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From Cinescape Online
Dateline: Tuesday, July 31, 2001
Profile

Wahlberg Talks to the Animals

Mark Wahlberg (sans loincloth) becomes a sci-fi action hero for Tim Burtonís ďre-imaginingĒ of the 1968 classic PLANET OF THE APES

By: PAMELA HARLAND
Contributing Editor

Mark Wahlberg may have spoken too soon when he accepted the lead role in director Tim Burtonís revised PLANET OF THE APES. After all, the actor hadnít even thought about the big shoes heíd have to fill taking on a part inspired by the one Charlton Heston played in the original 1968 version of APES. Let alone the loincloth heíd have to wear.

"I promised Tim before really thinking about what I was getting myself into," admits Wahlberg, who committed to the part within five minutes of the pairís first meeting. "I was a bit nervous, and also acting opposite people in gorilla suits was not exactly something that turned me on and excited me."

Still, there was one major reason to accept the role: Tim Burton.

"Tim was there and got me through it," Wahlberg says. "I just had to keep reminding myself why I was there, because there were days when I started to panic."

In the new APES, the 30-year-old Wahlberg -- sans loincloth -- plays Leo Davidson, an astronaut who crash-lands on a planet of simians who rule over humans, treating them as lesser beings and slaves. Davidson is captured along with some humans who inhabit the planet, and he quickly plans an escape to freedom. Sympathetic ape Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a human rights activist, helps them to safety, resulting in a deep bond forming between the two. On their heels is Commander Thade (Tim Roth) and his second-in-charge Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), both of whom are purists believing in the separation of species.

Believing his decision to star in the ape epic was the right one, Wahlberg arrived on set the first day of shooting terrified yet relieved to see Burton there to protect him from making a fool of himself.

"I freaked out -- I was very scared," says Wahlberg. "There was this little kid with tribal markings on his face, a guy in a gorilla suit and Helena -- it all seemed pretty ridiculous to me."

Wahlberg says the key factor in choosing his film projects is the director Ė as opposed to the script -- and Burton possesses the qualities he looks for.

"Tim is just one of those guys whoís got such a unique vision," Wahlberg says. "Heís such a talented guy. I thought Iíd learn from him."

Unlike many actors, Wahlberg considers the script to be a secondary consideration. Working with directors like Paul Thomas Anderson (BOOGIE NIGHTS), David O. Russell (THREE KINGS), James Gray (THE YARDS) and now Burton has convinced him he is right.

"Everybody always talks about, ĎIf you donít have a great script, you are not going to have a great movie,í" he says. "I really donít agree with that completely. I think with a great director and a great script you are going to get a great movie. With a fantastic script and a piece of s**t video director you are going to get a piece of s**t. Iíve based my last four decisions on [that philosophy] Ė except for ROCK STAR, which is the only time Iíd ever signed on to do a movie when there was no director attached, and which was quite nerve-wracking for me. But, yeah, director first. I would repeat a performance to work with an interesting director."

While he escaped any broken bones or serious injury during the APES shoot, Wahlberg was no stranger to cuts and bruises. He took his share of damage despite leaving the dangerous stuff to his stunt double.

"I am not sitting here bragging saying, ĎOh I did all of my own stunts. Thatís me hanging off that cliff. Iím tough,í" he says. "I didnít want to do it. If Tim asked me, I would. Other than that Iíve got a guy sitting right next to me that looks just like me and loves to do it and you can drop him from a ceiling and he doesnít care."

Though PLANET OF THE APES is Wahlbergís first real "action role," donít count on him living up to that label in subsequent films any time soon. In fact, heís passed on several offers and many millions to star in such films already.

"Itís always been some video director and some script with no real substance," he says. "íShoot Ďem up, bang-bang.í Iíve never been interested in that. People are talking, ĎOh, now youíre an action hero and a leading man,í but it doesnít mean Iíll start doing those films."

Still, all it would take for Wahlberg to sign up for more scrapes and abrasions would be for Burton to do the already-being-discussed sequel to APES.

"If Timís in, Iím in. Thatís how I look at it," Wahlberg says.

It seems Wahlberg canít rave enough about Burton and his craft, even after working with the director for the better part of a year.

