Mark Wahlberg on 'Entourage' Cast Apology, Wish to Own a Studio and 'Highway to Heaven' Reboot Pitch
Born in 1971, Wahlberg was the youngest in an Irish-Catholic family of nine kids, brought up in one of the poorest parts of Boston.
His father was a truck driver, and it was he who instilled his son's love of film, often taking him by train to Boston's Park Theatre, and watching reruns of movies with the likes of Kirk Douglas and Steve McQueen. "Spartacus was his favorite movie," Wahlberg says.
But Wahlberg's parents had a difficult relationship ("There was a lot of yelling and screaming"), and they eventually split up when Mark was 11, after which he divided his time between them and started getting into trouble. He was arrested by the police a number of times and eventually pleaded guilty to assault after blinding a man in one eye. He served 45 days in Boston's Deer Island House of Correction.
The experience shook the high school dropout profoundly, he says. "I'd been in there 45 minutes and I was already in a fight with two guys who were trying to jump me and take my cigarettes and the lighter my mother just gave me," he says. "It was like, 'This is not what I want for my life.' There was that wake-up call, but there was also the desire to have things that I didn't have."
Before being incarcerated, he had been one of the original New Kids on the Block, following the lead of his more musical brother, Donnie. But he had left the group before it achieved major success. Now, out of prison, he started rapping and quickly found fame as part of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, even though, he says, "I didn't want to sing and dance." His dazzling abs drew the attention of Calvin Klein, and he became perhaps its most famous underwear model ever.
All this led him to acting, and he found early work in the 1993 TV movie The Substitute, without really taking it too seriously at first. Then one night, he was in his hotel room on location, watching A Few Good Men on pay-per-view, and he was staggered by the quality of the acting: "I just started watching it over and over and over."
He started to dream big, but others found his aspirations laughable -- not least Leonardo DiCaprio, who was openly hostile when it was suggested Wahlberg should appear opposite him in the 1995 drama The Basketball Diaries. "Leonardo was like, 'Over my dead f---ing body. Marky Mark's not going to be in this f---ing movie,' " says Wahlberg. "Because we'd had a thing -- I didn't even realize it, [but] I was a bit of a dick to him at a charity basketball game. So he was like, 'This f---ing asshole is not going to be in this movie.' "
Thanks to the perseverance of casting director Avy Kaufman, DiCaprio reluctantly agreed to read with Wahlberg. "So I come in and I do the audition and I kind of look at him and he kind of looks at me, and then we do a scene, and they're like, 'Hmm, this f---ing dude's pretty good, right?' " Wahlberg says, laughing. "The next thing you know, boom, we're hanging out."
It was Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 drama Boogie Nights -- about the late 1970s porn industry -- that cemented Wahlberg as a legitimate actor, and one prepared to take the kinds of risks many shunned.
"Boogie Nights was a moment for me where I had to say, 'You know what? I can't keep worrying about what the guys in the neighborhood are going to think. I'm an actor. I gotta go for it.' "
That's been Wahlberg's mantra ever since, with films from 2000's The Yards and The Perfect Storm to 2006's The Departed.
"He's got an intelligence and a real love of this business," says Berg. "It's love of the game. And if you've got love of the game, there's no limit to what you can do."
His work onscreen remains his top priority, but it would be wrong to think it's the only thing that matters in his life. His family remains crucial, as do his efforts for his nonprofit foundation and his entrepreneurial endeavors. He also has been furthering his education, and spent much of the past year studying to take the exam for his high school diploma, which he finally earned in June because it mattered to him to set an example for his kids.
He acknowledges his wife would rather he did less, especially when it comes to entertainment. "She doesn't necessarily love what I do," he says. "I have to share so much of myself with my job and with other people. And you know, she'd prefer we have our privacy."
But that remains a distant dream. Even though he says, "my head is in a good place and my heart's in a good place," he seems possessed by a ferocious drive, propelled by the notion that, with all his success, everything could vanish.
"That's my attitude," he says. "I think it could all be gone tomorrow. If I don't work hard and stay focused and do the right thing, it could all go. And you know what? I've had such an amazing run, I'd be OK with that. Because nothing lasts forever."