This past February, I got to visit the set of Mile 22 (read my set visit report here!). During my trip, I was lucky enough to sit down with director Peter Berg as well as stars Ronda Rousey and Mark Wahlberg to discuss the film.
RONDA ROUSEY struts into a steak restaurant wearing full combat gear and looking every bit as tough as I had imagined.
BMD: Who is your character?
RR: I play Sam Snow. She's the tactical shooting badass of the team. She's a lot more skilled at tactical gun stuff and not so much with hand-to-hand fighting, like I would be known for. It's cool to not be leaning on my strengths so much.
BMD: What are the biggest acting challenges for you?
RR: My whole life I've always been taught to never show pain at all. It could affect the referees, so for someone who's always had to suppress it, it was a challenge for me to actually go out and show pain. Whether people like it or not, it was very therapeutic for me to actually be able to express myself in a way that I've never been allowed to.
BMD: Was this a role you fought for or did Peter Berg come to you with the part?
RR: It's funny, I didn't know how movies got made until this one. It's an interesting story how this all happened. I think Pete [Berg} was doing some sort of martial arts movie, where he was helping somebody out and he wanted to make a real modern martial arts film. So he was going to produce something with me and Iko Uwais. It started with a whole different script. It didn't really work out. Then the script started from scratch for Mile 22. It originally was me and Iko and I had to help him move twenty-two miles. It was kind of like The Raid, where they had to fight through one big building. We had to fight from one mile to the last. Then Mark [Wahlberg] became interested in the role of Silva, which was originally my mentor who betrayed me and we had a big showdown. But once a big star like Mark signed on, Pete decided he wanted to direct and he rewrote the whole thing. It's a completely different movie then it was when we originally put it together. The only similarity now is the title.
So Pete rewrote the entire script so [it wouldn’t be] pigeonholed as a martial arts movie, so [it would be] commercially viable for any audience. But I didn't hear anything about the movie for years. So I thought Mile 22 was never going to happen. Two or three years ago I gave up on it and then a few months [earlier], I got a call that Mile 22 was happening. So I read the script and I thought it was awesome and I love Sam Snow. It was really interesting to see what it started as on the page and how different it became when we got here to film. Pete pretty much rips up the script, as soon as you walk in. His directing style is so perfect for me, in that I feel like I'm actually talking and not remembering things. He's really good at keeping you in the moment and playing to everybody's strengths. Pete told me a movie gets written three times: when it's written, when it's shot and when it's edited. So this is my first time getting to see a movie get made from the very beginning. It's become a great learning experience.
BMD: What's Peter Berg's method of directing?
RR: Everyone has their different styles, but for me he's the best director I've ever worked with. And I'm not hating on anybody else. He's been an actor before, so he understands what we need. He helps me through every scene and gives me the freedom to say things in my own words. But if he wants something in an exact phrase, he can shout it at me. So he gives me a lot of detail and direction. Instead of ‘That wasn't so good, let's do it again’, he'll give me the exact details of what he wants. As someone who's been coached all their life, that's what I need: coaching and direction. Tell me what you want and I'll do it, but it's hard to guess. Pete takes all the guesswork out of it. He's really been a great mentor and guide throughout this whole process.
BMD: Is there an intensity to Peter Berg as a director?
RR: He's passionate, but my definition of intense may be different than other people's. He's just completely in the moment and really excited about what we're all doing. That excitement is contagious. He also has a way, when people are nervous or wound up, of making everybody laugh and just loosening us up. Sometimes, just to break us out of the way of saying something, he'll be like, ‘Say it like you're Canadian, say it like you're a pirate, say it like you're a goat, say it like you're trapped under a rock.’ He breaks you out of your own habits and brings the best out of you.
BMD: You mentioned Mile 22 being the first in a series. Have you had any discussions about what the further adventures of Sam Snow look like?
RR: You know, I've pitched plenty so we'll see what happens.
BMD: What's your pitch?
RR: My pitch... I don't want to give anything away… but it involves goats.
Next up is PETER BERG, who was admittedly very self-satisfied and allowed me to conduct this interview in the street after he'd orchestrated two very large explosions.
BMD: What were you actually blowing up just then?
PB: A jeep.
