NEW ORLEANS — Midnight approached as Mark Wahlberg plopped into a chair outside his trailer, on the set of Deepwater Horizon. Just a break between takes, re-creating the oil rig's 2010 explosion.
Covered with artificial grime, a bloody crescent latexed on his face, the actor looked and sounded beat.
"I prefer doing comedies better," said Wahlberg, who on this July 2015 night had one of those in theaters, Seth MacFarlane's Ted 2.
Not the blockbuster Wahlberg hoped, but one reason why Deepwater Horizon got produced.
"This isn't your run-of-the-mill studio kind of movie," he said. "There's no opportunity for a sequel. It's a very big risk. But you make other commercial movies to … get a little more slack to do something like this."
Wahlberg and director Peter Berg went through this routine before, with 2013's Lone Survivor, another true story of bravery and survival, set in the Afghanistan war.
"That was a very difficult movie to get made," Wahlberg said, "and if it wasn't for the success of other movies I've done it wasn't going to get made."
The actor and filmmaker share a determination to tell such stories, always respecting the lives involved and sometimes lost. Unlike many Hollywood productions, body counts truly count in their collaborations.
For Wahlberg, that means working closely with his real-life counterpart, getting details correct. U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was an obvious choice for Lone Survivor, after writing the memoir being adapted. In Deepwater Horizon, the actor plays chief electrician Mike Williams, whose 60 Minutes interview brought into focus the explosion's human toll. Williams who was hired as a technical adviser, was on the set nearly every day.
Wahlberg appreciated Williams' advice, and sensed when to back off.
"When we were making Lone Survivor, Marcus didn't want to be around when certain things were being shot," Wahlberg said. "It was just too much for him to kind of relive.
"With Mike, I always want to be respectful of that, sensitive to not making him relive certain emotional things that probably still haunts him, and will for the rest of his life."
Wahlberg's assistant interrupted with a two-minute warning. Berg's crew was ready to resume shooting the movie's fiery climax. Just one more thing:
"After we wrapped last night, Mike and I sat in that tent over there for another three hours, just talking," Wahlberg said. "He started talking about those last moments on the rig … when he finally went up to the helipad to jump off. He just opened up and, god, I was moved, obviously, quite a bit. I just gave him a hug and we sat there, drank some beer.
"Here's an ordinary guy forced to do some pretty extraordinary things. That's exciting. But he just wants to get home to his wife and daughter. Emotionally, that's something people want to root for, as well."
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been edited to show the correct year of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. It occurred on April 20, 2010.