Tag Archives: Mark Wahlberg

Interview: Mark Wahlberg of ‘Contraband’

Considering Wahlberg’s own storied past, it’s easy to imagine his playing reformed smuggler Chris Farraday in “Contraband” has a certain appeal; not to play cinema-chair psychiatrist, but Wahlberg, too, had a rough past before settling down. Now, Wahlberg’s a star and producer — one with a Golden Globe nod to his name for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” — and he also produced ‘Contraband.” We spoke with Wahlberg in New York about research, the realities of smuggling and his own past experience with undeclared goods.

MSN Movies: I want to talk about filming in Louisiana and filming on those big container ships. Your character, Chris Farraday, used to be in the life of smuggling. Now he’s out. He gets pulled back in by circumstance and plotting, which works out pretty well. That whole idea of somebody who’s found redemption; did that idea appeal to you personally?

Mark Wahlberg: Of course. I always try to find some personal connection to it. Then of course him having to fight to protect his family, and going back to a life where he probably missed it a little more than he let on with his wife. It’s exciting. He’s back with his whole gang, his whole crew. Yeah, there were a lot of things that appealed to me. The fact that he also has to be as smart as he was tough that was something that appealed to me. It wasn’t a one-note kind of thing.

There’s this great level of granular detail like where you would hide x amount of money on a ship, or how you get aboard a ship in the first place. What was the most interesting thing you learned starring in and producing this film?

The most interesting thing I learned is they only check one in every one hundred containers, and it’s just a guessing game, so imagine the amount of stuff that goes undetected. You have to have a better system.

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Interview: Ben Foster of ‘Contraband’

With his close-cropped hair and bright-burning eyes, Ben Foster has, in person, the same intensity he’s brought to roles in films from “The Messenger” to “Alpha Dog” … with, fortunately, a relaxed wit and easy smile moderating that during his press day for “Contraband.” Foster plays a friend and associate of Mark Wahlberg’s reformed smuggler, with both pulled back into the game when a local crimelord threatens Wahlberg’s brother-in-law. We spoke with Foster in New York about playing criminals, the politics of smuggling and the romance of crime.

MSN MOVIES: Do you tend to flip-flop between sides of the law depending on which film you’re on? I mean you’re very good at authority figures, like in “The Messenger,” then a film like this comes along and you really get to let out your skeevier side. Do you like to flip-flop like that?

Ben Foster: Gosh, “skeevier side?” No, it’s pretty much constant. 

I mean as an actor, not as your, uh, skeeve self.

 Foster: Oh, it depends on if you’re lucky enough to work. Every job is a blessing. Everyone has to take into account what is available. Are you paying rent, who do you get to work with? There are a lot of variables in the job. What I’m drawn to is things that I don’t completely understand maybe, and want to get a better feel for it.

 Like, perhaps the world of international smuggling?

 Foster: Yeah, that sounds great.

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David O. Russell of The Fighter: Inside Oscar

It must come under the category of “Be careful what you wish for”: You make a film that gets acclaim and Oscar nominations, and then the pundits and predictors leave your film in the dust, figuring the race is between two other films. Director David O. Russell‘s “The Fighter” got critical raves and made good money, but the Oscar drums seem to beat loudest for “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech.” Then again, considering that “The Fighter” marks the first time Russell’s been able to get a film in theaters since 2004, maybe there are other victories he’s worried about. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Russell before, and when he and I spoke by phone last week as part of his promotional tour for “The Fighter,” embodying a never-say-die spirit the real-life Micky Ward would admire, his answers were surprisingly candid. Neither of us was pulling punches.

The Rundown: So, how does it feel to be an Oscar nominee? What is it like to be inside that energy?

David O. Russell: Years ago, when I was younger, (when) we’d make a good film, you would say, “Gee, we really should be nominated,” and you’d feel almost a sense of — I’m not going to call it entitlement, but a sense of expectation. As you get older and you get humbled — you take a few knocks — you say, “Gee, never expect anything in this business. Just be glad if you’ve done something you’re really proud of,” which is the position we were in. I knew we had made a special film, and I was very proud of it. The other stuff was, “Gee, it would be nice if it happened, but do not expect it to happen; there’s a lot of good films this year.” I feel we worked hard, and I feel that we did the work that earned us a place in the competition this year. To feel that you got a fair shake and you got recognized, that’s a wonderful thing.

