Mark Wahlberg on making worst ever US oil spill into Hollywood blockbuster

Deepwater Horizon is the second film based on a real tragedy by the director-actor duo of Peter Berg and Wahlberg. A third, about the Boston Marathon bombings, is set for release later this year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 10:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 11:49am

Marketing efforts may make Deepwater Horizon look like a white-knuckle disaster drama, but what audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival found was an incredibly moving drama about 11 men who lost their lives when the 2010 oil rig blowout turned into the worst oil spill in US history.

“We wanted to make the entire movie to honour the 11 that lost their lives,” says Mark Wahlberg.

Co-star Kate Hudson found watching Deepwater Horizon to be one of “those few moments in my career when I’ve been able to completely lose myself in a movie that I’m in. I just was a mess at the end of this movie,” she says.

The film is based on The New York Times article “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours”, and received a standing ovation after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.

But it was no cakewalk getting the fallen’s families on board, despite the fact that Wahlberg and director Peter Berg had recently collaborated on another drama based on real-life events, Lone Survivor.

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“When Pete and I reached out to the families we were getting resistance at first, and we didn’t understand,” says Wahlberg, who plays Transocean chief electronics technician Mike Williams, the last man to leave the rig. “I’ve done Lone Survivor, I’ve done many true stories. We figured our reputation would have been enough to at least get us to be able to sit down [with them].”

Wahlberg, speaking during a short break from shooting Transformers: The Last Knight, says the families were afraid those who died would be blamed, again, for the devastating environmental consequences of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Once Berg and Wahlberg explained their intentions to highlight efforts made by those to save the rig, “we had their complete support,” he says. (The film also looks into safety measures cut by BP, the company leasing the rig, to speed up production.)

Support is also coming from critics. The Hollywood Reporter says Wahlberg and Berg “deliver the goods again” with their newest collaboration. “There may have been the temptation to give the story a Hollywood sheen, but Berg has found a way to get blockbuster effects while sacrificing none of the realism,” wrote Collider.com. And while Variety criticised the film for failing to engage enough with the environmental disaster that followed, the publication called the film itself “remarkably thrilling.”

Will it make it into awards season?

“Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg previously teamed up on another movie [2013’s Lone Survivor] that they hoped would be an awards movie, and instead it ended up being a very successful commercial movie that got a couple of nominations in below-the line-categories,” says Scott Feinberg, awards columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. “I actually think that is very likely to be the case again with [Deepwater Horizon].”

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A second 2016 Berg/Wahlberg collaboration, Patriots Day, about the Boston Marathon bombing, waits in the wings (with an awards-friendly US release date of December 21).

Wahlberg even brought a trailer of Patriots Day to Toronto with him, debuting it while speaking during a Deepwater Horizon event at the fest. “That’s not coincidental,” says Feinberg.

For Hudson, who plays Wahlberg’s wife waiting on the US mainland as the rig burns, making the movie was a family affair. Stepdad Kurt Russell stars as Jimmy Harrell, who ran the rig for Transocean.

“It’s the first time [our] names are on the same poster,” she says. “But the experience for us was really cool because [the shoot occurred during] summertime and we could have all the kids down there. My brother was working down there. Everybody was working in New Orleans.”

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Hudson adds: “The biggest thing for me was it reminded me what it was like as a little girl, going to set and spending consecutive days with my dad on movie sets, where I fell in love with making movies. It was cool.”

Deepwater Horizon opens on September 29