In the new action-movie, Mile 22, The Walking Dead star, Lauren Cohan, goes toe-to-toe with a decidedly more terrestrial enemy. “It’s striking how normal people in that line of work seem,” says Cohan, who plays Alice Kerr, part of an elite CIA special ops team headed by Mark Wahlberg’s ‘Jimmy Silva’. “I really tried to pick up on that.”
Their mission, however - transporting foreign intelligence asset Li Noor (The Raid’s Iko Uwais), from the safety of a US Embassy in Southeast Asia to an airfield extraction point 22 miles from the city centre - is hardly an everyday affair. With Noor holding the key to encrypted information needed to prevent an imminent terrorist attack in exchange for safe transport to the US, Cohan’s team must first fight their way, mile by mile, through a dangerous urban landscape as local forces close in, determined to prevent his escape.
Cohan met with the press in Los Angeles, where she discussed the making of the film, as Mile 22 readied for its US premiere.
What was the main draw in being part of the Mile 22 cast?
God, there were so many things. But mostly it was Pete (director, Peter Berg) and Mark Wahlberg and the films they make – those great movies (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day)… Knowing I’d go in and be able to do my thing and be in safe hands.
What was the casting process like for you?
I did an audition tape, and when I sat down with Pete he was so direct, which was really refreshing. We went and had coffee, and Pete was like, ‘What are you doing on these specific dates…? I loved your tape. Mark loved your tape. You have the part.’ I could barely hold it together. My parents knew I was going to sit down and meet him that day. After I left, I was just in tears of happiness. I immediately called them and told them.
Mark and Peter have made four films together. Can you tell when you walk on that set? What’s the dynamic like between the them?
Well, it feels like they’ve done four movies together (laughs)… I guess there’s kind of an ordered chaos to the way they work. This brotherly thing – throwing insults at each other, really knowing each other. Pete is also an actor, so they have that in common too. It’s just cool to see two people so passionate about keeping it messy and keeping it real. And it’s an infectious vibe.
You mentioned that Peter Berg is also an actor. You have a brief scene with him as well in the film (a Facetime conversation in which Berg plays Cohan’s estranged husband). Did you know before you signed on that you’d be acting together as well?
No, I didn’t (laughs)… Once I knew I was going to play Alice, they said, ‘By the way, we think that Mr. Berg, might be playing Lucas,’ who’s my husband. It actually felt so obvious, afterwards. It was like, ‘Of course he is!’ The character is just so perfectly antagonistic. What’s in the film is only a small fraction of how much we actually recorded of that exchange (laughs).
The app they use to speak to each other which restricts them from cursing - does that actually exist?
Yeah, that’s a real thing, ‘The Family Wizard’. One of our consultants on the film was actually going through that with his ex-wife, and I was looking at it, I was like, ‘This is horrible!’ But necessary I guess.
So even though it’s a fictional film, a lot of it is still based in reality—
Down to the details...
Did you speak with anyone working within the CIA to prepare for the film?
Yes, but I don’t want to go into too much detail about some of the people that we were able to speak with, because I felt pretty privileged to be able to have that. But one thing that I will say is that it’s striking how normal people in that line of work seem. And that is really the key to being a good operative. It’s good to dress a little scruffy. You can look a little out of shape, but actually you’re incredibly strong and everything underneath. You learn how to operate in the world. How to even change your energy to just seem like an everyman. I really tried to pick up on that. We get to see these characters in the heat of action. You don’t really see them in public, incognito. But knowing how they would be in [every] situation was important for the role.
What else did you do to prepare?
A lot of training. That was a huge part of it.
What did you do?
We did an immense amount of weapons training. I had a little bit more time I think than some of the others, because they were prepping in Atlanta (where many of the film’s interiors were shot) and I was still finishing Walking Dead there. And so I was moonlighting on the weekend as an operative (laughs)…
Was it challenging to learn?
The [weapons] transition aspect of it was the hardest part – having three or four different weapons on you, and a backpack at any one time and knowing to how to load and reload your weapons, get down to the floor level so you can take cover… And then doing all these things, seemingly automatically. We would watch videos of it, then be filmed doing it, then assess it, and do it again, and again, again...
So if the acting thing doesn’t work out…
No, thank you (laughs)...
You also have an amazing hand-to-hand combat scene in the film. What went into it?
When I came in to do Mile 22, through all of our training, I was told, ‘You’re going to be learning a skill. You’re not going to learn how to do your fight scene in the movie. You’re being prepared by a Navy SEAL and an Army Ranger and by all of our consultants on the movie on how to actually be this person and survive in these situations and improv on the spot as to what you think this character may have to do.’ That’s a really rare level of preparation to have… In that fight scene, I really felt like Alice is this caged animal and she’s backed into the corner. To express the ferocity of all the frustrations and unfulfilled things that she’s facing in her life, both personally and professionally - and physically being trapped by someone four-times her size? That’s where I really have to give props to Peter Berg. Because he doesn’t think in terms of even a fight style. ‘How is this one person going to fight this other one with all the power [and means] at her disposal?’
Did anyone get injured during the course of filming it?
In that fight with Sala Baker… We had this breakaway vase that I crack him over the head with. But over the few takes that we did, the scattered little pieces from the vase kind of got slick on the ground. There was this one part when I was supposed to make it look like I knee him… but the floor was so slippery that I… Fortunately, he was wearing some protection, but every guy on set was like ‘Owwww!’ You could hear it echoing down the hallways. I was so embarrassed…
Did you stick to the script while filming or was there a lot of improvising on set?
There was a fair amount of improvisation, but it was all based on the page. In the scenes where we’re driving around, Pete would throw in some extra things… “Okay, now try this…” The stuff that I say to Mark’s character: “You’re mentally unstable!” That was all improvised... So that was fun. And it was mostly just funny because Mark’s character is so intense in the movie. A big part of their camaraderie is insulting each other.
Although this is a fictional film, it’s grounded in the world of special ops. Does it scare you that forces like this exist?
It made me feel better that they exist, because on so many levels they are a preemptive force. On a lot of levels they’re the final force that is employed in problems like this, in terrorism…
On a personal level, I like the idea of thinking there’s somebody looking out for you, whether you know it or not. That honestly, despite all the violence and aggression in the movie, was a big takeaway for me. I also really appreciate the fact that despite all of the warfare and the gun violence, you see consequences for the good guys and the bad guys in the film. It’s an action movie. And there’s a lot of explosiveness. But it’s not all happy-go-lucky.
What’s next for you?
I’m starting a new series in September, Whiskey Cavalier, with Scott Foley and Tyler James Williams, who worked with me for a period of time on Walking Dead, and makes me laugh incessantly… We shoot in Prague and I’m calling it an ‘action comedy’ – or ‘a drama that’s very funny with some action in it’. And I’m really excited about it…
It seems like things are really coming together for you.
Right now, I’m promoting a new season of Walking Dead, a movie with Mark Wahlberg directed by Peter Berg, and a new series that I cried laughing [reading]. I feel, honestly… I almost said, ‘Like a pig in s***,’ (laughs)… I feel great!
MILE 22 is in cinemas from September 19.