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Moviegoers can look forward to an eclectic action experience on January 13 as ‘Contraband’, starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale, is set to open in theaters around the US. With the seasoned lead comes a vibrant supporting cast. The movie’s production team elaborates.
Brought onto the team to play Sebastian Abney, childhood best friend of Chris Farraday, Mark Wahlberg’s character, was Ben Foster. “Sebastian is a fantastic character in many ways,” explains Baltasar Kormákur, the director. “What is interesting to me is that Sebastian is a consummate pleaser. Pleasers tend to avoid confrontations and often end up making things worse. By trying to please everyone, you betray yourself and everyone around you. Chris stands up for the right things under difficult circumstances while Sebastian doesn’t.”
Wahlberg describes how Foster came onto the project. “I went up to him at an event,” he remembers. “I said, ‘Hi, I’m a big fan,’ and he looked at me like I was crazy. He didn’t believe me at first, and he thought I was joking around. I said, ‘I’ve seen you in many different things, and I hope we get to work together.’ When this came up, I knew I had to get him.” Foster relished the chance to play a complex character. He says: “I based him on a producer I once worked with. He has a desperate need to be liked by everyone…presenting himself to the world as a great success, all the while his personal life is spinning out of control. We all make mistakes; we have all let ourselves and loved ones down in some way. In life and work, one has to suspend judgment to get at the heart of a person. I refuse to judge the people I play. You have to root for them and fight for what they believe in. In his mind, Sebastian is trying to do the right thing.”
When Giovanni Ribisi first auditioned for Contraband, it was for a different part from the one he ultimately landed. Director Kormákur suggested he read for Tim Briggs, the local thug who terrorizes the Farraday family after Andy, Chris’ brother-in-law, flubs a lucrative deal. Kormákur says he was originally looking for “the tough guy,” but he felt that Ribisi brought something unexpected and more dangerous than a typical bully would.
Says the director: “I’ve followed Giovanni for a long time. He is a fantastic actor who dug into this character. The great thing about good villains is that you want to see more of them. At the same time, you are freaked out by them. He plays this role with a great balance.” Ribisi describes his character of Briggs as “the bogeyman”: “He’s the guy you don’t want knocking on your door at night. He just spent five years in Angola, and he’s your worst nightmare.” The actor adds that he was impressed by the methods with which his director shot the film. “I feel like Balt stretches the boundaries of ordinary filmmaking because the film is so steeped in reality. He doesn’t glamorize smuggling; he shows the reality of it.”
X-Men: First Class star Caleb Landry Jones was brought onto the production to play Kate’s younger brother, Andy, whose botched smuggling deal at the onset of the story sets the stage for the film’s harrowing follow-up events. States Wahlberg: “After casting Kate, we had to find someone who was believable as her brother. Caleb was that guy, and he is obviously a tremendous young talent.”
“Andy is a very tricky character,” adds Kormákur, who says he met with close to 100 young actors before choosing the 22-year-old Jones for the role. “You cannot cast just the sweetest guy in the world to sympathize with because you have to believe that Andy does the things that he does. He’s young. He does stupid things, but he’s not a bad guy. We fell in love with Caleb when he read; he’s a very special talent.”
Jones admits that he’ll not soon forget the adrenaline rush of shooting the scene in which the U.S. Customs officials close in during his failed smuggling attempt. “I was much more afraid than I would have been if there hadn’t been a helicopter,” he remembers. “Those sniffer dogs got me running pretty fast, too.” Jones laughs that he didn’t have a problem jumping a fence or being locked into a wall…“as long as they let me out later.”
Lukas Haas, who has worked with Ben Foster on the feature Alpha Dog and Giovanni Ribisi on Gardener of Eden, as well as on a two-episode storyline on Levinson and Wahlberg’s Entourage, joined the project as Danny Raymer, a close friend of Chris’ who goes with him to Panama to try to fix the botched deal made by Andy. “We tested a lot of guys and when Lukas read with Mark, they had such good chemistry,” recalls Kormákur.
Diego Luna, whose breakthrough role came in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, was cast as Panamanian drug runner Gonzalo, the final obstacle for Chris before he can return to New Orleans and erase his brother-in-law’s debt. When Chris discovers the counterfeit cash he has been planning to bring back to the States is unusable, Chris turns to Gonzalo for help. Little does Chris know just how much it will cost to help the former petty criminal who now sees himself as a kingpin.
Producer Eric Fellner notes: “Diego has this ability to take what could easily be a stock character and transform him into something very unexpected. We see that Gonzalo has risen his way through the ranks to become one of the heads of this Panamanian cartel, and at any moment, he could snap and kill the men in Chris’ crew. It takes an actor of Diego’s caliber to create a character that walks the fine line between opportunistic thug and unhinged psychopath.”