King Richard, which has Will Smith playing Richard Williams the father of Venus and Serena.
Mark Wahlberg is also a producer on this film. Did he hire you? How did that work?
So we were living in Italy and I had to fly from Italy to Boston to meet him. So I flew, I touched down, I had the meeting, and I flew back. And I didn’t know that that was the hiring process. But I met him and I sat down with Mark and we had an hour-long conversation. He had another day left on a movie with Pete Berg that he was shooting in Boston…
That could be any timeline over the last eight years, that he was finishing up a movie with Pete Berg.
[Laughs] I know. Whatever the last one he was doing in Boston.
I think that was Spencer Confidential?
That’s the one. And look, we hit it off. And by the end of it, Mark told his assistant, who was sitting far in the back somewhere, “Give him my number.” And I was like, “Wait, am I supposed to call Mark?” And then I remember just being pretty happy flying all the way back to Italy and thinking, “I might’ve just gotten this job, but what does that mean, and when do we start?” But that was the process. And then at that point, we started pretty much FaceTiming every day, talking about the script and what we wanted to do.
It’s fascinating that you two have come together on this. I kept thinking that while watching it. Did he just want to do something different?
Well, when I saw that he was attached, I thought it was a really interesting choice. I loved Mark as an actor and always thought that he was great in a lot of things that he’s done. He’s been able to be a crossover actor in many ways. And so I was fascinated already by the idea, and excited by it. And of course part of meeting Mark, as much as I was being interviewed and trying to get a job, was trying to see, is this real? Is he going to give the time and the passion towards this project? And I guess what I respected most about it is that we just talked about it like a film, making a great film. His work ethic is unbelievable. I had never seen that before. And it’s not that other people don’t work. I had just never had that much access to someone who works that hard.
It’s weird because he’s your boss, too, and you’re directing him. I mean, if he’s not happy…with Deepwater Horizon J.C. Chandor changed into Pete Berg pretty quickly. That would be in the back of my mind.
And I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s where we come from. I never felt that with Mark. I grew up with guys like Mark and he makes you feel that way instantaneously. And so I think, yeah, absolutely. It was sort of in the back of my mind, like, I hope I could give Mark the platform to give the best performance of his career. I mean, that’s every director’s dream, right?
Right, but you might have done that.
And maybe he looked at me like, “Wait, this guy actually thinks he can do that.” I don’t know. Sometimes you’re giving off that energy, too. It is a really complicated role. It’s not easy. It doesn’t give you easy answers. Mark is tough, but he’s loving, and he’s got that vulnerability. I’m sure you’ve seen The Last Dance, but it’s like Michael Jordan was willing to take the shot, whether he missed it or not. He just wanted the ball. I just want the ball and I’m willing to take that shot.
This movie resists the big moment. Which is fitting since it’s about a father searching for something he never quite finds.
And maybe it’s my style. It’s my preference of how I like to see it. But yeah, we knew that, right? It is a true story, right? You put Mark in that role, a lot of people want to see Mark with his shirt off. There’s no room for that in this film. This is not what that movie’s about and I didn’t want to distract. Mark is someone that’s supposed to be the Joe Bells of the world, right? But then you’re seeing something that you’ve never seen of him before, right? So we’re constantly, I think, trying to subvert all of those expectations and surprise people as well.
And then, in the end, it’s this tragic tale anyway. But you’re waiting for that release and it doesn’t come. The big stirring moment…
And I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you we didn’t have it on the hard drive. I think it’s the scenes you shoot, and you realize that that’s not true to the story. It’s the scene that you have, and you realize that we can’t let Joe off the hook here. It’s important not to. That’s essentially what the movie’s about, right? But we have that scene. We have that release. In Monsters and Men I had that release, too, and I had to resist strongly not putting it in because I thought it would do the movie a disservice. And those are difficult decisions to make. It’s like, do you want to see him have that? And we’re conditioned sometimes to want that, and it’s really hard to not.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say Reid Miller’s amazing in this movie, too. I mean, my goodness.
A star is born. It’s rare you find someone that possesses the qualities of an actor of his age. But, also, he possessed the outward strength that Jadin had, but also the deep vulnerability that he needed to get to in the film. He just had so many elements that worked in his favor. And look, he’s such a sensitive kid and he’s a sweet young man. You can tell he was going through things of his own, as we all are, and those are the intangibles that … I can’t do that. I hopefully directed him and got a great performance, but he’s admitting things that are happening in his own life, and you feel that. And I think the camera’s capturing that.
Your next film is about Richard Williams, played by Will Smith, and his obviously very famous two daughters, Venus and Serena. Is that still on track? Is the pandemic affecting what that is going to be or when it’s coming out?
It’s back on track. So it comes out Thanksgiving 2021, and we are currently in prep and scheduled to return to shooting. So, we shot three weeks, so we have another, I think, six or seven weeks left to shoot and we start shooting at the end of October. It’s another heartbreaker. But I think it’s a really, really exciting story and one not a lot of people know. We know the Williams sisters, but we don’t know this story. And I think that’s what really excites me: is for us to really get to know the Williams family and what brought to the greatest athletes to our shore. It’s amazing. It’s a story behind two of the greatest athletes that ever walked the planet.
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