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HBO’s doc series about the rigging of the McDonald’s Monopoly game, helmed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte, was so fascinating to Mark Wahlberg that he signed on as an executive producer. The series, which premiered on Feb. 3 on HBO, reveals the FBI’s investigation into the McDonald’s Monopoly game scam, which resulted in more than $24 million worth of fraud and almost all rigged winners during the 1990s.
How did you first become involved with the series?
My partner at [Wahlberg’s production company] Unrealistic Ideas, Archie Gips, told me and Stephen Levinson about the project when it was brought into our company by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte. Archie and Brian had worked successfully together on some docs in the past. When I heard the pitch I was like, “Holy shit? The McDonald’s Monopoly Game was rigged?!” I knew right away it would make for a highly entertaining, comedic true crime story.
You mostly produce narrative fare. What was it about this doc that drew you in?
The story for McMillions is wild and has so many twists and turns. You have the Mafia, FBI, all of these unsuspecting people roped into the scam — it almost feels like a scripted series. Since just about everyone played the McDonald’s Monopoly Game, I knew viewers would be drawn to it. And the moment I saw FBI Agent Doug Mathews on camera, I knew he was gold.
What did you find as the most surprising thing you learned from producing this?
Of course learning that nobody legally won the million-dollar prize for over a decade and over 50 people were arrested as part of the scam was crazy, but I was most surprised to discover the stories of Gloria Brown and George Chandler, who were forced or tricked into the scam and suffered tremendous anguish and financial hardship for years after getting caught up in it all.
As a producer, what was your biggest input as the project went through development and production?
I got more involved as we went into production. I spoke with a few of the subjects to convince them to share their personal stories on camera. Also, to get McDonald’s on board, which was no small feat, we had to promise them I wasn’t trying to uncover the secret sauce for Wahlburgers. In post, I was really excited to see the cuts. I would practically binge-watch them. The team did such a fantastic job, my notes were minimal. My biggest comment was to make sure to get FBI Agent Doug in there as much as possible.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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