Mark Walberg talks about getting behind the badge yet again for his latest role

Oscar Watch 2008 Interview #2: Actor Mark Walberg

We Own the Night just might come Oscar time. It's the first film to establish a solid ensemble cast this season. Every single performer gives it their all in this exhilarating crime drama. Mark Walberg plays Joseph Gursinsky, a New York City police officer in charge of taking down the Russian Mobsters who have set up shop in his brother's nightclub. Walberg plays the cop with a calm demeanor, escalating the stakes at hand. After having a hit taken out on him and his family, his brother (played by Joaquin Phoenix) must step in and join the police force to bring the Russian drug lords to justice.

We recently met up with Mark Walberg to discuss his new film and career in general, as well as his chances at this year's Oscar ceremony. Here is what the actor had to say for himself:

Mark Walberg: Who was just in here? Joaquin?

He Joaquin'd us! He said some rotten things about you, too.

Mark Walberg: Oh, God! That's all right. In the other room, I just ripped into him too.

He described working with you, and was surprised how you could just walk in and know everything. You were totally in character, you knew everybody's lines. He was really impressed with that.

Mark Walberg: Well, I just come to work prepared. I like to dive in, especially working with a guy like James Gray, who is very specific in what he is looking for. You could just ask him for a line reading, and it saves everybody a lot of time. And Joaquin comes in, he's all, "Ugh, I don't like this." And he would smoke twenty cigarettes at eight o'clock in the morning. I'm like, "Come on, man. Lets just do it." And he whines, "No, your parts good. Mine's not." But everybody has got his or her own process. I just know that James is so specific. I try to come in as prepared as possible. I want to be ready to do what he wants me to do.

You've played a lot of cops recently. Have you gained any insight into the process?

Mark Walberg: Yeah, I know a lot about cops. I have since I was a kid. I appreciate them more, now. Like every other crook, I hated the cops when I was doing wrong. Now I appreciate them and I pray for them.

Do you ever spend time working with them when you come onto something like this?

Mark Walberg: Yeah, I do.

What is the most surprising thing you've learned about them?

Mark Walberg: How committed they are to helping people. How selfless they are. The ones that are doing the right thing. It's a very heroic thing that they do.

Have you had much of a run-in with cops that are doing the wrong thing?

Mark Walberg: When I was younger, yeah. Oh, yeah. The guys I grew up with, who were doing the same things I was doing but didn't get caught, and didn't have a record, where able to go on and become cops. It's pretty bizarre. Yeah.

You talked about Joaquin's style of working. What about Robert Duvall?

Mark Walberg: Well, Duval is one of the best, obviously. He is certainly one of my favorites. He reminds me of my dad. His process is similar to mine. You go in, and you try to make it real. But it really was a dream come true, working with Robert Duvall.

Did you get an opportunity to talk with him about his previous work?

Mark Walberg: We talked about a lot of stuff. We talked about The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. I was more interested in his experience on "The Apostle". Which I though was one of his best performances. Obviously, he did a wonderful job of directing that. But he tends to shift the conversation in the direction of Westerns and food. He likes to talk about food a lot. If you mention a good brisket, he'll stay on that subject for quite a while.

He didn't get you tangoing, did he?

Mark Walberg: No, but he knew that I tangoed before in the Jonathan Demme movie. And he knew of my background as a musician. But we instantly connected. We had dinner at my house with him and his wife. I was sad that I didn't get a chance to say, "Hi!" To him at the Emmys. After Entourage lost, I had to run out. I ran to the airport and got on a plane, because I was working the next morning.

Do you think you'll try directing in the future?

Mark Walberg: It's something I want to try. I will definitely take a crack at it. I want to wait until I find the right piece of material. Certainly, working with all of these great filmmakers lately doesn't hurt.

Were you ever surprised at the success of Entourage?

Mark Walberg: No, I always thought it was going to be special. It just took a while to convince everybody else. It's definitely a marathon. Gradually, we are getting there.

is it still based on your experiences?

Mark Walberg: No! The writers are off doing their own thing. There are some instances where some crazy thing happens to me, or some of my friends, that gets in there. But for the most part they are just trying to come up with interesting stuff to show.

Do you think you'll break into directing by doing an episode or two of the show?

Mark Walberg: I've thought about it. But I don't necessarily think I need to do that for the experience. I'm getting enough experience working with all of these great directors that I have been blessed to work with. It's really a matter of finding the right material. And then just going from there.

Do any of the scenes you film come back to haunt you?

Mark Walberg: You know what is weird? I had a nightmare that me and M. Night Shyamalan got into a fight on the set of The Happening. But, no. I kind of let it go. That long ride home after a day of work is my time to reflect on the day. But then, the last thing I do before I go to bed is try and say my prayers. So I go to bed with a lot of positive thoughts in my head.

Do you sing the kids lullabies when you put them to bed?

