We chat to the star of THE GAMBLER about his latest film…

Immediately after filming last summer’s TRANSFORMERS movie Mark Wahlberg went from 196lbs to 135lbs to prepare for his role in THE GAMBLER, a remake of a 1974 movie starring James Caan. Wahlberg plays the role of a college professor caught up in the mirky underworld of LA’s gambling scene.

How real is the underworld scene we see in THE GAMBLER Does it actually exist?
Mark Wahlberg: It does. There’s been thorough, thorough research done. I’ve taken Rupert [Wyatt – director] to see some very serious games. High, high stakes games where you’re doing a double, triple take when you realize exactly how much money is on one hand or in the pot at one time… These are the kind of guys that can afford to do it though. And then of course there are the guys who are trying to compete and play, but can just be steamrolled because the other guy has so much money that it doesn’t matter… Yeah, we tried to base everything on reality as much as possible.

Tell us about the genesis of THE GAMBLER and what attracted you to the project both as an actor and a producer.
MW: Well, I liked the original… I’m drawn to these great 70s and early 80s character-driven pieces that are much harder to work in this day and age – just good, old-fashioned, character-driven stories. But we felt, especially with the combination of Rupert [Wyatt] and the cast we were able to get together, that we could do a really cool and hip version of it. Something that would work today. Something that would have more edge, where the stakes are higher… I also felt it would be a challenge for me, both physically and mentally as an actor, and I was willing to take the plunge. For me it always comes down to the script and then the filmmaker and the part. And you’ve seen the cast we’ve been able to get because of the script. Bill did a great job with it.

Was there any trepidation on your part in terms of doing a remake?
MW: Only in that I’d made a couple of remakes before that sucked [laughs]… But we also had success with THE ITALIAN JOB (2003). This one was for the all right reasons. I loved the material and I loved the part. The other times that I decided to do remakes, it was really just because I was a fan of the filmmaker. This was about the material first and then the part – and then everything else kind of fell into place.

What’s been the biggest challenge making THE GAMBLER?
MW: As an actor, living off of liquid for three months and then nuts for another couple of months [to lose and then maintain the reduced weight for the role]. As a producer, just making a movie in Los Angeles for a price. It’s extremely difficult to do, but everybody came onboard, again, because of the appeal of the material and the parts that they were able to play.

Why did you decide to lose all that weight, how did you lose it?
MW: I’d just come off of TRANSFORMERS. I’d also made PAIN & GAIN with Michael Bay, where I played a bodybuilder, so he liked me being big and muscular. And in this, – I’m playing a literature professor who’s not spending too much time worrying about exercising or eating right. I just felt he had to be thin and… Well, either that or really overweight and schleppish, and that wouldn’t work (laughs). That was the easier of the two, to put on weight and just be heavyset, but it wasn’t all that appealing.

How did you feel after the weight loss?
MW: I didn’t feel that good. I didn’t have much energy. I needed to use other sources to get energy, because my character is very ‘on,’ in certain scenes – especially when he’s in the classroom or in front of an audience. So I had natural energy drinks and things like that to give me a boost during a 12 or 13 hour day of shooting. And exercise. Diet and exercise. Jumping rope every day helped. I’ve been up every day at 1:30 in the morning, in the gym by 1:45, out of the gym by 3:30… Have a shake, take a shower, do my routine – prayer time – and then head for the set.

You say you’re not a gambler, but do you understand the appeal of it now?
MW: Yes… But it’s either your thing or it’s not. And it’s not the kind of thing for me.

I guess making movies is a big enough gamble as it is?
MW: Absolutely.

THE GAMBLER is released in Irish cinemas on January 23rd 2015