While many directors operate within one genre or style, Hughes has shown over the course of his career that he's willing to cross generic boundaries, creating a variety of wildly different films. Still, though, he has figured out the unifying thematic element to all his work, saying, "I didn’t realize coming up on Menace’s 20th anniversary and we were twenty when we made that and we just turned forty so no one warned me about the introspective and retrospective stage you get in. And then you have whether it’s journalists or critics or friends and family that go or I’m in therapy back again by mistake I’m like, 'How the fuck did I end up back in therapy? Shit!' And you know she’s digging deep and then you know the theme has been the disenfranchised character, the underdog, the underclass, the misunderstood psychologically and the renegade outlaw basically."
"So it’s the character, the person that’s always been marginalized by society and cast aside," he continued. "And with Book of Eli not being the exception, it’s just a different kind of version of that where you go this guy is by himself and what is he gonna do? When the world’s over what do you do? It dawned on me you must have a purpose. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be as grand as Eli or as important as his purpose, but you got to have a purpose to survive. And in that movie he was a renegade, he was an outlaw, he was different than everybody else. He didn’t conform to a community because he was different. So I think the outlaw, the underdog, and I think that’s a theme because I was that my whole life mostly too psychologically misunderstood, mentally misunderstood, racially misunderstood, and I slipped through the cracks of the public school system on top of it."
Brian Tucker's screenplay for Broken City made the 2008 Black List, an annual compilation of the year's finest unproduced scripts according to studio executives. Having read the script, Hughes made assumptions about its author, and was surprised when he finally met Tucker in person. "When I first read the script, first of all, it was a lot of what I call 'Lion’s Dens scenes,' with powerful men sitting in rooms drinking scotch and talking about what powerful men talk about, particularly the mayor," Hughes recalled. "And there were all these different references, because the mayor was obsessed with different exotic scotches, and how sophisticated the script is, I had a meeting set with Brian Tucker at The Palm restaurant in West Hollywood and I sat down, I got there early, which is rare, and I said, 'I cannot wait to meet this fifty-eight year-old white man. I can’t wait for him to tell me about scotches and what his process was writing this.' This was like Hemingway to me, but different. I was like, 'I can’t wait to meet this great white man!' I’m sitting there and this very skinny, he looks like seventeen, eighteen year-old black kid starts walking up, he comes to my table and I’m like, 'I think you’re at the wrong table.' And he [says], 'Brian Tucker.' And I said, 'Oh, shit!'"
The famously Boston-born Wahlberg isn't necessarily the first actor audiences would expect to star as proud New York native Taggart, but Hughes has known Wahlberg for decades, since before the star transitioned from music to film. The director felt that Wahlberg had arrived at the perfect point in his evolution to play this role. He remembered the first time he read the screenplay, saying, "For some reason, Mark Wahlberg’s face kept popping off the page – twenty pages, thirty pages – I’m like, 'What the fuck? Why is Mark’s face…I don’t understand this!' I just wouldn’t let it go; it is what it is. And by the time I got to the end, I said, 'This is perfect for Mark,' because it plays into all of his strengths, but also what I think I’m intuiting about him. There’s this new level to him and the only thing I can liken it so is, there’s a Steve McQueen quality to him, there’s a salt to earth, real man, he’s coming into that man Steve McQueen zone, and I was like, 'This is it.' So I went after him. Didn’t know if I was going to get him, but because of that love over the years, I was banking on that. Cut to a week later, he’s right there in the room and still had that love. He really loved the script; that’s why he got involved."
The cast is a truly international one, with actors from all over the world filling out this depiction of New York. In some cases, that meant mastering regionally-appropriate accents. "Jeffrey Wright got really particular because, you know, he’s a great actor," Hughes said. "Wait until you see him in this movie; it’s like he has this poker face the whole movie, it’s a mystery, but his power, I never knew, is [in his eyes]. He has the best eye-game I’ve ever seen in an actor. But Wright, even Crowe was like, 'I think this guy went to a prestigious college.' And he’s from Queens; he worked on a subtle guy from Queens. Catherine, she’s just an elegant woman who speaks proper American English. And I think Mark, every now and then I noticed it. He never talked about it with me. I heard a little New York accent, but he never discussed it with me. So every now and then, you would hear it come out, and that was interesting."
He continued, "No discussion, unless they wanted to discuss it. The way I work with actors in general is, John Huston once said something that I love. He said, 'Over the years, they gave me the power to cast my own movies, so I’ve really not had to direct much. I got to focus on filmmaking.' So over the years, I haven’t directed much."
The director takes a hands off approach to working with actors, as he explained, "Really great actors too, you’ll find that there are the ones who come to you the next day and say, 'I was working on this last night, looking in the mirror…' That’s your shit baby. Let’s roll and see what you got. I’m not going to tell you what I did for my process last night, not that I’m not interested in the process, but when you get to a certain level and you’re a great actor, and we do talk a lot, have a drink at dinner, just one or two, and you kind of allow yourself to get into the zone. You agree what this human being is, who this character is. We break off. They go do their thing and come back and you see things like Mark, with the accent popping in, process is personal. My job is to make sure they’re relaxed. I’m not a screamer. Make sure they’re comfortable and confident and make sure that they can say after a few takes, 'Let’s try something fucking crazy.' Who cares if it doesn’t work? There are a lot of moments in this movie that weren’t scripted. That’s because he (Wahlberg) was very comfortable. I knew what he was capable of. When you see The Departed, you know this guy can pop shit. He’s also got this sweet thing, like when Mark smiles, it’s literally like the kid when he wakes up on Christmas Day."
Having split directing duties with his twin brother for so long, Hughes was in uncharted territory with Broken City. It did not, however, take much time to become accustomed to directing solo. "I think it’s much more efficient. But it’s natural – this is a one-woman, one-man gig, directing; that’s the way it’s always been," he said. "And there are exceptions – the Zuckers, the Wachowskis, the Coen Brothers, I hear sometimes they get different credits but they really direct together; in that case, or other cases, there’s always a bigger brother and a little brother, and those roles have been established. [With] twins, everything’s like communism. (laughs) From the day we were five years old, when my mother poured Kool-Aid for us, she had to make sure it was equal. And we were so nuts – 'No! He got a drop more!' So my mom gave us the same amount of cookies, same amount of whatever; so we grew up where it was always even, and that’s where it’s kind of cool I guess, but it gets to be challenging. In rock groups, I always like to say that you got the John Lennon and Paul McCartney – and this guy’s all up into Eastern philosophy at one point…and this guy’s off into kissing giraffes in Africa; they turn 30 and now they’re into different shit because they’ve got wives now and they got children now, and then you try to come together and make these records, or you try to come together and make these movies and it’s difficult as you get older because you become a man, you become a woman, there it is."
Broken City opens in theaters nationwide on January 17th.
To read our interview with Mark Wahlberg about Broken City, as well as to watch his video introduction to the film's trailer, please click here.