'It's about honouring the dead'
US actor Mark Wahlberg plays the chief electronics technician in Deepwater Horizon, disaster flick of 2010's BP oil spill
On April 20, 2010, an off-shore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 men whose bodies were never recovered.
The Deepwater Horizon sank 5,000 feet, allowing 4.9 million barrels of oil to gush into the ocean in one of the world's largest man-made disasters.
For 87 days, the world watched the drama unfolding on television, as people realised the impact of the spill on the ecosystem and the jeopardised livelihoods of the people who worked on the coast of Louisiana, one of the US states that borders the Gulf.
Going thousands of feet below sea level, amid shifting sands and pockets of explosive gas, oil rigs are considered feats of technology and Deepwater Horizon was no exception.
The technology employed was cutting-edge: electronic drilling monitors, computerised modelling systems and automated shut-off defences.
But at the time of the explosion, the oil rig, which was drilling a well thousands of metres below sea level, was six weeks behind schedule and costing a half million dollars a day.
BP, the company that leased the rig from Swiss owner Transocean, was putting pressure on the workers to complete the well as fast as possible.
US actor Mark Wahlberg, who had collaborated with US director Peter Berg on 2013's Lone Survivor, reunites with him to bring this story to the big screen in Deepwater Horizon.
In the disaster thriller, which opens here tomorrow, Wahlberg, 45, plays Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician who supervised the rig's computers and electrical systems which all failed when methane gas shot up into the rig and caused the explosion.
The real-life Williams was a consultant on the film, which Wahlberg also produces.
At the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto, the actor, who is sporting longer hair for the upcoming Transformers sequel, said of his character: "He was an ordinary guy who had to do extraordinary things - not only to survive, but to help others in a moment of overwhelming disaster."
In one scene, Wahlberg had to be set on fire. Was he nervous?
He said: "It's a little sketchy. If you asked me if I was willing to do it when I was 30, I'd have jumped at the opportunity.
"But you've got to get in there, make it real. The fire itself was not dangerous because we were protected. We had the proper suits and gel and all that.
"It was when I was shooting the scene with Dylan O'Brien - he was getting a little crazy, he was kind of flailing and trying to pat down the flames and kept hitting me in the face and the nose, and that was more annoying than the flames," he said with a laugh.
Even though Deepwater Horizon is an indictment against BP, to Wahlberg, the story was about the men.
"It was really about honouring the 11 people who lost their lives.
"This is a very dangerous job, and difficult decisions need to be made sometimes in a very stressful environment and under stressful circumstances."
Naturally, there was no cooperation from BP or other oil rigs.
Wahlberg said: "We knew pretty quickly once we tried to get on the rig to do more research that nobody was really interested in helping or being a part of it.
"I thought we would at least be able to get access to a rig. I had Mike Williams with me and I was able to go to rig school onshore, so I figured I would be as prepared as I needed to be.
"And we had experts helping us build the rig and all the technical advising that we needed."
The families of victims and survivors were at first opposed to the project, but were eventually won over.
'LOSS OF LIFE'
The father of four said: "Everybody seemed to be really focused on the environmental disaster and not on the loss of human life.
"That's certainly how the families felt because when they heard that Hollywood wanted to make a movie, they were completely against it.
"I think they probably had assumed that it was going to be us trying to rescue seagulls and marine life and not dealing with the human aspect of the story and the tragedy.
"So once we were able to communicate to them what our intentions were, they were extremely supportive, relieved and grateful that we were going to honour their loved ones."
Kate Hudson: Film is homage
Even though US actress Kate Hudson and her actor-father Kurt Russell did not have substantial screen time together on Deepwater Horizon, she still enjoyed sharing the experience with him.
The 37-year-old mum of two spoke to M at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto, Canada, where the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
"We didn't have a scene, but we got a hug, which was in the movie before we both signed on," said Hudson, who plays Felicia Williams, the wife of Mark Wahlberg's character.
Russell, 65, and Hudson's mother Goldie Hawn have been a couple for 33 years.
"It was nice to have a second with my dad on screen. And it's my first time as an actor working with him, but I wouldn't really call it working.
"I would like to actually be able to work with him, because he is such an amazing actor."
\REAL: Hudson plays Felicia Williams, whom she says is feisty and strong. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
Tell us about the real Felicia Williams.
She is a feisty, strong woman. I enjoyed her spunk, strength, openness and generosity to share a really difficult experience for her.
It was very helpful to have her there and it was also encouraging. And it does make you want to get it right in the right way when you are telling a story that is based in truth.
I had a very short period of time to make something feel impactful. And by talking to her and hearing her experience, I was able to get the kind of reality of it, but then sort of amp it a bit.
The hope is that when she watches it, it feels like exactly what she experienced. When you are portraying someone who is real, that is the benchmark.
Did you learn anything about the story that made you angry?
I think in situations like this, as an actor and not a film-maker, it's best to stay away from anything that is politically oriented and pay attention to what is on the page.
It's always way more about human behaviour and connection and complexities than it is about standing on a soapbox. It's an homage to these people, what they went through and how they were able to get through it.
Tell us about your new lifestyle book, Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways To Love Your Body
I seemed to get asked about things like how do you balance things, stay healthy...
At first I was tentative. And then I went, "This is something I am so passionate about and I do actually know a lot about health". And so I got really into it.
FATHER AND DAUGHTER: (Left) Actors Kurt Russell and Kate Hudson at the Deepwater Horizon premiere in Toronto, Canada. PHOTO: AFP