Aiming high: Mark Wahlberg says 'Broken City' director, co-star take film to next level

Mark Wahlberg stars as private investigator Billy Taggart, who risks everything as he tries to uncover big city corruption in "Broken City."

Photo by Photo: Barry Wetcher SMPSP, TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

Mark Wahlberg stars as private investigator Billy Taggart, who risks everything as he tries to uncover big city corruption in "Broken City."

HOLLYWOOD — Mark Wahlberg arrives on time for an 11 a.m. interview but he already has packed in a full day. He's gotten his children ready and taken them to school. He's had a business breakfast at a Beverly Hills hotel. He's returned home to make sure he locked a door. And he's driven across town during rush hour, arriving early to talk about his upcoming movie "Broken City."

Like so many people on this dark December day, and especially as a parent, his thoughts are on the Connecticut school massacre that has been on the news all morning.

"I don't want to send my kids to school ever again," he says, articulating a fear that many in the room can relate to.

Violence plays a big part of Wahlberg's life. His movie life, that is. Wahlberg is a rapper turned Hollywood action star, and many of his movies are full of gunplay. From Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" to Antoine Fuqua's "Shooter" to his upcoming "Two Guns" opposite Denzel Washington, bullets and brutality are a constant mix.

In "Broken City," out today, he plays an ex-cop turned private detective who is recruited by the popular and powerful New York City mayor (played by Russell Crowe) to spy on his wife, whom he suspects is cheating on him. As Wahlberg's Billy starts his investigation, he comes to realize there's much more to this case than a cheating spouse (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones). That's when the war between Billy and the mighty mayor begins. Allen Hughes directs the crime drama. He previously helmed the urban dramas "Menace II Society" and "Dead Presidents." and 2010's "Book of Eli" with his twin brother Albert.

Q: You and Allen Hughes seem like natural collaborators. Why did it take so long for you two to work together?

Wahlberg: I actually reached out to him after I saw "Menace II Society." I saw it at Times Square with a really rowdy crowd. You know, like people were smoking pot. You won't have too many more of those experiences in theaters like that — although I did have that at the premiere of "Ted" in Amsterdam. I can't do that anymore. I would liked to have been there 10 years ago, before I had kids.

Q: Did you discuss something specific with him at that time?

Wahlberg: No. I just expressed how big of a fan of his I was. I was really just kind of starting my acting career then. We would run into each other on a couple of different occasions and talk. When this came up, we were both at (the William Morris Agency), and I was aware of the (Brian Tucker) script but I hadn't read it. Allen read it and called me and said, "I just keep seeing your face when I read this. Take a look at it." So I read it. We met up and I said, "I'd love to do it. Let's figure out a way to do it kind of on our own so we can have control."

Q: Was this film already on your radar as a producer?

Wahlberg: The script was so good that it really just attracted all the talent that's involved in the project, both in front of and behind the camera. Russell (Crowe) read it and responded right away. It's funny because everybody who read the script that we were interested in loved the character of (the private investigator) Billy, but when I read it, I wanted to be the mayor. Obviously, I was too young and some of them were too old to play Billy but Russell read it and responded right away. The same thing with Catherine (Zeta-Jones), Jeffrey (Wright), Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler and everybody else.

Q: How does Billy compare to other cop characters you've played before?

Wahlberg: My character in "The Departed" had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This character is faced with a whole different choice and challenges, and I just found it really interesting because I could understand what he did in the beginning of the movie and why he did it. It was just a horrible miscarriage of justice and the system really failed in this case.

Q: This movie is set present day but from watching the trailer, it seems like it has a noir feel to it. Is that something you and Allen talked about?

Wahlberg: Yeah. That was something he was really interested in doing from the very beginning, which I was certainly on board with.

Q: Since the issue of gun violence is a hot topic, what can you say about the violence in this movie?

Wahlberg: Aside from the first scene with guns where you initially don't understand exactly what happened or why it happened and then you realize that I'm basically trying to right a wrong in a huge miscarriage of justice, I'm defending myself from attackers. I've being working on Staten Island as a private investigator, investigating this guy who is having an affair. I'm taking pictures of them in the window and this neighbor attacks me with a (baseball) bat. In another scene, I'm about to be attacked by a raging lunatic who also happens to be a giant so all I want to do is make the fight a little more fair.

Q: Do you use a gun?

Wahlberg: Yeah, but it's a little 38 (caliber). It originally was written that I open the trunk and get a tire iron. All I could think of was Garrett Hedlund in "Four Brothers" walking around with this tire iron in this park in Toronto. He kept playing with dirty condoms. I'm like "Dude, stop."

Q: What was it like working with Russell Crowe?

Wahlberg: It was funny because we were shooting for five weeks before Russell came in and everybody was like, "What is he going to be like?" and we had such a great energy and atmosphere on the set. He just showed up and he had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. I mean, monologue after monologue and he just showed up and walked in the room and Allen said, "Do you guys want to rehearse?" He looked at me and I looked at him and I said, "Let's do this (expletive)."

Q: You guys really go at it in this.

Wahlberg: We had the ability to because of the way it was written to just go at each other. But we were trying to outdo each other as characters but not as actors or individuals. It made for some really great duels, but for the service of the movie and not necessarily for each other, or the individual. He is a consummate pro who came in and just nailed it. It was nice to see somebody who is just as prepared as yourself. It's like, "Well some people still do care. They take this seriously." I just had the same experience working with Denzel (on "2 Guns"). It was like working with the best. It really gives you an opportunity to show what you can do. These guys always elevate your game anyway. Every project I go in, it's never for the lack of effort. It's just sometimes they turn out good and sometimes they don't.

Q: You're going to be in Michael Bay's "Transformers 4." What can you say about it?

Wahlberg: Just that I had a great experience working with Michael (Bay in the action comedy "Pain & Gain"). We really hit it off and we complimented each other so well on the set. We made something that was really good and special. So he goes, "What do you think about doing this 'Transformers' movie?" I said, "Well, what do you want me to do?" And he told me, and I said, "Absolutely."

Q: Are you nervous about entering this popular franchise?

Wahlberg: I think it will be the most challenging role that I've played and it's an opportunity for me to do something extremely different. It's going to be very different from what the first ones were. I'm excited about it. When I talked to (producer) Steven Spielberg and Michael and said, "Don't worry guys, this is not me taking a paycheck and running with it. This is me trying to do something different."

Q: Are your kids excited about it?

Wahlberg: It's the first time they've ever been excited about me going off to do a movie, and they demand to be in it.

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