Produced by Mark Wahlberg, written by William Monahan (“The Departed”) and directed by Rupert Wyatt (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), “The Gambler” is loosely based on the 1974 James Caan movie of the same name. Literature professor and hardcore gambler Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) is on the verge of self-destruction as he has a tremendous debt that hangs over his head and he only has a week to pay back the gangsters he owes money to. With the help of his estranged mother (Jessica Lange) and a loan shark (John Goodman) with a heart of gold, he uses their money to place some risky bets that could either see him pay off all of his debts or dead in the water.
zoomdune.com had to chance to speak with Wyatt when he was in Miami promoting the movie a few weeks ago as he talked about he connected with the script, working with Wahlberg as a producer and as an actor and finding different locations in Los Angeles that have never been shot on film before.
When you read the script for the first time, I feel that a filmmaker really needs to connect to the script in order to commit to make the movie. Did the script remind you of any life choices you had to make or gambles you had to take in order to get where you are now?
Rupert Wyatt: Yes. I think that what the movie is all about…the idea of making choices in our lives and the gambles that we take, especially in this society where there is this whole notion where you either win or lose and that there is no space in between. For me to even make this movie, the film I’ve done before was very different and there was an expectation from other people to do another film like that. However, I wanted to do something different so I took the gamble to make “The Gambler.”
William Monahan’s scripts aren’t exactly known for their likable protagonists and Mark Wahlberg’s character isn’t exactly one of them. What originally drew you to the script, which features a different protagonist?
Wyatt: I never thought about practically that way until I think about Bill’s body of work. He likes exploring characters where the characters live outside of the rules a little bit and that what drew me into it. Every film I made has featured an anti-hero or someone who is trying to rage against the machine to buck the system. That was appealed to me, but Wahlberg’s character is a brutally honest character. He speaks his mind and says things that some of us will like to say, which gets him into trouble more often then not. With his classroom monologues, he is a rock star in the classroom because he challenges his students and he is articulate about a very clear idea of how he sees the world. I think what draws his students in. They want to be there to listen to him. To me, we had a really simple rule: we don’t really have to love this guy; we just had to be interested in him.
You told your location manager that you would prefer to find some places that have never shot on film in Los Angeles. How important was that for you as a filmmaker to try to find a certain location in Los Angeles that has never shot on film?
Wyatt: It’s hard to do that because L.A. has been well shot, but it was really more about finding locations that represented L.A. in a way that was not everyone’s preconceived idea of what L.A. is, which would be palm trees and Rodeo Drive or that kind of West Hollywood/Beverly Hills kind of thing. I wanted to get under the skin of L.A. and L.A. is amazing as a city because it is very diverse. It is one of those cities where you really have to spend time and explore it in order to get beneath the character of it and find out what it is really like.
Is there one key location that you enjoyed at the most?
Wyatt: There was a Y.M.C.A. building where we shot inside an empty swimming pool for the interrogation scene. I thought was an amazing building, but unfortunately, we couldn’t really shoot all of it there.
How different was it working with Mark as a producer on the film compared to working with as an actor?
Wyatt: It was really that difficult or challenging. He came to the set every day, first and foremost, as an actor. I think a lot of actors would show up on set and do their job purely for the character, which means they would come on set, do their lines/scenes and leave to go back to their trailer. Mark didn’t. He was someone who much more present around the set, but in a very collaborative sense. He likes being on set. I think it makes for a better movie because I can bring him in for certain scenes and conversations that would have been hard to do because if I am focus on a part of a scene that deal specifically with another actor, you would want to have your counterpart there in order to bounce dialogue off of them.
What have you learned from working with such great actors, such as Mark Wahlberg and John Goodman, to better yourself as a filmmaker?
Wyatt: On the practical, you got to give actors, no matter how experienced they are, the framework to work and understand how their characters fit into the movie as a whole. No matter how good they are, they will never get that. They will never understand the tone of the film, the speed of other people’s delivery, what’s going on in the scene when they weren’t on set, etc. It is your job as a director to convey that to them. I think that is what I have realized over the years when working with actors. You give them the foundation. You act as their mirror by reflecting back onto them the greater whole. If you cast right and you get great actors, you have to give them their wings to allow them to breath life into the characters.
“The Gambler” is now playing in South Florida theaters.