Crime in Paradise
However, the actor did have a strong draw to his intense role in a new A&E Network original movie set beneath the steamy sun of Miami and based on a true story. In "Kings of South Beach," premiering Monday, March 12, Wahlberg plays Andy Burnett, a mysterious man who befriends Chris Troiano (Jason Gedrick), a mob wiseguy who is fast becoming the "it boy" of South Florida in the late 1990s.
Troiano has founded South Beach's hottest clubs and has become a celebrity in his own right, even as he is constantly surrounded by the likes of Madonna, the Versaces and a never-ending stream of sexy models. In addition to a strong cast (which also includes Nadine Velazquez of "My Name Is Earl" and Ricardo Chavira of "Desperate Housewives"), the behind-the-scenes credits include a script from Nicholas Pileggi ("GoodFellas," "Casino") and production from Sonny Grosso (a former cop who, with his partner, was the inspiration for "The French Connection").
Wahlberg's character, an undercover cop sent to bring down Troiano, is based on real-life detective Andrew Dohler. This fact, and the dramatic challenge that it presented, really appealed to Wahlberg.
"I've done a lot of police work already," he says, referring to previous roles in shows such as "Boomtown." "The real thing I got from Andy was the whole approach in undercover [work]. I actually had to be less of a cop. On the one hand, you never want to reveal to the guy you're working with, anything. You have to always cover your tracks and be a fast liar and be consistent with your story. At the same time, there's a certain pressure that you feel that you can't show the person that you're working to bring down, but you have to show the audience in order to entertain them. So it was really a matter of looking for opportunities to show vulnerability within a scene, but never to show it to the guy."
This drama and tension is powerfully evident in the scenes between Wahlberg and former "Boomtown" co-star Gedrick, as the ever-wary Chris constantly tests and questions Andy. While Wahlberg had the luxury of working with Dohler for research and inspiration, Gedrick was unable to have the real Chris around -- at least not during filming. But Gedrick relates a somewhat funny tale of an event that happened recently.
"I'm at a club," he says, "and I'm standing there with a friend, and I see like a shadowy presence in the distance. And I had this heavy, dark feeling come over me. I don't know what compelled me, but I was drawn to it, like I had to follow it. All of a sudden in my head, it just rang: Chris. So I walk up, and as I approach him, he must have felt me following him. And he turned around and said, 'You Jason Gedrick? You just play me in a movie?' And I said, 'Or someone like you.' He said, 'Well, at least they got someone good-looking to play me,' and reached his hand out. It was just such a bizarre sort of out-of-body experience. But it was surprisingly convivial, just a very sort of buddy-buddy conversation. Based on that meeting, I feel good."
And Gedrick has no concerns about what might happen once Chris sees the film.
"I think he'll want [the movie] to glorify him. Based on what I've learned and read, ultimately, just the fact there's a movie being made -- and in the movie, he's getting laid and is kind of the king -- I don't think he really much cares."
Both Wahlberg and Gedrick think the movie is of such quality that it could have received theatrical release. And Wahlberg explains that the story has indeed been eyed by studios.
"I know there's been much talk about making this a feature before we did it. This story's been thrown around a lot in Hollywood. [A&E] was sort of able to beat the studios to the punch. I sort of gravitate towards television in terms of work. It suits my personality better. I like to work at a brisk pace. I don't want to sit in my trailer for eight hours to do one page of work, and in a big movie, that's what happens. I want to stay on set ... stay close to it, because it sharpens my game. And I have to be better prepared. So, on the one hand, you could say, yeah, this could have been a feature and done tremendous things. But at the same time, feature people have been dealing with this project for a long time and never got it to see the light of day. You can scoff at that, or you can tip your hat to A&E."