NEW YORK (Reuters) - From the opening shot of the new remake of the classic 1970s film "The Gambler," a different Mark Wahlberg is on view from the scrappy, uninhibited characters he has traditionally played.
As English professor Jim Bennett, a tear runs down Wahlberg's cheek as he sits at his dying grandfather's bedside.
"This particular part was an opportunity for me to do something different," the actor told a news conference. "I am used to playing the underdog, as opposed to the guy who has everything."
"The Gambler," which opens on Christmas day, chronicles the week-long downward spiral of disaffected Bennett, who despite all the trappings of success and privilege is bent on self-destruction via high-stakes gambling.
Jessica Lange plays Bennett's wealthy, out-of-patience mother, Brie Larson is a star pupil with whom he becomes romantically involved, and John Goodman is a philosophical loan shark.
Intent on defying expectations, the filmmakers said they aimed to take a different approach to the story of the gambler, a role memorably played by James Caan 40 years ago.
"The 1974 film was about gambling addiction, and I happen to come from a mindset where I think everything is voluntary," said writer William Monahan, describing his take on the story.
"I don't believe in addiction," said the Oscar-winning writer of "The Departed," a film that scored Wahlberg a best supporting actor nomination and also won best picture.
Monahan and director Rupert Wyatt ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") saw Bennett's story as one of redemption through self-destruction, right down to its hopeful ending.
"He's a guy who has everything, but wants to get back to zero. It's a redemption story," said Wyatt, adding that Bennett's odyssey through some of Los Angeles' seedier quarters betrays "a very clear intent of self-destruction."
"If this was a story of addiction, then of course it would be a cop-out to end the movie in the way that we did," Wyatt said at the same news conference.
Wahlberg, a high school dropout who lost a significant amount of weight and spent days on campuses to portray the nihilistic academic, said the character also had its relatable aspects.
"I have a lot of people in my life who suffer from various addictions. And gambling was a big part of my upbringing, so those are things that I could identify with," said Wahlberg, who is also among the film's producers.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Matthew Lewis)