Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Australian article about Mark Wahlberg

This article by The Australian, talks about Mark's role in TV and film production.

HOLLYWOOD studios have largely weened themselves off the generous production deals they once had with "talent".

It became untenable to sweeten deals with actors by allowing them to produce their pet films on the studio lot.

Few actors, or even directors, could reliably provide commercial ideas for the studios. They're safer as salaried workers, no matter how high the salary. Indeed, the major Hollywood studios today are more distributors than producers, looking to offload even the risk of financing responsibilities if they can.

Many, though, would like the deal that Mark Wahlberg has. The former rapper and Calvin Klein model has fashioned a relationship with powerful US cable television channel and studio HBO that has proven extremely successful for both parties.

His company, Closest to the Hole Productions (Wahlberg is an avid and accomplished golfer), persisted in pushing the Hollywood satire Entourage to HBO. It concluded its eighth and final season last year.

His company adapted an Israeli TV series set in a psychiatrist's office as In Treatment -- in the process launching the career of Aussie Mia Wasikowska -- and has produced three successful series. Wahlberg's production company also produced the comedic drama How to Make It in America for HBO, and most recently was a co-producer on the high-profile Prohibition drama co-produced by Martin Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire.

Wahlberg has a litany of film roles to his credit, including last year's Oscar winner The Fighter and this week's release Contraband, although increasingly they seem to be merely providing the pay cheques to underwrite his producing work.

"Every film I do I put the same kind of passion and commitment and dedication into," Wahlberg says. "Hopefully all of them succeed, but producing obviously gives you a little bit more control creatively."

He says his production career has "worked itself out" due largely to his "great partnership with HBO". So many creatives try to manufacture production careers that allow them more control over their choices. But few succeed with such regularity.

It could be argued that George Clooney is another with his off-screen successes, although he scratches hard for them. And truly, Adam Sandler's continuing commercial success churning out wan comedies for Sony Pictures is inexplicable. So what's Wahlberg's secret?

"Well, we're very hands on," he says of his producing partner, Stephen Levinson. "This is not a vanity deal. We kind of get out there, roll up our sleeves and get involved in every aspect of it. And we've been fortunate to partner up with really great people both in front of and behind the camera."

Wahlberg has timed his run perfectly. His move into production coincided with a boom in American drama on cable TV, sparked largely by HBO's investment and success with series such as The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire and Sex and the City and now Luck, the new series produced by Dustin Hoffman, Hill St Blue's David Milch and Heat's Michael Mann, and later replicated by cable channels including AMC (Mad Men, Breaking Bad), FX (Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story), Starz (Spartacus, Camelot) and Showtime (Dexter, Weeds, Homeland).

Cable TV drama has not only usurped free-to-air network drama in the US, it has become a more creative sphere than feature filmmaking. "They've been doing some great stuff and now you get guys like Scorsese and Michael Mann working there, everybody's flocking there," Wahlberg says.

He suggests the secret to his TV success is "working with really talented people" and a cable network that is "not like a regular major network where it's all about the ratings and the numbers".

"Once HBO know they're starting to build a following they will support you and help you to grow the program," he says. Such persistence has built a golden age for TV drama. "Yeah, there's a lot of amazing things going on in television while a lot of film stuff seems to be pretty uninspired," Wahlberg says.

"There's a lot of franchises and superheroes and that sort of thing," he says of cinema.

"People spending big money to chase the big money. But hopefully they will be able to inspire each other and better storytelling will come out of it."

To be fair, Contraband is not the best piece of storytelling out there, although it has an energetic style. And it comes from an odd place. It is a remake, not of the Powell and Pressburger spy drama of 1940 but of one of Iceland's biggest films, Reykjavik-Rotterdam.

Contraband uses the old "one last heist" trope within the world of international shipping. Former smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is forced back into the game when his brother-in-law stuffs up his own drug run.

There follows a run from New Orleans to Panama City and back with a strong cast (including Kate Beckinsale, Lukas Haas and Giovanni Ribisi) and good action.

Wahlberg admits to looking for different things as an actor and "I try to find roles I think people would enjoy seeing me in."

"I'm definitely still being selfish in wanting to choose the kind of roles that I think will serve me and help me grow as an actor," he says.

That manifests itself in very masculine roles and characters. No one would be surprised that his next few co-stars include Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and Dwayne Johnson. There are no soft musicals on his dance card.

Indeed, with his burgeoning production and business interests, there should not even be as much acting on his dance card. He foresees slowing down on screen "at some point".

"Obviously acting is my first love, but it's very time-consuming and demands me to be away from my family for a long stretch of time," he says. "So at some point I'd like to do less acting and more producing along with my other business interests."

The business includes a hamburger restaurant with his brother and "a bunch of other businesses we're launching: beverage business, health and wellness vitamin supplements, protein powders, recovery drinks, all that stuff, restaurant business, real estate, all types of different things."

And of course, directing.

"I would love to direct," he says. "I'm just waiting for the right time and waiting for the right project."

That's an actor's standard line though. So how close? "Fairly," he adds, with little hesitation. And you have to believe him. He makes his time count.

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