Mark Walberg: I do if I get home in time. I've been on location for three weeks. They are in Philadelphia, and I've been home for three weekends since then. I can't wait to finish working. This movie will be out soon, and then I don't have any other commitments until after the first of the year.

When you were promoting Shooter, you said that you were interested in doing more films that your kids could see. Do you have anything in the works that is more family oriented?

Mark Walberg: No. There's nothing set in stone. I'm glad that I was able to make a movie like Invincible, and even this movie. Probably after they are thirteen, they'll be able to see those. I don't know about The Happening, there is some really scary stuff in that. I definitely want to be more cautious about the stuff I choose to do.

When you are on location, are you able to bring your family with you and spend time with them?

Mark Walberg: Yeah, they were in Philadelphia for three weeks, for The Happening. But it was different, because they were there for the first half of the shoot. That was very difficult, because I am trying to prepare. I spend two or three hours a night reading the script out loud. I go from page one to the final page. That took a little bit of getting used to. But it was still nice knowing that once I got home, they would be there.

Did you ever imagine you'd be the family man you are now?

Mark Walberg: You know, I was having too much fun to think about being the family man. But this whole other thing, this is what life is about. I came home last night at about 2:30 in the morning. We finished shooting pretty late last night in Philly, and then I jumped right on the plane. I sat there for forty-five minutes watching my daughter sleep. And then I woke my son up early this morning. There is nothing better than that.

What did you think about all of the Oscar attention you received earlier this year?

Mark Walberg: It was fun. It got a little tedious towards the end. You put the suit on again, and again. Your feet start hurting. You are going to this thing, to that thing. But it was nice. Just to see how proud my parents were. I'd never been to one of those ceremonies. And it was nice seeing Marty win, or course. That was great. I got a lot of nice gifts. Jack sent me a beautiful bottle of champagne and a letter congratulating me. As well as Matt and the guys. It was really nice. I wasn't expecting it, that's for sure. Being with that kind of cast, and being in that type of movie. It took me by surprise.

You are in the Academy, right? You vote?

Mark Walberg: I was for a few years, actually. I never voted for myself until I was nominated.

Do you get the sense that We Own the Night could be nominated for a couple of Academy Awards?

Mark Walberg: You never know. I am extremely proud of the movie. I think that director James Gray is, in the future, going to be one of the great filmmakers out there. So, who knows? We'll see what happens.

You have gotten intensely spiritual over the last few years, especially with Catholicism. Was there an instance in your life that made you become more spiritual?

Mark Walberg: Just growing up that way. I was raised in and around the church. You know? I got to a certain age, and I was roaming around doing my own thing. I started to get into trouble. You know? If I wanted to be happy, and be healthy, and stay positive, I needed to refocus my spirituality and my own faith.

Do you read a lot of your own reviews?

Mark Walberg: The good ones are easier to read than the bad ones. I don't set out to find all of the reviews. I'm not on the internet. Every once in a while, someone will put them in front of me. They will send me a sheet where it has the pros and cons. It's all good.

Do you remember reading your first review?

Mark Walberg: Yeah, it was a review of Renaissance Man. It had gotten a really good review. It was in the New York Times. It said that I had an interesting screen presence. Then, when Fear came out, they compared me to John Garfield and Robert Ryan, which I thought was cool.

How do you manage to have a normal life?

Mark Walberg: Well, it gets a little crazy when I am on location. It's just all about family. I'm able to take my kids out, and people don't bother me. Thank God. I am not a target of the paparazzi. It is a very simple life, and I am enjoying it.

Do you get more enjoyment out of doing a supporting role, like this?

Mark Walberg: Yeah, I just wanted to play interesting parts and work with good people. I don't care if it is a big part or a small part. It was great with The Yards. And especially We Own the Night, because I only had to come in for five weeks. My son had just been born. I waited for two weeks until he was settled at home, and then I just jumped right into this. I left the day I finished and then went up to Canada to start Shooter. It was great for that. I was on Shooter for eighty-some shooting days. That was tough. Every day was a long day.

What sort of challenges do you face when you are also the producer on something like We Own the Night, as well as an actor in it?

Mark Walberg: Not much. We had to get the money. It was great that we were able to do it for the budget that we did. When it was at Warner Brothers, they were looking at it as a fifty or sixty million-dollar movie. This was a labor of love for everybody involved. It was just a matter of getting it together. James, the director, had lived with this piece of material for eight years, so he was really prepared. He was able to get the camera in place and role.

You were talking about taking a break earlier. And that you timed it really well. Do you think a strike is going to happen?

Mark Walberg: I don't know. I just hope that everybody is treated fairly. And that some of the actors who are not able to make the big paychecks are getting to share in some of the profits. The studios are making a lot of money.

We Own the Night opens October 12th, 2007.

Cinemark Movie Club
B. Alan Orange