Nobody could accuse a man of being a shrinking violet when his
unadorned torso, clad only in a pair of pristine Calvin Kleins has loomed extra-large from hoardings, notably high above New York's Times Square.
Add in an early reputation as a petty criminal then a teenybopper's
delight (in his previous incarnation as hip-hop rapper Marky Mark), and the soft-spoken, sober-suited figure opposite appears as a rather pale imposter until he allows his defenses to drop with the same nonchalance as his crotch-hugging underwear.
At 29, Mark Wahlberg has decided to grow up and grab a career by
banishing all hints of a misspent youth. He has become polite to a fault, talks about the dilemmas of being a good Catholic boy, sports serious eyewear, and waxes almost poetical in praise of his mom. Occasionally, and unconsciously, he addresses you as "Sir."
So far so good, you might think. But where's the catch? Haven't bad
boys reinvented themselves before? Wahlberg, however, does appear to
be a reformed character. Yes, there are the occasional bachelor boy
shenanigans with GEORGE CLOONEY, whom he has partnered in THREE KINGS, and the upcoming A PERFECT STORM as well as OCEANS 11, a remake of the Rat Pack movie due to go into production later this year. And Clooney's own company has also backed Wahlberg in Metal God, based on the story of a longhaired rocker in the Judas Priest mould. His recent appearances have been complete with shoulder-length locks, which he claims mostly belong to him "apart from the blonde bits, which are extensions."
Wahlberg, Clooney has said approvingly of his chum, is "nice and a
real pro." In A Perfect Storm by WOLFGANG PERTERSON from Sebastian
Junger's factually based best seller, Clooney plays the captain of a
fishing boat caught up in a meteorological nightmare on what should have been a routine voyage. Wahlberg takes orders alongside JOHN HAWKES, JOHN C REILLY, WILLIAM FICHTNER and ALAN PAYNE.
In order to ease into character he arrived in the Maine fishing village of Gloucester well ahead of the start of filming to spend some time with the local fishermen, and also the family whose son was lost in the incident.
"They thought I was going to be this spoiled Hollywood star, with
assistants, a cell phone, and a camcorder," he says. "They got a bit of a shock. The first thing I wanted the family to know was that they were not going to see their son; they're going to see me, trying to be a fisherman who would have been in the same situation as their son. They were happy about that."
When Walhberg took to sea he discovered the rigors of their life.
"They had me scrubbing the deck and baiting the hooks. There were no
showers, no real bathrooms, but I needed to feel I belonged on that
boat," he says.
After DAVID O RUSSELL’S Three Kings, set during the Gulf War, Wahlberg and Clooney can do no wrong and seem to have formed a mutual
admiration club. Just as Clooney's career revival began with the ELMORE LEONARD thriller OUT OF SIGHT, Wahlberg's resurrection reached first base with BOOGIE NIGHTS as the amazingly endowed Seventies' porn star known as Dirk Diggler.
At the time he acknowledged there were three things he swore he would never do in the movies; sing, dance and take off his underwear, or indeed even show the underwear again. "And all those things happened in the first 30 minutes of Boogie Nights, and I have a parish priest to whom I have to answer regularly! It was definitely my biggest challenge, but not necessarily the one I want to be remembered for, for the rest of my career." His track record since then has ensured that he will be much
more than simply a one note actor.
Unlike his musical career in which image overshadowed the music,
Wahlberg professes to be keen to ensure that he has more control over
his acting progress. "A lot of actors who are very talented, still have to feed themselves and pay the bills. But all that time running around in my underwear put a little money in my pockets. So I can concentrate on working with good people in interesting movies, rather than simply supporting myself."
To date, that has involved working with, among others, PENNY MARSHALL on RENAISSANCE MAN, his acting debut; impressively with LEONARDO DICPARIO on THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, playing close to home as a Catholic youngster who turns to drugs and street crime, and less successfully as an evil incarnate in the thriller FEAR, at which point he made the momentous decision never to be referred to as Marky Mark again. The director of Boogie Nights who had see them both in Diaries, offered him the role after his first choice, DiCaprio opted to do Titanic.