You had a period where a series of events meant you didn’t have a movie released between 2004 and 2010. There’s a phrase people throw around rather cruelly: “director jail.” Do you feel like “The Fighter” has at least put you on parole?

It’s done more than that. I had a friend who’s a director say I came blazing out with two Uzis firing. I came out like a prison break. I, myself, keep myself on parole in the terms of respecting where I am and being grounded and never wanting to go back to a place that isn’t focused and super-productive. Those years — I was doing a lot of writing and going through a lot of personal things — were difficult years. I’m glad they’re over. I think they made me a smarter writer and smarter filmmaker and a more grateful one. I feel that it’s affording me a lot of opportunities that I intend to respect and to try to keep doing the best work I can possibly do with the best attitude and best environment I can possibly do it. I don’t need to get burned twice.

When you hear about the “controversy” about things like Melissa Leo’s self-financed “For Your Consideration” ads, do you actually track that stuff, or do you just roll your eyes and say it’s in the hands of fate?

The latter. I can’t read this stuff, because it would make a basket case out of me. I had to stop reading the trade press a long time ago, because it will take over your mind and you won’t be able to work. It’s hard enough for me to be doing all of this wonderful campaigning, which is an opportunity for me — as tiring as it is. I want to be able to appreciate that, because you never know when it’s going to happen again. I want to make sure to be present for it, but you can’t read it all, and you have to say, “Gosh.”

You say to the studio, “Gee, she did such a fantastic performance, and let’s be sure she gets her fair shake.” She’s an actress who did her best and gave an amazing performance, and is new to this game. She’s been here before, but she’s not slick in that way. In a way, there’s a charm to it that I hope people will be able to see.

From my article at The Rundown

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David O. Russell of The Fighter on Academy Choices and Uncharted Territory

In our interview, David O. Russell also spoke with candor — and humility — about the way the Academy seemingly snubbed “The Fighter” star Mark Wahlberg, and gave some real insight into his plans for the action-adventure “Uncharted” — as well as into what he looks forward to on Oscar night and what he dreads.

The Rundown: When the Oscar nominations happened, did you and Mr. Wahlberg have a brief phone conversation where you both said, “What?” At a certain point, you have to wonder why the Academy didn’t round all the bases and include Mr. Wahlberg’s work.

David O. Russell: I called him, because he’s not a complainer. He’s never going to say that. He was congratulating all of us, being the really gracious man that he is, and the producer and the godfather of the movie. I was upset on his behalf, because we all knew — and he knew — it wasn’t a shock, because we knew the flashier role had been in Christian’s hands. He knew that from day one. He’s had the greatest actors of our time — Robert De Niro and Sean Penn — saying to me in recent weeks — last night, in the case of Sean — they think Mark’s performance is one of the finest of the year, and it’s one that didn’t get its due. I think it takes an actor’s actor to see and appreciate what Mark’s really doing there. You have to take your knocks and be happy. Again, go back to square one: You made a really good film, maybe even a great film. Square two: It’s nice to have any recognition for any of us on our team, and move from there. You can’t dwell on that stuff.

You’re working on an adaptation of the video game “Uncharted.” What are you looking forward to most about that? What one muscle are you really hoping to stretch?

I want to keep making raw characters that feel unbelievably immediate and raw in the way that we did in “The Fighter,” and I would like to try the next in a propulsive, huge action format on a huge, global canvas that is a cocktail of amazing character work, criminal activity and sick action — which to me would feel like a marriage between “The Fighter” and some huge action movie, or a marriage between — for lack of another comparison — “Goodfellas” and another huge canvas, which is something that I don’t think I’ve fully seen in that way. That’s something I would like to try. I also know that I feel very focused and dedicated to these raw characters, whatever picture I’m doing.

What are you most looking forward to about Oscar night, and what are you most dreading?

