‘Mile 22’: Mark Wahlberg and Director Peter Berg Reveal the Secrets of Their CIA Action Thriller

Mile 22” reunites one of the tightest duos now specializing in pumped up, gritty action. It is the fourth collaboration between director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. The two have dramatized real life combat stories in blood-soaked titles like “Lone Survivor” and “Patriot’s Day,” and re-created a massive oil rig fire in “Deepwater Horizon.” Their latest testosterone ride is a fictional thriller taking place in Southeast Asia.

Wahlberg plays James Silva, a senior officer in a secret, elite CIA team named Overwatch. When a raid on Russian operatives in the U.S. goes sour, Silva is left having to track down missing radioactive material. In the fictional country of Indocarr, a Special Forces officer named Li Noor (Iko Uwais) arrives at the U.S. embassy offering an encrypted hard drive containing the locations of the missing materials. Noor will only reveal the information once he’s taken to a safe location. It’s up to Silva and his team, which includes fellow operatives Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) and Sam Snow (Ronda Rousey), to make sure Noor gets safely to an airport to be flown to safety. Overseeing everything is another Overwatch team headed by Bishop (John Malkovich). But flying high above everything is a Russian military plane with plotters hoping to pull off a violent scheme of vengeance.

Featuring Wahlberg in a snappy, hyperactive performance, “Mile 22” is vintage Berg with its exploration of people in combat, the world of U.S. defense and the intrigues of high-tech espionage. There is a lot of white-knuckle action, which is fitting considering this film marks the American debut of Indonesian action star Uwais, known for “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Raid 2.” Berg, Wahlberg, Cohan, Uwais and Rousey recently sat down with Entertainment Voice to talk about the intensity and fun of making “Mile 22.”

“I think after making three films based on real life tragedies, I think it was important for us to do something that falls under our idea of fun,” said Wahlberg. “This is our idea of a good time, it really is.” When it comes to the politics of the movie, in which Russia is the leading villain, Wahlberg was clear on his and Berg’s general feelings about people in uniform. “We share a huge appreciation and affinity for our brave men and women who serve our country. I’ll just leave it at that. Every time I get an opportunity to thank them I love to do it. In this set of circumstances you see some people that don’t get the welcome home parade and go under the radar unacknowledged. I thought it was awesome seeing a branch of our government that we haven’t seen before, operating around the world. There is a huge coincidence that all this Russia hacking stuff is going on, just as we made our movie, but that’s a question more for Pete.”

“I agree with Mark, this movie is intended to be a work of fiction. Obviously Russia-U.S. relations are something in the news right now, and it was inspiring to us when writing the script,” said Berg. “But we didn’t set out to make a movie like ‘Lone Survivor,’ which was a real story about a Navy Seal operation. This is our idea of fun. But as we pushed deeper into the film and learned more about the CIA’s ground branch, the patriotic nature that informs a lot of mine and Mark’s work came to the surface. We do respect and are very grateful for the men and women who work anonymously for our country.”

While the movie is fiction, Wahlberg and Berg found inspiration in curious real life sources other than the CIA. Silva’s hyperactive tone was partly inspired by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. “Pete would send me random Steve Bannon interviews and speeches and be like, ‘look at this guy ranting and raving about these things, I like this idea for Silva.’ That doesn’t mean he’s a huge fan of Steve Bannon but we’re taking certain liberties and trying things we find interesting.”

Cohan shared on building her own character. “I know Alice is based on a real person, who we were lucky to have consult us. But it was still our opportunity to have fun making a film not betrothed to some real life story. I honestly am such a fan of the movies they [Berg and Wahlberg] have done. You just had to prepare for anything. On set you’ll be called to do what’s needed, and it’s not gender specific. It’s not gender specific to play these black ops operatives. You have to have a steeliness of mind. These characters are great in their jobs, they have to make great sacrifices. And to be able to do this with Ronda, who is a great inspiration as a human being was great fuel, as a female comrade, as an actress.”

“What I really loved about this film is that there are so many women involved,” said MMA star turned film persona Rousey. “I’m so lucky to be a part of this team and have Pete believe in me. I had a huge responsibility to prove him right.”

But a major showcase in the film is Iko Uwais, known in the Asian film market as a major martial arts star, with “Mile 22” he brings his skills to American screens. One stand-out moment is an infirmary battle where he takes down several assailants with his arm attached to a hospital bed. “We had a stunt coordinator named Ryan Watson, we collaborated with him and his team. When we were discussing with the Pete,   he trusted me a lot with this big, heavy fight scene. It’s a new experience for me, because Pete doesn’t like fake. He wants a real fight, real impact, real kicks.”

“We had so much trust in Iko, that when we were shooting that big shoot out scene in Colombia, when Ronda’s jeep explodes, we looked at each other like, ‘we need another fight.’ So we let Iko do it and before you know it, he’s grinding some guy’s neck over broken glass. We thought, ‘he really is one of us,” added Wahlberg.

While the story is set in Asia, shooting actually took place in Bogota, Colombia, where Berg first met with then president Juan Manuel Santos to secure locations. “A good friend of mine produces ‘Narcos’ and they’ve been doing a lot of big-time Netflix shooting down there. But it’s small compared to our big action sequences. But I went down there and met with president Santos, who was relieved it wasn’t a movie about cocaine. I told him we were still going to blow up everything in his city, but they were happy to move the conversation away from Pablo Escobar. We had a wonderful time, the Colombians couldn’t have been nicer.”

With a fourth film under their belt, Wahlberg confirmed that the working relationship with Berg has only grown stronger. “It’s a brotherhood, it’s a bromance, and it’s also a real, profound respect for one another. We push each other, we don’t mince words. We talk all the time, he always face times me at the most inopportune times. We’re doing our next film together, starting in September in Boston. It started as one of those things where we both shared the same agent and kept trying to bring us together, to push us together. Once we got together on ‘Lone Survivor’ it was like wow, this is how I really like to work. I like to make it real. I like to get into it.”

Mile 22” opens Aug. 17 in theaters nationwide.