Normally, Mark Wahlberg is jovial, energetic and exuberant, but meeting him this time at the Meridien Hotel in Miami, he looks despondent and melancholic. Pressing a pack of ice over the back of his right hand and grimacing in pain, he tells me that he was stung by something last night at premiere’s after-party of his recent film Pain and Gain. “I don’t know, a bee, a hornet, a wasp,” he moans, as he lifts the ice pack and checks little lines on his hand. “It just keeps swelling, but if it goes past these lines, then I have to go to the emergency room, because it’s going to affect some tendon in my finger.”
Physical pain aside, the Hollywood star had a different traumatic experience recently when he inhabited the real-life character of bodybuilder Danny Lugo in Michael-Bay’s dark comedy Pain and Gain, in which he and his gang commit hideous crimes, including robbery, kidnapping and murder, that reminded him of his dark past, when he was growing up in Boston’s suburbs, where he had been in trouble with the police 20-25 times from the age of 13 for drug-related crimes and assaults.
“I didn’t want to go back there,” he reflects, but he was able to relate to Lugo, who resorted to crime in order to get rich fast, without even having the chance to meet him. “I had nothing and I saw people that had what I wanted, so I just go and try to take it. I made some very poor decisions as a young person trying to get it in the fast and easy way.” At the age of 16, Wahlberg pleaded guilty to attacking and permanently blinding a Vietnamese shopkeeper, and received a two-year jail sentence. This was his wake-up call.
“It wasn’t until I had those experiences that I realised that I am going to do it, but I had to go out and earn it the hard way, and I’m in it for the long haul and obviously I’m still here, still plugging away, always looking to what’s next and how I can I get better at what I do. I don’t want to get greedy. I got to find that fine line and stay on that right path,” he says.
Indeed, Wahlberg’s ascent from the dark abyss of Boston’s suburbs to the glittering heights of Hollywood epitomises the American dream that
Lugo wanted so much to live. He first gained fame as a musician in his brother Donnie Wahlberg’s successful boy band New Kids on the Block and then as an underwear model for Calvin Klein’s television adverts, before he made his first acting debut in the 1993 TV movie The Substitute, which he followed with his big screen debut in Renaissance Man.
The young star continued to shine in Hollywood, starring in major pictures, such as Boogie Nights, Three Kings, The Perfect Storm, I Heart Huckabees and The Departed, for which he gained an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Acting, however, did not quench his thirst for achieving higher goals, and he soon turned his gaze to producing, serving as an executive producer on award-winning and highly rated TV shows Boardwalk Empire and Entourage (which is loosely based on his own youthful misadventures in Hollywood). Now he wants to direct a movie. “Just a matter of finding the right story,” he says. “But I also have the idea of possibly directing a big movie that has a lot of effects and action and things of that nature.”
Hence, he is thrilled to work again with director Michael Bay on his next sci-fi blockbuster, Transformers 4, which is starting to shoot next month. “Who better to learn from than Michael,” he says as he peeks under the pack of ice and checks on his pinky and swelling hand. “I think he’s the most knowledgeable when it comes to every aspect of making a movie. We have the same kind of work ethic, the same approach to work. I like his no-nonsense attitude. He doesn’t like to waste time. I don’t like to sit in my trailer. And he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it.”
Wahlberg has scored success in other ventures. He co-owns a restaurant (Wahlburgers) in his native Boston with his brothers, runs the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and has recently launched a line of sports nutrition supplements, Marked. “I’ve wanted to basically have something for everyone: people that wanted to lose weight and people who want to put on weight, younger people who want to get muscles and play on the football team with ban-free substances,” he enthuses.
In spite of his phenomenal success, the Boston-native has remained deeply connected to his pals from his past, hanging out with them, offering them financial support and even sharing ladies with them during his wild bachelor days. “I have been responsible for many guys in my neighbourhood losing their virginity,” he laughs, nodding his head proudly. “When I became very successful and we would have lots of girls coming to hang around, I would help them out.”
But the days of reveling are long gone. These days the 42-year-old actor lives a quiet, church-going lifestyle with his wife, the model Rhea Durham, and their four children in Los Angeles. His daily routine is no different than any other family man. Having a gym at home, he wakes up early to exercise, eats breakfast, takes the kids to school, hits the church for a prayer and then back home, where conducts his business. Instead of spending his evenings in glitzy Hollywood parties, he disports himself with the company of his family.
“The thing with this job is that it’s very well paying job, but it doesn’t last forever and there’s no guarantees.” he stresses. “It could go away in the very near future, so I’ve got to be smart. I am not worried about all the excesses now. It’s not as important, but I want to have a beautiful home and make sure that my kids are squared away in their education and everything else, and just to be comfortable.”
With the glorious fame and lavish fortune that has been bestowed upon him, Wahlberg has no doubt achieved the comfort he desires. Lugo, however, was not as lucky. He’s received the death sentence for murder, and currently is awaiting his execution. “People just don’t know when to quit and that’s the problem,” Wahlberg exclaims. “These people are always obsessed with just a little bit more. Greed is a terrible thing and can be very dangerous. I’ve seen many people like that unfortunately in my past and there’s a few in the present but I try to stay clear of them.”
But he couldn’t stay clear of stinging bees, and the enormous muscles that he had developed for the role of Lugo were to no avail against them. “This one slaps the ego down a little bit,” he says frustratingly, as he helplessly stares at his red buffed hand. “I got people running to get doctors and all this stuff for a little bee sting.”
He suddenly sparks to life and his eyes glint, the pack of ice is shoved aside when I ask him about his new supplements products. With an urgent voice, he calls his assistant to bring them and line them up at the table, in front of him, where he proudly poses for a photo. “It’s available at Walgreen and Rite Aid, and we’re going onto a bunch of online sites and a bunch of other things,” he pitches, like a true salesman.
For a moment, his physical pain is subdued by his business enthusiasm and he departs in a high spirit.
Three days later, I meet Wahlberg at a party in Cancun. He triumphantly shows me his right hand. It’s perfectly healthy.