I’m most looking forward to being there with my girlfriend, my dad, my mom, my son, all being there together and sharing the experience of a very special thing which I want to appreciate every second of, because you do not know when it’s going to happen again — if it does. I’m looking forward to watching — I hope — (my actors) get recognized, because I’m so proud of them. Dreading? I think any time you’re up in a competition and you care — as much as you may tell yourself you’re just fortunate to be here and you’ve already won, because you’re part of this very select group — there’s always some small part of you that can’t help caring and wanting to come out on top. You know there’s going to be some moment when that happens to me. You’re prepared for it by having your big sandwich of gratitude around the whole thing.

From my article at The Rundown

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The Fighter (3.5/5), MSN Movies

Based on the true story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s unlikely rise to the title — at a late age, after a career full of setbacks, with the millstone of an ex-fighter crack-addict half-brother dragging him down — “The Fighter” would, at any other time of the year, be a pretty good movie. Released in the month of December, though, it is an Oscar contender — not just a film — and, as such, it can only be viewed through that distorting golden lens. Christian Bale’s work as Ward’s half-brother Dickie Eklund — life and body wasted by crack and addiction — would, in the first three quarters of the year, be a showy diversion from the man who normally plays Bruce Wayne. Mark Wahlberg’s roles as star and producer would, outside of this time, be seen as a star pushing on a passion project, and not as the kind of willful drive that must be taken seriously by the Academy.

And “The Fighter” is, in the end, pretty good — the kind of film where the accumulation of a thousand clichés becomes more welcoming than distancing; the kind of film where the stylistic directorial touches are enough to enliven the material but not enough to bend it from its predetermined course as our hero rises, against resistance, to triumph. Originally slated to be directed by Darren Aronofsky (and, bluntly, good call, Mr. “Black Swan”), “The Fighter” is directed by David O. Russell, whose films, like “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees,” may not be perfect, but are unabashedly his. And watching Russell pour his talents into the concrete container of a rags-to-riches, guts-to-glory narrative like “The Fighter” is like watching Jackson Pollock paint your living room eggshell white with a roller.

Even so, Russell makes some smart choices — like hiring HBO’s fight camera team to shoot the matches, shooting them to look not like recycled “Raging Bull,” but, rather, in a way that speaks to our collective cultural memory of how we perceive boxing in the here-and-now. Casting Amy Adams as Ward’s sweetheart also helps. Adams, freed from playing princesses and light rom-com material, shows an impressive amount of steel behind her charm and relishes the chance to get a little more immediate than her normally ethereal image.

As for Wahlberg, he’s worked with Russell before, and the director knows that Wahlberg is, at heart, a passive actor — things do not happen because of his characters on-screen, but, rather, around his characters, whether it’s running from killer plants or being chauffeured through the ’70s porn industry. (Every time Wahlberg tries to play an action hero — “Shooter,” “Max Payne,” “Planet of the Apes” — those films fail precisely because of that quality, and one would think he, or his agents, would realize it.) In “The Fighter,” Micky must choose between his venal mother (Melissa Leo) as a manager and the strung-out Dickie (Bale) as his trainer, fighting in the low-rent margins of the sport or the backing of better-funded, better-connected interests who can get him on the path to the title but refuse to work with his crazy family. It’s worth noting that the movie and Wahlberg wring two hours of film out of a real-life process of agonizing over a decision most of the audience will imagine themselves capable of having made in less than 30 seconds.

But the fights are well-shot and innovative. Wahlberg and Adams’ romance has no small amount of realism and charm. Bale’s performance is at its best not in gaunt, showy moments but in quieter arcs, like when Dickie, followed by an HBO film crew, tells everyone they’re making a movie about his comeback. We are then told that they’re actually making a documentary about crack in America. Dickie’s lies — to others, to himself — crumble in a matter of moments, and Bale makes that hurt.

“The Fighter” is at its most interesting as a comeback story about people who’ve seen too many comeback stories — Dickie, Micky, the whole family — and can’t quite wrap their heads around the gap between messy reality and the movie-fed visions that sports and cinema have fed them. Fitzgerald famously said there are no second acts in American lives, but in our age, and in “The Fighter,” there are second acts in American lives — as long as someone gets to sell tickets or take a cut. Exploring that idea more, with toughness, might have made “The Fighter” a truly Oscar-worthy film instead of merely an Oscar contender.