BMD: Are you happy with the explosion?
BMD: What's the debris made of we're walking on?
PB: Probably very toxic stuff.
BMD: Let's hear us about Colombia. Why did you choose Colombia?
PB: Never filmed here before, very under-filmed city, Bogota. Every location is new and fresh.
BMD: And, how was the experience of having-
BMD: Fantastic? Did you like...
PB: Do I look happy?
BMD: How did the script change when Mark got involved?
PB: More commas.
BMD: He likes commas?
PB: Everyone likes commas.
BMD: You've done action movies before, but you're really incorporating the martial arts element into this one. What's that like, and how is filming that different?
PB: Great. A lot of this was inspired when I saw The Raid. Big fan of Iko's and what Gareth Evans did there. And, I wanted to play around with Iko and his unique style of fighting. I really do think he's the heir apparent to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee and Jet Lee; he's up there.
BMD: This is your fourth film with Mark. What is your sort of rapport, like, do you guys just communicate silently?
BMD: Do you have any references for the types of films that you're trying to give a feel for? Or is this gonna be something new that you're trying to do?
PB: Trying to pitch something new.
BMD: Ronda Rousey said that this is challenging her in new ways. Are you trying to push the actors out of their comfort zones and make them do new things?
PB: No more than usual. I'm trying to get good performances. Trying. She's doing very well.
BMD: Is it fair to say that in this movie you're using drones more and trying to reinvent how they're used in action movies?
PB: Yes. Drones work well. We're using them a lot.
BMD: Do you have a...
PB: They're not as loud as helicopters.
BMD: Would you say that you're having more fun with this kind of action?
PB: Yes. There's a certain type of pressure that we don't experience making something up. So yeah, I'd say maybe a bit more fun. Different kind of fun.
And finally we got to chat with Mark Wahlberg:
BMD: What was it about Mile 22 that grabbed you?
MW: You know, it's one of those things where Pete and I were shooting another movie and he started talking to me about it. This was years ago. He started talking to me about playing this particular role. It was going to be kind of a smaller role in the film, then it turned into the lead. I think for both of us the idea was to get away from the true stories and just have some fun. Do something that's character-driven and really smart, but also be able to have some fun.
BMD: You've been quoted as saying this could be a signature role for you?
MW: Yeah. You know, it's a very unapologetic, in-your-face guy, who likes to talk. It's not a brooding antihero without much to say. We always kind of looked at him like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. He's a guy who plays by his own rules and doesn't really answer to anybody. And it was just a lot of fun to play the part. The writing was kind of smart and cool and Pete and I love to improvise and play around as well.
BMD: One of the exciting elements of the movie is Iko Uwais. What does he bring to it?
MW: Obviously Iko is amazing at fighting. On set, we got to see him kill someone with a seatbelt.
BMD: Were you familiar with him from The Raid?
MW: Oh yeah. I had seen The Raid films. And had been talking to him quite a bit, because Pete and I kept saying we were doing this. Pete's kind of a tough guy to nail down, you know? Once he's locked in on something, then he's in. But, you know, he'll say he's going to do it, but... So Iko was kind of eagerly waiting for the opportunity for us to make this movie. And he's fantastic. He was speaking another language and doing all that stuff, and he did a great job.
BMD: You and Peter are obviously a very effective actor-director double-act. What do you think makes him such a skilled action director?
MW: I think it's because he tries to make it very real. You know? He's always trying to make it real. And he's got a great eye and he can shoot the shit out of it.
BMD: He talked about the drones you guys are using for Mile 22. Is this the most ambitious one you guys have done together?
MW: I would say so. Look, there are two other parts to the story that we want to tell. And yes, in the size and the scope, it's ambitious. And shooting it in 40-some odd days, for the budget that we did... That's the other thing that I love about Pete: he's so fast and knows exactly what he wants. I think it's going to be very, very cool.
BMD: You mentioned that there are potentially two more films you could make with this character. Why does this feel like a franchise to you and Peter?
MW: I just think the actual story, the challenge that we face with this particular team, and how this movie ends, it just sets it up for a great... There are two other really cool pieces to this story that I think people are going to want to see. But in this kind of thing you never know. People have got to really love this movie to want to see another one.