"Youíve seen his work you know what he is capable of," Wahlberg says. "If you ever get a chance to spend seven months with him, like me, heíll have a profound effect on you. Heís just an amazing guy."

Another extraordinary character associated with the project was original ape fighter Heston, who appears in a cameo as an ape in Burtonís update. Although Wahlberg and Heston share no scenes together, Wahlberg managed to meet the Oscar-winning actor briefly. The two never discussed their shared role or any shoptalk whatsoever, Wahlberg says.

"I just wanted to meet him and say ĎHií," Wahlberg admits. Calling the experience "weird," Wahlberg explains that he met Heston both in and out of makeup. With his ape face on, the older actor was quite frightening, Wahlberg says.

"You could hear his voice, which is scary in and of itself, and then we started to talk and heís just looking at me and he takes the nose appliance and just rips it off."

Preparation for the role was no more difficult than ordering up a couple more cheeseburgers. Before shooting, Wahlberg, who had just come off shooting ROCK STAR opposite Jennifer Aniston, was a svelte 35 pounds lighter than he is on-screen for APES. Burton wanted him to bulk up, but Wahlberg wanted to take the research a little further than just the impending physicality of the part.

"Me being the research freak that I am and wanting to be prepared, I wanted to go to NASA," he explains. "I wanted to sit down with the astronauts, but Tim was like, ĎJust sit in the chair and start flicking the switches.í"

Having seen the original APES when he was a kid, and not having been particularly intrigued by it, Wahlberg took another look at the 1968 classic. He was more impressed the second time around and now sees why everybody liked the film. But he did not want to "ape" Hestonís performance, so to speak.

"Itís cool, but Tim and I felt the same as far as approaching the character and trying to do something different and not living up to that," Wahlberg says. "Some of the original, classic lines that are in this movie were supposed to be said by me, but it just didnít really work."

If the atmosphere was a bit strange during shooting, it may have been the fact that Roth, Duncan and Carter, when made up to be apes, tended to stay in character Ė even during their lunch breaks.

"I was definitely on my own," Wahlberg says. "With Roth and those guys, when they were in makeup and in character, they

are the characters. You donít want to be around [Roth in ape character]. Outside of makeup, heís the nicest guy in the world."

The production finished just in time for the filmís scheduled July 27 release. Just weeks before that Wahlberg was still shooting pickup shots for the film, with Burton running around from city to city trying to meet the deadline.

"The timetable was ridiculous," Wahlberg says. "For me it was nothing -- business as usual. But post-production was the killer for Tim. He was in San Francisco to New York to L.A. to Paris to London. He came and got me in Martinique -- I was shooting in the Caribbean. We went to London and we shot two additional scenes three weeks before the film came out. It was ridiculous. I donít know how he did it."

The enormity of the film and the secrecy that surrounded it kept Wahlberg from even knowing how the story would end until a few days before they shot the final scene. He was given the pages right before they shot it, though Burton kept him in tune with what was going to happen to his character, he says.

"He kept me up-to-date on what was going on -- only because I didnít bother him, like most of the other actors who were picking every single thing apart," Wahlberg recalls. "I would just say, ĎOK, you want me to do this. No problem.í Iíve never been in a movie, aside from BOOGIE NIGHTS, where the ending has been talked about so much."

While Wahlberg is already committed to working with BOOGIE NIGHTS director Paul Thomas Anderson again, another Anderson is on his "to work with" wish list Ė director Wes Anderson of RUSHMORE fame. Wahlberg is also scheduled to work with directors Russell and Gray again in the upcoming year. And thereís no doubt in his mind that if Burton is attached he will be working with the director again on at least one APES sequel.

The possibilities for a second APES are endless. The romance between ape (Carter) and human (Wahlberg) was only touched upon in the film, but that doesnít mean audiences wonít see an inter-species relationship in an upcoming film. Wahlberg, who joked about a love scene being shot for PLANET OF THE APES only to end up on the cutting room floor, wouldnít mind -- as long as heís not making out with any authentic apes.

"The real chimps stick their tongues in your mouth all the time, and itís nasty because they put their tongues anywhere and everywhere," Wahlberg laughs. "But kissing Helena was great. If we do another one thereís no telling where thatís going to go."

--Additional reporting by Eric Moro