Like Matthew McConaughey last year and many other Oscar-hungry actors before him, Mark Wahlberg has dramatically slimmed down for his latest movie. But Wahlberg’s Method acting for the crime thriller The Gambler—a remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan as a gambling-addicted literature professor—required more than transforming his body. As Wahlberg told USA Today, "Forget losing the weight. Being believable as a teacher was one of my greatest challenges and most rewarding.” The guy from a working-class Boston background sat in on university lectures and studied “every literary mention” in the script. Could the Oscar-baiting move pay off?
It’s hard to tell from the first trailer, released today, though the Best Actor race is notably crowded in a year that includes raved-about performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, Steve Carell, and Eddie Redmayne (for which the latter two actors underwent even more dramatic physical transformations than Wahlberg). In a genre flick of this kind, Wahlberg, even with two Oscar nods behind him, seems like a long-shot—though his co-star, a bald John Goodman playing a loan shark, seems to be getting a some buzz himself for Best Supporting Actor. In the brief trailer, it’s Goodman who takes center stage for a menacing monologue that feels inspired by the “Fuck you, pay me” speech from Goodfellas.
The film was written by Oscar-winner William Monahan (The Departed), directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and also stars Brie Larson, Jessica Lange, and Michael K. Williams. To see whether Wahlberg can dramatically transform himself into a literature professor, we’ll have to wait until The Gambler opens on Dec. 19.