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Those betting on the Mark Wahlberg-starrer The Gambler aren’t shy about trading in most of the original’s cards for a brand-new hand.
“It’s less a story of addiction — which I don’t think I would’ve been the right guy to make — and is actually more the story of a guy who’s really in control of his life, but in so many ways, he’s just made a choice to use gambling as a means of escape,” explained director Rupert Wyatt of rebooting the 1974 film about a literature professor with a gaming habit.
In the original crime drama, set in New York and starring James Caan, “it was all about the thrill. He didn’t feel like he was alive unless he was in the game, win or lose,” Wahlberg told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s premiere on Wednesday night at New York City’s AMC Lincoln Square. Instead, the actor-producer plays Jim Bennett, an L.A.-based man of privilege in an existential crisis. “It’s the opposite — he was sick of life as he knew it, and he wanted to strip himself of all the material things that he had. He really didn’t want to live anymore.”
So when Jim Bennett continues to deepen his debts with multiple lenders, it’s not because he can’t stop; it’s because he won’t. “What made our relationships with Mark’s character so uniquely similar is that we really all wanted him to win. None of us really wanted to hurt him,” Michael Kenneth Williams told THR at the afterparty at the decadently orchid-decorated Colicchio and Sons. “We took a gamble on a guy who was just descending into the darkness, and we wanted to give him a hand and say, ‘Don’t do this.’ “
Onscreen jeweler Richard Schiff added, “Mark’s character almost looks for a way to get clobbered. … It’s almost like Wahlberg wants it to all go to shit.”
It’s a tricky take on a touchy subject, but screenwriter William Monahan freely noted before the screening, “I don’t believe in addiction. Everything is sort of voluntary. So most of the original script fell away immediately, and I was able to do my own things with my own people and my own philosophies.” Besides his stance on gaming addiction, Monahan’s beliefs are the bullet points of Wahlberg’s college lectures while discussing Albert Camus’ The Stranger. For example, Shakespeare authorship controversies are all fueled by rage about nature’s uneven distribution of talent, and that “genius is magical, not mechanical.” You either have a winning bet, or you have nothing.
While alongside castmembers Domenick Lombardozzi, Alvin Ing, Anthony Kelley and Cuba Gooding Jr., star Brie Larson (in Rodarte) told reporters on the blue-colored carpet that she was fascinated by Monahan’s “complicated” script. “None of the scenes really started where you imagined scenes start; everything was very disjointed, very self-reflecting and kind of agitated in a way. It’s a really special gift when a writer can express, through words, a mental process.”
Though with such different approaches, what advice did Wahlberg get from Caan, his co-star in The Yards? “He tried to encourage me to do my own thing and make it my own, and of course [executive producer and 1979 film screenwriter James] Toback is like, ‘No you have to make it exactly the way we made mine, because mine is the best!’ ” he joked while next to wife Rhea Durham. “I wanted to explain to him, as inspired as we were, we wanted to make it our own.”
Whatever win the film does see, the director attributes it to Wahlberg. “From the day I met him, I found him a very observant, sharp, intuitive man. I knew coming in that I wasn’t gonna get a movie star; I was gonna get an actor. For the very reason that Jim Bennett is not the most likeable of characters — he’s very honest, too honest at times. I knew he was taking this job for all the right reasons.” The Gambler hits theaters Dec. 25.
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