From my review at MSN Movies

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Christian Bale: Battling for The Fighter

As Dickie Eklund — the ex-pro-boxer turned crack addict in “The Fighter” who inspires and hinders his brother “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) in his pursuit of glory years later — Christian Bale is guaranteed Best Supporting Actor acclaim at the Oscars. Gaunt and goofy and jangling with energy, Dickie’s a scene-filling presence — which inspired me to ask Bale what it was like dealing with the real, raw, riled-up Dickie Eklund on-set. “I love the research that you get to have with it,” he said, “but I’ve never done this before, where I’ve actually had the guy standing on the set with me. That could be awful, could be great. It ended up being great for this. I liked Dickie an awful lot. When we first met, I think he was a little suspect: Who the hell was I; why should I be playing (him)? I was looking at him going, ‘Is he going to end up being a thorn in my side, or is he going to sabotage the whole thing?’ We ended up really liking each other. We sat down, had many conversations, hung out together and laughed for a little at Mark’s place, and I wish I could have that experience on every movie that I did.”

Bale explained how he also had plenty of time to train, including hopping into a ring at co-star Wahlberg’s home. “I had a good amount of training with Dickie and Micky in the ring at Mark’s place. Losing the weight was really great because it allowed me to adapt to Dickie’s fighting style, which is very different from how I would fight, given my body type, in acquiring the squirreliness he had and getting into body language — when he’s nonstop moving.”

You can, of course, train to play a boxer — but how do you train to play a crack addict? When I asked Bale how many calories he could feel himself burning playing Dickie’s twitching, tense ways, Bale broke into an agitated boxer’s stance, bobbing and weaving and punching — “the moves,” as he called them — as he gave his answer: “Lots and lots, and also, you’ve got to be fit if you really want to do the moves well; you’ve got to be fit doing the moves. But with Dickie, he never stopped moving. The guy’s just burning up calories all day long.”

But for all of the heavy themes of family and redemption and addiction in “The Fighter,” Bale noted that there’s laughter and light in the film, just as there was on the set. “I’m sure possibly there were takes that maybe David chose to not use because it was too funny,” he said. “There’s that great thing in tragedy and comedy: They do go hand in hand. It absolutely does. With Dickie, he’s got this buoyancy, this lightness, this Tigger-like kind of bounciness to him: No matter what situation he’s in, he’s kind of charming you into forgetting what it is that he’s actually done. That is what makes him so wonderful. When you meet Micky and Dickie and you think of the whole story, I don’t think about crack addiction and that deep sort of world; I think about the two of them and the love that they have for each other. And of course, the mess-ups again and again and again; the loyalty, but the in-fighting between them, the dynamics of families where it’s become unhealthy and trying to shift it around and how painful that is. Ultimately, Micky and Dickie, they’re great company. You get the two of them alone together, they’re just hilarious.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Mark Wahlberg of The Fighter: ‘It Took All the Passion I Could Muster.”

Mark Walhberg isn’t just the star of “The Fighter.” He’s also one of the producers, a title born out of his long-standing determination to bring the true story of Boston-area boxer Micky Ward to the screen. It wasn’t an easy labor. When I asked what making “The Fighter” took, Wahlberg shook his head and gave a low exhale. “It took all the passion I could muster, and a total of about five years to bring it to the screen,” he said. According to Wahlberg, the problem wasn’t finding financing from Paramount, but, rather, the right talents. “We had the support of the studio. It was about finding the right cast, the right filmmaker and people really being willing to commit and go to that place. It’s not an easy thing to do. I just kept fighting and fighting and scraggling and kicking and clawing, and we ended up doing it for about half the money and half the time — but I think ultimately we were able to make the best version of the film.”

Intriguingly, Wahlberg didn’t pack muscle onto his frame for “The Fighter” but, instead, trained to lose weight to drop into a lighter class of boxer just like Micky Ward had to for his bouts. Wahlberg explained how the process was a battle in and of itself. “It just takes a lot of discipline. I was up to the challenge because I wanted to look like a guy who could win the title. It was just hard because you’d get in shape and you’d feel like you were ready to go, and then the movie would fall apart, and you’d have to start over again, and I didn’t want to go back and start over again and lose all that time. I just kept going and continued to train throughout all the films that I did. I was willing to train and to maintain that.”

