No offense, Transformers, but Mark Wahlberg is on the hunt for a signature action franchise to call his own.
That search led the star to Mile 22, his latest collaboration with helmer Peter Berg. “It would be nice to have,” says Wahlberg, who also has Wonderland — another possible franchise-worthy project — set up with the director. “Finding something of my own that I’m passionate about and can rev up and deliver is of great interest. I’ve played some memorable characters during my career, but something you can continue to come back to, I haven’t done that.”
Mile 22 wasn’t originally that: It was first eyed as a smaller movie built around The Raid‘s Iko Uwais and WWE star Ronda Rousey (who now play supporting characters), but the studio wanted to go bigger — and it doesn’t get much bigger than the Ted actor.
“I wasn’t going to direct this, Mark wasn’t going to act in this,” Berg tells EW. But that changed when STX, the studio behind the film, wanted to go from a “low budget fight movie” to a potential franchise. “I really hadn’t thought about it and I talked to Mark about it,” continued Berg. “It kind of checked that box of not being another true story. He had a slot open and there’s no one I want to work with more. I was kind of hooked on the story, which I was involved in creating. The goal was originally Iko. Mark had seen The Raid, so he knew of Iko and he was into the idea of it too. We both liked having this action franchise in theory, having Iko, and not having to tell a true story.”
Being free of the weight and pressure of another true story was important to both collaborators, but especially Berg. While Wahlberg would go his separate way and mix it up in Daddy’s Home or Ted 2, Berg had no such break. His last three movies — Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day — all starred Wahlberg and focused on tragic events.
“I needed to take a film off,” admits Berg. “In Lone Survivor, there were 19 SEALs killed. The Deepwater rig, there were 11 men killed. The marathon, there were four people killed. It’s intense making these kinds of films. We love it and really fed off of that, the relationships that we’ve gotten to make with the family members and the colleagues and the peers of these people who have lost their lives way too young. But, at a certain point, we looked at each other like, ‘Maybe we should just make up a story and have a little fun.’ Our idea of fun might be a little different than your idea of fun, because this was actually fun to make. It’s a pretty violent movie. To make a violent action film, but to not have to be held accountable by people who went through it, was something that we both felt like we were interested in exploring.”
When the pair decided that Mile 22 was their kind of fun, the film became something different. Wahlberg’s character, James Silva, had been a smaller role in the original version, a mentor figure who is revealed as a villain in the third act. The opportunity to go against type and play the antagonist for the first time in more then two decades appealed to the actor. “Yeah, much more so, because I hadn’t done it in such a long time, I don’t think since Fear,” he says, referencing the 1996 thriller. “Quite a bit, I play guys that exist in the gray area.”
But it’s rare to have an action franchise built around a villain, so conventional movie star wisdom won out and Silva became the film’s protagonist, the head of a covert government team (which includes Rousey) tasked with bringing a key asset (Uwais) — you guessed it — 22 miles to safety.
“[Silva] reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive,” shares Wahlberg. “He didn’t give a s—. This is what I got to do. Everybody else, figure it out. Even though, Silva was very opinionated and much more vocal than Tommy Lee Jones’ character, but I liked that idea a lot.”
Now Wahlberg waits to see if — like Jones — he can bring character back for more.
Mile 22, which also stars Lauren Cohan and John Malkovich, runs into theaters on Friday.