NEW ORLEANS — At the time the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig disaster occurred in April 2010, much of the focus was on what remains one of the world’s worst environmental disasters — and it’s likely most people did not think much about the 11 men who lost their lives in that resulting conflagration.
For Mark Wahlberg, who portrays key rig manager Mike Williams in the movie “Deepwater Horizon,” opening Friday, “sharing those personal stories was for [director] Peter [Berg] and me the real reason we made the movie — to honor those 11 people who lost their lives.”
Sitting in a hotel suite in New Orleans — the American city closest to where the Deepwater Horizon story played out — Wahlberg said getting to know the real Mike Williams was a professional highlight for him.
“It’s very clear who Mike is and the kind of man he is,” Wahlberg said. “I find him very inspiring. He’s a man who is going to do everything he can to provide a better life for his family. It’s about being a husband and father — and that being the most important job in his life.
“He doesn’t like the term ‘hero.’ He’s just a regular guy. But he did some very extraordinary things to survive and to help his work brothers and sisters to survive. And I admire that very much.”
Wahlberg said he’s drawn to making movies about ordinary men doing extraordinary things.
“These are the kinds of stories I gravitate towards,” he said. “These are the things that motivate me and inspire me.”
The actor pointed to two films he’s made with Berg and a third that’s coming up — “Lone Survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon” and the upcoming “Patriots Day” about the Boston Marathon bombing — to illustrate his point.
“All three of them are about tragedies but very different tragedies,” said Wahlberg. “In the case of ‘Lone Survivor,’ the SEALs sign up for that duty, but they’re guys looking for a gunfight. Those guys are not happy unless they’re in the action.
“These guys here on Deepwater Horizon did a very dangerous job on oil rigs, but they expect to go home.
“With the Boston Marathon bombing, it was all about women and children going to root on their loved ones in a race, and something horrible happened to innocent people,” said Wahlberg, adding that the bombing in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood a day before this interview made him again realize, “This sadly continues to happen all over the world. So, for us as storytellers, we need to show that love will always conquer hate.”
Kurt Russell plays Wahlberg’s boss, Jimmy Harrell, and also was pleased “Deepwater Horizon” focuses as much on the personal stories as on the visual impact of that incredibly large oil rig exploding in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
“Can you imagine, if you were on that rig and you got killed — and your family only hears about what a huge ecological disaster it was, and nothing about the life of your loved one that was lost?” he said.
“It’s amazing to me. Is that where we’re at? Is that what’s become more important than human lives? When I read the script, I said to myself, ‘Yeah, I know about this disaster.’ But it was a human disaster, and I didn’t know anything about that.
“Those guys lost their lives, just doing their job.”
For Berg, making “Deepwater Horizon” turned into something of a journey.
“I came to understand that these rigs are such fascinating feats of technology — and the guys who work on them are really smart guys and salt of our Earth,” Berg said. “We learned why bad decisions were made, and it was human error that caused this.
“I get emotional when I think about the fact that 11 men died — and they could have gotten off that rig. They could have run and jumped in the lifeboats and got off, but they stayed at their stations trying to stop the oil spill and died doing that. Nobody knew that, and that, to me, was really interesting and a big part of what got me involved in telling this story.”