And director David O. Russell, who worked with Wahlberg on “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees,” was a steady point for Wahlberg to look to. “I never have to worry about what’s going on in the back of his mind. He’s always going to be completely honest and very direct with me,” he said. “It saves a lot of time. We don’t have to be precious with one another; we’re like brothers, and sometimes truth hurts, but you’d rather have the truth. I can’t wait till we go do it again. He’s writing another film that hopefully we’ll go and do together. Hopefully (‘The Fighter’) is just the third of many.”

In a number of scenes in “The Fighter,” Wahlberg’s Micky Ward genuflects and makes the sign of the Cross before or after his bouts. Wahlberg, whose troubled past has given way to a present of family and faith, explained how that was taken from the real Micky Ward, but his answer also revealed that thanking God as part of one’s work wasn’t an act or a impulse he was a stranger to.

“When (Dickie Eklund and Micky Ward) were out here living with me for the time that they did, living at my house, every morning we’d start our day off at the church. We’d go in, we’d say our prayers, and then we’d go running from there, about 8 miles.” So, I had to ask, between the comedy success of “The Other Guys” and Oscar talk around “The Fighter,” does Wahlberg feel like it’s been a pretty good year? He smiled with a warmth it would have been impossible to imagine a few short years ago. “Every year above ground and not behind bars is a good year, but, yes,” he said. “I’ve had an amazing year, and I really feel like I’m coming into my own. I have a wonderful family, and I couldn’t be any more blessed.” “The Fighter” opens in limited release this Friday.

From my article at The Rundown

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The Other Guys (4/5), MSN Movies

The Other Guys,” the fourth big-screen collaboration between director Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell, works remarkably well as both a buddy-cop action-flick parody and as a lightly pointed, gently brandished poke at the culture of greed ruining our 401(k)s. It’s also one of the better McKay-Ferrell collaborations — in the top 50 percent, alongside “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and decidedly better than “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers” — for two very specific reasons.

First is the presence of Mark Wahlberg as Detective Terry Hoitz, a rough-and-tumble NYPD detective in need of some career redemption. He is partnered up with the placid, off-centered Allen Gamble (Ferrell), who’s been transferred over to the street squad after extensive experience with the Forensic Accounting team. Second is that Hoitz and Gamble are trying to get out from under the shadow of supercops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson) by working an interconnected series of building code violations, smash-and-grab robberies and multibillion-dollar financial swindles. Thus, McKay, Ferrell and Wahlberg have their flights of fancy anchored by the plot-driven need to move the case forward, which lends the enterprise a welcome focus and momentum. Much as Ricky Bobby had to get back to the track, Gamble and Hoitz have to get back to the case, which means that “The Other Guys” does not get overly enamored of its randomness and float off into thin, unfunny air, like “Step Brothers” and, to a lesser extent, “Anchorman” did.

“The Other Guys” has its digressions, random and strange, but they’re also funny, and never overwhelming or fruitless. Hoitz cannot understand what Gamble’s bombshell wife, Sheila (Eva Mendes, game with gams), sees in him. A night of carousing (set to the catchy-but-deadly smallpox-like strains of the Black Eyed Peas‘ “Imma Be”) goes ludicrously off-course, until Gamble notes the next day, “I got so drunk last night, I thought a tube of toothpaste was astronaut food.” Now, this line is not intrinsically funny, and yet when Ferrell’s Gamble — who is somehow straight-laced and yet completely insane — delivers it, it gets a laugh. In part because that is what Ferrell does, and also in part because he’s applying himself here with a focus some of his recent films have lacked.

But then the financial bigwig Hoitz and Gamble are tracking, David Ershon (played with oily unctuousness by Steve Coogan), will make a mistake that demands investigation, or the aggrieved Capt. Mauch (Michael Keaton, dry and wry) will call them into his office for a dressing-down, and “The Other Guys” gets back on track with the comforting smoothness of a subway line pulling into the designated stops of the cop film. McKay has hired the behind-the-lens crew of an action film, not a comedy (cinematographer Oliver Wood shot all three of the “Bourne” films; stunt coordinator Conrad E. Palmisano has worked on everything from “X-Men 3” to “Lethal Weapon 4“), and while we never think of “The Other Guys” as an action film, the action in it is smooth and crisp and competent.

