Interview with the stars of “Deepwater Horizon”

By Jeff Boudreaux 

Mark Wahlberg and the author, Jeff Boudreaux

   Mark Wahlberg and author Jeff Boudreaux

     On a star-studded, hot September night, the historic Orpheum theater in New Orleans becomes the site of the U.S. red-carpet premiere of “Deepwater Horizon,” the long-awaited film that tells the untold story behind the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Besides all of the glitz and glamour that was converged upon our city, it was an opportunity for closure of sorts for the brave men and women who worked on the titular oil rig, as the 11 victims and their families were finally given the media coverage they so richly deserved. The very next morning I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the film’s top three stars – Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson and Kurt Russell, as well as the man who brought this story to life onscreen, producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. One sentiment that was constant among these four individuals was that before they had become involved with this project, they had no idea of the full scope of the human tragedy on that fateful day in April, six years ago.

     Screen veteran Kurt Russell, who plays rig boss Jimmy Harrell, explains his initial shock upon becoming attached to the project, “When I first read the script…I was very surprised to find out about the human element of it…I remember that oil pipe pumping into the Gulf. I wasn’t ever told that 11 people had died. I watched that news for a long time, and everyone I talked to also thought that it was an unmanned rig. I didn’t know that there was an explosion that you could see from outer space and over a hundred people had survived that…there was an incredible story of survival, over 100 people made it and it was an incredible, sad reality of 11 people who perished.” As a native of the Gulf south, I have to agree with Mr. Russell to an extent. The media coverage did not dwell upon the deaths of the men who were decimated in the explosion that ultimately consumed the “Deepwater Horizon” oil rig, but rather chose to devote the news stories that were running 24/7 on television to the ecological aspects of the disaster.

Screen veteran Kurt Russell

                Screen veteran Kurt Russell

     One of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Mark Wahlberg portrays one of the heroes of the tragedy, and the last man off of the rig – Transocean computer technician Mike Williams.  Wahlberg explained a similar point of view, and what being involved in this film meant to him, “I was as informed as most people, on the outside looking in, and what I was exposed to by the media was about the environmental disaster. So when I realized that 11 people lost their lives, I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t enough attention put on that. Then, wanting to be a part of it and make that movie and tell their story and honor them, to have the families come to me [at the premiere] with tears of joy in their eyes that finally their loved ones were recognized and acknowledged in the way that they had hoped, that was very special for me.”

     For Kate Hudson, who plays Felicia, the wife of Mike Williams, the tragedy that unfolds onscreen was indicative of a region that has suffered numerous setbacks since Hurricane Katrina, but the actress admits her awe in observing the spirit of the area’s residents that were affected, “The people here have been through a lot. And they still have joy, faith…it’s inspiring. This amazing city, which is filled with so much culture and so much passion, and it has taken such a beating from natural disasters to man-made disasters. The people are so resilient. It’s phenomenal and part of what makes this city so powerful.”

Kate Hudson and Mark Wahlberg

             Kate Hudson and Mark Wahlberg

     This is the first onscreen collaboration between Ms. Hudson and her father, Kurt Russell, who explains why he accepted the role of Mr. Jimmy, “I was finishing up “Hateful Eight” when I read this…there I was playing this big, bombastic character with this gigantic moustache, just a really fun character to play…when I read this it was almost the opposite. He [Jimmy] was a very humble man, a real person in a horrific situation and I felt that he was the most ironic character I ever played. Here’s a man who was being honored for his seventh year-in-a-row of having the safest rig.” Likewise, Mark Wahlberg tells what he was looking for in the role, “I didn’t have to do anything other than spend time with Mike [Williams] to prepare for the movie. He was the last one off…here’s a man with serious PTSD…but he was very proud that we could at least honor them in the way that we did. Just to see him smile and laugh was a nice thing.”

     “Deepwater Horizon” marks the second collaboration between Wahlberg and Director Peter Berg, with the first one being 2013’s “Lone Survivor,” the true story of Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, and a third film forthcoming in “Patriot’s Day,” about the intense manhunt that took place in 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombing. He admits that working with Berg is a unique experience, “We finally got together on “Lone Survivor” and I realized that I’ll do anything for this guy. I love the way he works and how committed he is.” Wahlberg (who also co-produces) spoke about his director having a penchant for honoring real-life American heroes onscreen, “You have to really love and appreciate these people the way that Pete does, and hold them in the highest regard, and to honor them in the way that Pete is committed to doing. That’s why when the opportunity came to hiring a director, the only person I could see directing this movie was Pete.”

Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura

              Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura

     The man who is responsible for telling this tremendous story onscreen is Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, the powerhouse producer of such iconic film franchises as the “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe” and “Red.” I asked him what drew him to such a departure from the productions that he usually fronts, “As you dug into the story, it was so clearly made for a movie in the sense of what happened on that day. There’s events that you couldn’t make up from a fictional point of view. If we had said to you that the BP executives came that day to give an award for safety and then it blew up 2-3 hours later, you wouldn’t believe it…but that happened. From the moment it blew up until the last person is off the rig is 90 minutes. So you can see that if you just compress 30 minutes on that then you have a movie.” He, like the actors he employed, was also interested in telling the human aspect of this event, “I had seen all of this coverage, and I don’t recall ever hearing that 11 people had died. So when I read David Barstow’s article in the New York Times I was surprised about it and I thought that there’s something wrong in not-knowing about that, why don’t I know?”

     Mr. Di Bonaventura also made it clear why Mark Wahlberg was the obvious choice to star in this film, cast as an ordinary man who has to undertake extraordinary measures to ensure the survival of himself and members of his crew, “This was my seventh movie with him, and we’re shooting our eighth film in London…Mark has that everymen presence. There’s a trust you have in that kind of a person…it’s who he is and I think it projects on the screen. When you have a character who is your access point for the audience, you want that character to have that kind of relatability.” As the interview ended, and these fascinating stars went on their way, there was one unmistakable theme that surrounded both the film and the remarkable people who were involved, and that is honoring the memories of the men who lost their lives on April 20, 2010. “Deepwater Horizon” is an amazing film because of the love and respect and attention to detail that went into the making of it. It’s apparent as you watch the cataclysmic events that are recreated onscreen, and even more so when you get to hear it from the people who were honored to walk in their shoes.


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