Mark Wahlberg on 'Entourage' Cast Apology, Wish to Own a Studio and 'Highway to Heaven' Reboot Pitch

Mark Wahlberg
Mark Wahlberg
 Brian Bowen Smith

He has accomplished so much, he could retire right now if he wanted. (In 2005, he said he was thinking of retiring by age 40, though he now jokes, "I was probably really tired.") But rather than step away, he's stepping it up.

He has two back-to-back movies ready to shoot: a remake of the 1974 drama The Gambler and Ted 2, which should shoot in April. He's bouncing from one meeting to another, including a lunch with Emanuel just before we meet ("He's a very serious, focused businessman"), and a pitch to NBC's Bob Greenblatt and Jennifer Salke later this Nov. 14 afternoon, when he'll try to sell them on a reboot of the Michael Landon series Highway to Heaven.

His energy is boundless, his ambition insatiable. He may just be the hardest-working man in show business -- a man who lives for a mission that is just now taking shape: to be a movie star-mogul.

"I want to build a great body of work; I want to build a great business," he says. "My goal is to finance my own projects, own my material, maybe even have a studio."

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Wahlberg's average day is enough to make you reel.

He gets up around 4.30 a.m. then hits his home gym, where he works out for an hour or more with a trainer.

By 6 a.m., he's eating breakfast, then he and Durham get their four kids, ages 3 to 10, dressed, fed and off to school. After that, Wahlberg heads to church. He prays almost every day, still loyal to the Roman Catholicism he grew up with, which became more and more important to him in his late 20s and 30s. "I don't go to Mass every day," he says. "But I like to start my day by going to get my 15 to 20 minutes of prayer, getting focused and giving thanks."

He is nonjudgmental about others who don't share his beliefs, but still prays that they might find God, as he has. He says he's impressed with Pope Francis ("He's pretty awesome") but rejects the church's stance on gay marriage, which he supports "absolutely."

After church, the actor-producer heads home or to meetings and spends the day reading and working and endlessly rolling calls (unlike most celebrities, he picks up the phone and calls this reporter directly whenever he wants). He consumes both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times; reads a massive amount of scripts and some books, though usually ones he is thinking of making into movies, like David Sheff's 2008 memoir Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction. ("I've met with Cameron Crowe about possibly doing that," he says.)

He then picks up his kids from school, makes sure they've done their homework, has dinner with his family and finally, around 9 p.m., gets to bed.

He doesn't have a Facebook page. He doesn't have time to watch much TV -- he likes CNN and the local Fox affiliate for news, and consumes ESPN -- or read things he's not thinking about producing, or listen to much music. "I have two albums on my phone, Jay Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne and Adele, but [otherwise] I just flip the radio around," says the former Marky Mark.

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He is unabashed in his love for the films of Russell and Martin Scorsese, both of whom he has worked with on multiple projects. Getting the chance to collaborate with filmmakers like these was one of the factors that led him into producing -- first with HBO's Entourage and In Treatment, then with movies such as 2007's We Own the Night and 2010's Fighter. The turning point came after 2002's The Truth About Charlie, which saw him running around France "with a baguette and a beret."

"I always felt like the only way I could get where I wanted was by producing, by finding my own material, developing my own stuff," he says. "The only way to do it was to get more control."

Wahlberg partnered early with his friend and manager Steve Levinson, and the two are constantly on the phone, with Levinson usually doing more of the script development and Wahlberg using his unrivaled people skills. "Lev is great at developing," he says. "I'm much more hands-on with the people."

Nowhere was that more evident than with the upcoming film version of Entourage, which stalled when negotiations fell apart. Wahlberg blamed himself for making rash comments, accusing the cast of being "greedy." Afterward, he says, "I called everybody and apologized. [They] came back to the table and a week later it was fixed."

His producing skills were equally apparent with Fighter, a film about Boston boxer "Irish" Micky Ward that received seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. It was Wahlberg who pressed for his friend Russell to direct (the two had teamed on 1999's Three Kings and 2004's I Heart Huckabees). "I fought for him," he acknowledges, "when everybody involved said 'no' or 'over my dead body.' I slowly but surely convinced one person at a time."

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Because of that, he confesses he was hurt when Russell didn't offer him the lead in Silver Linings Playbook, which instead went to Bradley Cooper. "We did have a little bit of a parting of the ways," Wahlberg admits, saying that the two have since patched things up. "I was upset for a while. I'm not anymore."

The Fighter almost got made with director Peter Berg before Russell joined the project; instead, Berg persuaded Wahlberg to board Lone Survivor.

"I was trying to get him to do The Fighter," Wahlberg recalls, joking: "I reminded him a couple of times later that he made a mistake by not doing it. But he showed me this script and I fell in love with it."

The movie tells the true story of Operation Red Wings, when a group of Navy SEALs was tasked with capturing a Taliban leader in Afghanistan in June 2005 but got caught in a firefight. Wahlberg agreed to play one of the SEALs, Marcus Luttrell, then came aboard to produce when Universal opted not to fund the picture.

He then took it to his one-time assistant Randall Emmett of Emmett/Furla Films, which covered the budget. "I didn't know any of the history," Emmett says. "Mark just said, 'This is the movie you are going to do!' He was very aggressive. He said, 'This will change all of our lives.' Mark is a mentor to me; he's really guided me in the business a lot. And when he's passionate, he's generally not wrong."

Still, Wahlberg knew that audiences had shied away from many modern war films; even the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker earned a mere $17 million at the domestic box office. "I always felt [this] movie had more commercial potential," he says, noting, "We want to make a movie that people are going to see."

His first priority, though, was to the soldiers, and that was reinforced during an emotional dinner that he and the crew had at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque with families of those who died during the Afghan raid, shortly before a 45-day shoot began Oct. 2 in Albuquerque, N.M.

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There he listened, overwhelmed, as several dozen people spoke of the soldiers. While Berg addressed the gathering, Wahlberg remained silent but visited each family member individually. "Everything that everybody said just hit me hard," he recalls. "I remember thinking, 'My gosh, we've got to do the right thing.' "

So he plunged into the work, even though he was coming off three back-to-back films, Broken City, Pain & Gain and 2 Guns.

"I remember the first day I got there," he says. "I was standing on a gun range with live ammunition. I had done gun training before and played soldiers before, but for me this felt like another level of intensity. These guys, some are very unassuming. But you would not think for a second, 'Oh I could kick this guy's ass,' knowing what they are capable of physically and what they can endure. It takes a very, very special individual."

If training was exhausting, the shoot was even more so -- though he downplays his efforts compared to the real-life men: "I was tired after Pain & Gain, losing the weight, gaining the weight, and then we went right into [this]. And this is not like, 'Hey guys, I'm going to get a coffee.' No. You're there. You're following orders. I mean, the [military advisers] literally had the OK in the middle of a big action sequence to say, 'Cut! Stop! Bullshit! This is how it's supposed to look.' "

Despite Wahlberg's physical fitness, injuries he's sustained in the past made the extensive action work challenging. "I have three herniated disks," he explains, though he says: "I'm not in pain anymore. I've been able to repair them through corrective exercises." He also has labrum tears in both shoulders, along with a shattered knuckle.

Throughout the shoot, cast and crew remained high up a mountain where there were no trailers, no facilities and nowhere to get away. "Everybody would just go up on that mountain," remembers Wahlberg. "Nobody ever tried to go down. There wasn't hanging-out-in-trailers or any of that stuff. You were up there at 14,000 feet, and you were up there all day."

The realism of it all proved so moving that, at times during the shoot, "I'd turn around and see these guys, these Navy SEALs, with tears just streaming down their faces."

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