But the real reason to see the film is Ferrell and Wahlberg. Ferrell’s Gamble is, as noted, somehow a nebbish and a nutjob (like when he thinks Hoitz has asked him to play “bad cop/badder cop” with a suspect), and Ferrell, for the most part, brings it in a little bit and truly works. Wahlberg’s Hoitz is a tough guy with a screwball sensitive side, busted down to traffic duty and yet turning it into a mode of self-expression, his serious demeanor making his nonsense moments more, not less, appealing. Unlike Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in the slack, dawdling “Cop Out,” Wahlberg and Ferrell have actual chemistry, and it’s focused into a real, although hardly realistic, plot, and that makes all the difference.

The movie also pokes a few holes in our cultural understanding of truth and justice: We have armies of cops chasing down stick-up men who use a gun on the street to grab a few dollars, but very little oversight for the stick-up men who use a computer on Wall Street to grab a few million. Stick around for the closing credits of “The Other Guys,” not only for a nice closing blooper, but, more interestingly, infographics depicting, for one example, the current ratio of CEO pay to worker pay — while Eva Mendes and Cee-Lo Green duet on a number reprised from the film, “Pimps Don’t Cry.” Highbrow, lowbrow and no-brow, inspired by improvisation yet connected to the structure of a plot and the traditions of a genre, “The Other Guys” is that rare modern comedy as smart as it is crazy, and as skillful as it is silly.

–From my full review at MSN Movies

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The Rundown at MSN Movies: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg Talk 'The Other Guys'; Eva Mendes on being the 'Other' Woman; and the Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow Comes to Town!

From the roof of the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles, the city lays out before you like a vision from a ’70s cop movie — which is why it’s pretty much the perfect place to be talking to Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg about “The Other Guys,” their upcoming buddy-cop spoof from director Adam McKay. One of the pleasures of “The Other Guys” is how it pops both Ferrell and Wahlberg out of their respective comfort zones — Ferrell out of funny stuff and Wahlberg out of punchy stuff — but, when you ask about that, don’t expect a straight answer out of the two. When I ask Ferrell about how action’s not really his familiar territory, he’s mock-offended: “I don’t know why you would say that, but continue …”

Trying to follow-up with a straight face, I ask the two which of them faced the steeper learning curve: Ferrell with action or Wahlberg with comedy? Ferrell sets the record straight: “There was no learning curve for me, because a lot of the action for me in the movie consisted of watching Mark. Or running away.”

Wahlberg explains his process: “And for me, [the learning curve] wasn’t that much either, because I still played it straight and I had the same approach that I have to every other project I do. I try to play it as straight as possible, I try to commit to the material 110 percent, and hopefully that level of commitment and those bizarre circumstances will generate some laughs.”

(Earlier, in the press conference, director Adam McKay explained how Wahlberg’s action track record meant that their level of excitement had to be adjusted in the face of their co-star’s experience: ” It was funny because Will and I would be shooting a big giant action scene and we were like, ‘Wow look at this, we’re breaking a window!’ and Mark would come over almost yawning going, ‘Yeah, yeah, we did this one time … only I was being shot out of a cannon and I was on fire.'”)

But Ferrell is claiming all he had to do to pick up action filmmaking was to watch Wahlberg … so, I have to ask, did he train to do that? “I did. A lot of neck exercises.” But seriously, I continue, Ferrell’s character is a forensic accountant turned street detective. “Which is,” Ferrell intones with portent, “a very important position to hold in a police department.” Did he train, or study, in any way for that, or just … make it up as he went along and let the nerd glasses do a lot of the work? Ferrell waves it off: “I did not research forensic accounting.” Wahlberg steps up to defend his co-star’s skills: “This dude’s pretty fierce on the calculator anyway.”

–From my full article at The Rundown

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No Research Necessary for Ferrell in The Other Guys

My MSN Movies video piece can be found here.

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