“Well, I think you can have all of that without showing too much blood,” shrugs Wahlberg. “It’s just not needed. We didn’t want to make some big gorefest. As for sex, it just doesn’t work for the character. The bit you see in the trailer, where Olga Kurylenko is sprawled on Max’s bed... He turns her down, man! Oh yes. He turns a Bond girl down!
“That’s Max, though. That’s the fun of the character. It’s more fun to see how he turns her down rather than sit through just another same-old sex scene…”
So it’s Dirty Harry (maverick cop) meets The Matrix (slo-mo gun fun) meets Death Wish (vigilante chic) meets Hard Boiled (slo-mo gun fun) meets Sin City (stylised noirishness) meets the Bourne trilogy (good guy gone wrong). Won’t all this cross-chatter muffle Max’s individual voice? Not with Wahlberg doing the looping.
“I’ve just done The Lovely Bones and The Happening,” he explains – then whispers, “Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to talk about that any more... [Laughter]. But as long as I’m doing something different every time, I’m happy.
“Next I’m gonna do The Fighter with Brad Pitt and then a HBO pilot for Martin Scorsese about prohibition-era Chicago... With Max, after doing two very emotional movies, it was great to just go off, go to that place, play someone who’s harder to like. But this film will stand out because it’s very layered.
“John let me make the character much more than a one-note action tough guy. Sure, I raise my voice, get in people’s faces… But I ramp up the humour, too. He’s like a version of my character in The Departed – sly and cynical but also very funny. That’s the kind of thing people like to see me doing.”
The Matrix moans will fade. If anything, Max Payne – like the game – owes much more to the pulpy athletics of John Woo. The real Max factor? This is Wahlberg’s shine-time. Can he shake off The Happening taint, build on that Oscar nomination, rise up the A-list, ignite the box office by name alone?
“Mark has great acting chops,” says Bridges. “He’s well prepared, very professional... The lead in a movie has to be just like the quarterback in a football team. He has to be the man, the driver. The on-set mood has to come from him. Mark is a great leader. You want to work for him. He could be a massive star.”
Payne the game has a sequel – The Fall Of Max Payne. A threequel is planned... If it flies, this could be the launch-point where Wahlberg shifts from holding his own in extended episodes of 24 (otherwise known as Shooter) to the balls-out bankability of his buddy and Departed co-star Matt Damon.
“Franchise? Well, I do love this character,” he twinkles. “If we could make it work, yeah, I’d love to bring him back and do more. But there’s talk about The Departed 2, The Italian Job 2... It’s all about making sure the sequels are better than the last one – otherwise there’s no point. You’ve gotta follow the Godfather II rule! But like I said, this is my most satisfying role so far. It feels like my own...”
So, just over a decade since his dedicated dick was prosthetically stretched for his Boogie Nights breakthrough, has Mr Wahlberg found his slot? An action-movie anti-hero who flays ’em and slays ’em? He bristles again...
“Well, I don’t see myself as just an action-movie star. I can do it all: action, drama, comedy. As long as I can mix it up and keep it interesting... And no, I’m not gonna get so big and precious that I won’t do my own stunts. I’m a physical kind of guy. I have a couple of buddies who help out because they’re tough and they look like me. But I’ve got two kids now and another on the way, so I gotta be more careful…”
Eyeing Wahlberg’s bandaged-up left hand, we remember Will Ferrell’s rollback during the 2007 Academy Awards (“Mark Wahlberg! Where are you? Actually, I won’t mess with you. You’re kinda badass...”). So how did he get hurt? Misplacing a right hook while training for The Fighter? Smacking down a couple of muggers?
“Um, it was tennis on the Wii! I was playing with my daughter the other day and she swung the remote real hard and it cracked me on the side of my wrist!” Cue careful laughter around the room. “Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. It sounds kinda funny – but it fuckin’ hurt, man!” Here comes the Payne.
Max Payne opens on 17 October and will be reviewed in a future issue of Total Film.