The dramatic thriller We Own the Night marks the second teaming of actors Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix with director James Gray. The trio worked on the 2000 crime drama The Yards and had been looking to reunite on another movie.
In We Own the Night, Wahlberg and Phoenix play brothers who take very different paths as adults. Wahlberg sticks close to their family, following his dad (played by Robert Duvall) into the police force. Phoenix, on the other hand, opts for a life on the wrong side of the law.
On Playing a Cop: Wahlberg’s done it a few times now. “I know a lot about cops but I have since I was a kid,” said Wahlberg. “It’s just, you know, it’s a tough job. I appreciate them more now. I, like every other crook, hated the f--king cops when I was doing wrong. Now I appreciate them. It’s a difficult job.”
The actor’s spent a significant amount of time with officers and has learned a lot about what makes men and women who choose that profession tick. Asked what’s the most surprising thing he’s discovered thus far, Wahlberg answered, “How committed they, the ones that are doing the right thing, how committed they are to helping people. It’s a very heroic thing that they do.”
On His Co-Star Joaquin Phoenix: Informed that Phoenix said he’s extremely impressed with the way Wahlberg goes about his business on the set, Wahlberg responded with good humor. “I just come to work prepared. I like to kind of dive in, especially working with a guy like James [Gray] who’s very specific in what he’s looking for. You can always ask him for a line reading and it’ll save everybody a lot of time. Joaquin likes to come in and, ‘Uhhh, I don’t like this…’ And, ‘Uhhh…’ And smoke 20 cigarettes at 8 o’clock in the morning. You know like, ‘Come on, man. Let’s just do it.’ He’s like, ‘Your part’s good, mine’s not.’ But everybody has their own process. I just know that James is so specific, I just come in as prepared as possible and be ready to go.”
Working with Robert Duvall: “Well Duvall is f--king one of the best, obviously. He’s certainly one of my favorites. He reminds me so much of my dad. His process is similar to mine. He comes in prepared and you go in and you try to make it real. But it really was a dream come true working with Robert Duvall.
We talked about a lot of stuff. We talked about Godfather and Apocalypse Now, but I was more interested in talking about his experience on The Apostle, which I thought was one of his best performances - and obviously a wonderful job directing it. But he tends to shift the conversation into Westerns and food. He likes to talk about food a lot, so if you mention a good brisket or something, he’ll stay on one subject for a while.”
It Takes Two to Tango: Duvall’s really into it, but he didn’t ask Wahlberg to show off his tango skills. “No, but he knew that I tangoed before in the Jonathan Demme movie, and that my background is in music. But we instantly connected. He had dinner at my house with his wife. I was sad that I didn’t get a chance to say hello to him at the Emmys. I was there but I had to run right out after Entourage lost. I ran to the airport and got on a plane. I had to be at work the next morning.”
Taking on the Job of Producing: Both Wahlberg and Phoenix did double-duty as producers on We Own the Night, but according to Wahlberg the job didn’t require a lot of extra work. “We really just had to get the money. It was great that we did it for the budget that we did. Originally when it was at Warner Bros, when we first set it up over there, they were looking at it as like a 50 or 60 million movie. And this one was a labor of love for everybody involved. It was just really a matter of getting it together. James lived with this piece of material for eight years so he was really prepared once he was able to get the camera in place and roll.”
Up Next – M Night Shyamalan’s The Happening: Wahlberg was still working on Shyamalan’s film at the time of the We Own the Night press junket. “You know, it’s a complete departure for me,” Wahlberg said of Shyamalan’s latest. “I play a science teacher. My wife, played by Zooey Deschanel, is a therapist. The movie’s really about our relationship and the conflicts that we’re having, set in this kind of horrific disaster that’s happening. But working with Night is just awesome. I’m glad that I had worked with him before I tried to branch off into directing. He brings a whole other element to the game and it’s just very impressive to see.”
In what way does Shyamalan bring something new to directing? “I haven’t really figured out the best way to explain it, but I can give you an example,” replied Wahlberg. “The first scene that we shot was a 5-page scene set in the classroom that any other director that I’ve worked with would have taken three days to shoot it, and we shot it by lunch and it’s beautiful. He just knows what he wants. It’s all thought out. I’ve never walked into a trailer and your sides are there and there’s also storyboards for the day that you’re going to be shooting. He just knows exactly what he wants. It’s been a great experience. You never know until it’s done, but it feels pretty special.”
Wahlberg revealed a little more about his character in The Happening. “I play a kind of nerdy science teacher from Philadelphia. I’m very kind of intimidated by my wife and I can’t connect outside of the classroom, you know? I’m the best teacher you’ve ever seen. I’m like one of my students. My students love me. We have this great connection. I’m extremely passionate about what I do, but I have some difficulty in other departments, being a man, certainly being the man she wants me to be. I am extremely positive and upbeat and she’s the opposite. It’s really about their relationship.”