And recently he has just completed THE YARDS by JAMES who made
his directorial debut on Little Odessa. The thriller, set in the vast New York City subway yards, finds Wahlberg s a youth who was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit trying to get his life back on track. He seeks what he believes will be the safe refuge of home only to discover you cannot trust anyone; even family. Acting alongside JOAQUIN PHOENIX and CHARLIZE THEORN, Wahlberg describes his character as "this tragic guy who's doing everything he can to do right for all the wrong that he has done, and he's just trying to find his way. At first I didn't necessarily think that I was ready for the role, but James had a very clear idea of what he wanted and thought I could do it. I wasn't going to second
Having seen the result he believes it ranks as his best work, but he won't be agonizing about reactions. "What's the point? I learn from every experience, and that learning is more important than what other people think or even if the movie's a hit." Although it wasn't among the prize winners, it was well received at the recent CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, when Wahlberg (taking a break from filming Metal God) flanked his co-stars and director for the traditional beach party and flashbulb popping walk up the red carpeted steps of the Palais for the official screening. He partied into the Mediterranean night long after Phoenix, Theron and co had left for their beds.
His directors appear to warm to his style and demeanor. Anderson (his Boogie Nights mentor and at 31 a near contemporary), describes him as
"one of those natural talent boys ... The key thing about him is that he does have great instincts. His learning curve is not a curve, it's a straight, vertical line." James Foley who cast him in Fear suggests that Wahlberg's reinvention is calculatingly instinctive. "He has an uncanny understanding of what kind of personality gets carved on the media's mind. The only smarter person I've met about this is Madonna."
Part of the calculation in his Marky Mark days was ditching his shirt and tantalizingly dropping his trousers. He toured gay clubs to such
electrifying effect that mogul David Geffen suggested to his friend Calvin Klein that he should use his assets.
Wahlberg's accumulation of street savvy began as part of growing up in a rough part of Boston where his family still resides. He was the ninth and last child of a Boston Teamster, and had to share a room with six brothers. With both his mother and father who eventually divorced, struggling to hold down two jobs each, he was left to his own devices, which inevitably meant a round of crime, ending in a sentence of two years for assault on a Vietnamese when he was 16. He served only 45 days, but regards it as a blessing in disguise.
A prison volunteer took him under her wing, making him realize he was
going nowhere fast. He began to pump iron to give himself a new
resolve. "I think I hit rock bottom. I found I was hurting so many people I loved and cared about, people I didn't even know I was hurting I didn't have any right to do that. I didn't want to carry that burden. So I just decided I had to change myself." His older brother Donnie who had joined teenybopper band NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK gave him a shot as a performer and helped him launch his debut album, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.
He returns to the family fold occasionally, but recognizes that he is
regarded as an outsider in the neighborhood. "People there are much
happier when you don't try to do anything for yourself," he says.
"They're not really supportive of change." Mom, though, has rallied in support of the boy, even turning up unblushingly for the premiere of Boogie Nights. "The only reason I go back is because of family. It was tough for me growing up there. I guess it would have been just as tough anywhere else. Boston is very separated in a lot of ways; by class, race, and religion," says Wahlberg who believes in God and is a very "faithful person. As I was raised a Catholic, I'm guilty about everything. I just hope God's a movie fan."
Wahlberg's transformation may be hard to take for some skeptics who
can only recall his negative aspects. He was in trouble with the law,
earned feminist wrath after some sexist jibes, and also was regarded as homophobic after a chance remark on a chat show.
"I treat people the way I would like to be treated," he says simply. "I just want to do my job. And people have the right to judge me for my work, but they don't have the right to judge me personally."
The work assessments have been glowing in their praise. His home
newspaper The Boston Globe talking about Boogie Nights says that
Wahlberg '"travels an always engaging arc from scared neophyte to
scared star to scared comeback kid, projecting a uniquely affecting quality of pitted vulnerability." Wahlberg counts such approbation on his home turf as the highest form of praise.
Wahlberg's ambitions are not restricted to front of camera. He has been writing scripts for short amateur features, sending out parts to his friends and shooting them in and around his house. Perhaps he has something he wishes to expunge from his system. One, Gotta Get Off is about a horny, virginal guy anticipating a visit from a girlfriend who never shows up. The frustrated lover then turns his attention to several men who drop by, one of whom responds by assaulting him. In 16A a young musician who has allowed himself to be exploited by Hollywood, commits suicide in a bungalow of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
With three films due to be "out there" Wahlberg plans to take a rest and chop his locks once he finishes Metal God. "Sometimes you can have too much Mark," he smiles. Such modesty, it has to be said, becomes him -- (WENN)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)