Mark Wahlberg on why his home town Boston's a good fit for Spenser Confidential
Mark Wahlberg reunites with director Peter Berg for action comedy Spenser Confidential. They and other cast and production team members talk to Laura Harding, telling her the movie shows off a different side to Wahlberg's home town
IT SEEMS there is nothing Mark Wahlberg loves more than making movies about his home town of Boston. From Ted to Patriots Day to The Departed, the US city frequently plays a crucial role in his projects.
The same is particularly true for his new project Spenser Confidential, which has been a huge hit since it launched on Netflix.
"You've seen all the Irish mafia/Whitey Bulger kind of South Boston stories, but you haven't seen what Boston looks like now," the actor, who is from the Dorchester area of the city, says. "I was just excited to take part in sharing that perspective."
Spenser Confidential sees 48-year-old Wahlberg play a former Boston Police officer who has just been released from prison and is planning on leaving town before two of his former colleagues turn up murdered.
The city is different from the one he left behind when he went inside for assaulting a corrupt police captain.
It doesn't feel like a small town any more – it's become affluent and modernised. Mobile phones, laptops and even the mysterious "cloud" are commonplace, and the streets are overrun by Spenser's enemies.
Spenser teams up with his old boxing coach and mentor Henry, played by Alan Arkin, and his new roommate and MMA fighter Hawk, played by Winston Duke, to investigate the murders and attempt to clear the name of Detective Terrence Graham, who has been framed for a murder and isn't alive to defend himself.
The Spenser books (we never find out his first name) have been popular around the world. He is the most popular character created by celebrated author Robert B Parker, who died in 2010, and has been played by actors including Robert Urich and Joe Mantegna across film and television.
After her husband died, Parker's wife Joan tasked crime reporter Ace Atkins with continuing the series, and it is Atkins who wrote the best-selling novel Robert B Parker's Wonderland on which the film is based.
The movie reunites Wahlberg with his long-term collaborator, director Peter Berg, with whom he has worked on the dramas Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day and Mile 22.
"We have very similar taste in material, and we have a shared work ethic, drive and desire to always be doing something more entertaining and more exciting," Wahlberg says.
"It's nice to have someone that I trust, who provides a safety net for me to try stuff and risk looking ridiculous, because I know that I'm in good hands. Pete and I, we're like brothers."
Berg, who also created the TV version of his film Friday Night Lights, agrees.
"Getting away from the heavy pressure that comes with telling the real life stories that Mark and I have been doing for a while, and having some fun exploring the action comedy genre, has been a real pleasure," he says.
The film was entirely shot in Boston and members of the city's police and fire departments regularly visited the set, as did UFC champion Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone, who helped to co-ordinate the fights and make them feel gritty and real.
Cerrone has said he had no idea Berg was thinking about hiring him when they first met to discuss fighting. When Berg made the job offer, Cerrone hesitated because he was training for a UFC match against Mike Perry. In the end Berg accommodated Cerrone's schedule, and Cerrone managed to work on the fights while also winning the match, and his work was so effective that Bokeem Woodbine, who plays Spenser's former police partner Driscoll, was appropriately intimidated.
"When you throw punches on camera it's different than throwing them in the ring. You have to know how to miss but still make it look good, and Mark's a really, really, really hard-hitting guy. No-one wanted to hit him by mistake and have him hit them back," Woodbine says.
The same approach applied to the stunts and effects, with Berg using practical effects wherever possible, without the use of green screens or CGI.
"Doing as much as we can in camera on set brings the audience into the action with our characters, rather than allowing them to sit back and watch from afar," said executive producer John Logan Pierson.
"To us, it was about marrying that classic Boston gangster-crime genre and bringing a fresh look to a familiar city inspired by action comedies like Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run and Out Of Sight."
Adding a different element to the cast is the rapper Post Malone, who plays Spenser's fellow prison inmate Squeeb.
"Post showed up prepared and energised and blew everyone away with his performance," said Pierson.
The rapper himself said: "I've tried to act cool in front of girls, but other than that, this is the first time I've ever done any acting. It's nerve-racking but I'm having a kickass time."
:: Spenser Confidential is streaming on Netflix in the UK and Ireland now.