In the early 1990s when Mark Wahlberg was Marky Mark, a rapper and former New Kid on the Block, he wanted to be a famous actor, but was instead known for three things: those Calvin Klein shots, his attitude and his entourage. So large was his crew, made up of his brothers and old Bostonian friends, brought west from his hometown, it seemed OTT even by Hollywood standards – a town hardly unfamiliar with the ostentatious.
It was also large enough to provide the inspiration for eight seasons’ worth of material – in the form of the award-winning Entourage on HBO, for which Wahlberg was executive producer. Legend has it that his assistant asked to film Wahlberg and his mates kidding around because they were so funny, and it was there that the seeds of an idea were planted, two decades ago now.
It’s a period the 43-year-old unsurprisingly remembers fondly. “It was a good time,” he grins mischievously, flashing those Hollywood pearly whites. He’s an actor who divides opinion, but his loyalty to his friends is remarkable given his ascent into mega-stardom. The knowledge that some of Entourage actually happened in real life is a huge part of its appeal.
“I wanted people around me whom I could trust and hang out with while I was making my movies, and we’ve enjoyed this great friendship and camaraderie over the years,” he says. “It’s good to be faithful to your roots. It keeps you grounded and reminds you that even though you may have more money and a certain stature, your friends will always know who you really are.”
So, does he still see the same friends after all these years? “I still hang out with them, yes – but they don’t live in my house with me and my wife, of course.”
Which sounds obvious. Why would they?
“I bought my first house in Hollywood with the idea that I would get married and start my own family. But then my guys came over and started checking out the house to see which rooms they were going to have.
I still hang out with my friends, yes – but they don’t live in my house with me and my wife
“They simply assumed they were going to stay with me and they were telling me things like, ‘C’mon, you’re going to get married and have kids? You’ve gotta be kidding…?’”
Born in Dorchester of Boston, Massachusetts, in a Catholic family, Wahlberg was the youngest of nine children, but not the only one to strike it famous. His older brother, Donnie, was Mark’s way into fame through New Kids on the Block – Maurice Starr’s original boy band, formed in 1984. Wahlberg did a brief stint in the group before they made it big.
For the longest time, it didn’t look as if Mark Wahlberg would make it beyond the prison cells of Boston – never mind to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. As a teenager he was arrested and detained multiple times – he was once charged with attempted murder (although pleaded guilty to assault) – and was addicted to cocaine before the age of 15. His biography is almost as extensive for his misdemeanors as his filmography.
It’s something he’s asked about a lot in interviews, and something that he always responds to. It’s also what makes him a controversial actor: some believe that he didn’t deserve a second chance, particularly given the nature of some of his crimes, but he’s always maintained that he has had to put the past behind him. That ‘kid from the wrong side of the tracks’ vibe stayed with him and his image as the bad-boy of Hollywood served him well, but the most important thing he remembers from this period is his faith.
It was religion that helped Wahlberg back onto the straight and narrow after his parish priest took him under his wing, and he’s retained that faith to this day. “I pray every day and try to go to church every day. My faith in God is what makes me a better man,” he says, earnestly. “It’s the most important part of my life. I pray that I will live up to my intention to be the best husband and father than I can be.
I never would have been able to change my life and have the success and love that I have in my world today without my faith.”
The musician who wants to be a movie star is one story the casting directors of Hollywood are no doubt familiar with. He admits that he understood their reservations, but was determined to make it. Of course, eventually he did make it, firstly as an underwear model in those iconic Calvin Klein crotch-grabbing shots, and then on the big screen. First came Renaissance Man, starring Danny DeVito, and then a role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the excellent Basketball Diaries, which, as a former drug addict and huge NBA fan, particularly appealed to Wahlberg.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically acclaimed Boogie Nights followed, with Wahlberg playing a nightclub dishwasher, Eddie Adams, who becomes a big-name star in the world of porn. While he hasn’t always picked his roles perfectly, the likes of Three Kings, The Departed, The Fighter and The Gambler are the pillars of a fine acting career.
More recently came Ted, directed by Seth MacFarlane, about a foul-mouthed teddy bear. It represents a huge shift away from some the roles Wahlberg would normally take. He’s excelled as the tough guy and has often been reluctant to stray from it.
“For a long time I only wanted to play bad-ass or tough guys because I loved doing that and audiences could easily identify me with those kinds of parts,” he says, before offering another insight into how his upbringing and friendships have shaped his career.
“Coming from a tough neighbourhood, I didn’t want to disappoint the guys back home by playing softer characters. But as an actor you’ve got to learn to be vulnerable, have different edges to you and not just do the same thing over and over. Ted is the kind of film where I could do something very different and have a lot of fun doing it. Seth MacFarlane has an incredible and wicked sense of humour and I love the concept of the films and the writing.”
And fans of his more light-hearted work have Ted 2, the film’s sequel, to look forward to this July. “What’s interesting about that is that Tom Brady [quarterback at Wahlberg’s beloved American football team the New England Patriots] gives a really amazing performance. Tom also plays in Entourage. He’s very good and very funny,” he adds.
Despite his dark teenage years and tough-guy persona, Wahlberg also offers up incredible humility. You can imagine many actors for whom Entourage just couldn’t happen. He’s not afraid to laugh at himself but, at the same time, doesn’t blush too much. He shrugs his shoulders: that was just how it was.
“Vince was never really based on my own personality,” offers Wahlberg. “It was more about the kind of life I was leading and how the film business works behind the scenes,” he says. “We knew that people would buy into the idea of doing an insider kind of take on Hollywood and it was a matter of getting the idea right before HBO would agree to do it.
“The most difficult part was finding a guy who was right to play Vince. It had to be an actor who could make audiences believe he was a star even though he wasn’t already one himself. But once we got Adrian [Grenier], we knew we had our guy.”
It’s a clever trick by the producers to include a bit of the 43-year-old Wahlberg in a show about the 20-year-old one – although not too much of the new pipe’n’slippers Mark makes it in. Nowadays, he seems awfully sensible. The days of hard-partying are over, he can confirm.
“I like having a routine,” he admits. “I’m up at 4.30am. I spend a half hour or hour working out, then I eat breakfast, and take the kids to school. Then I spend the rest of the day in my office, reading my script out loud, if I’m about to work on a film.
“I do that at least twice a day because I always like being very prepared whenever I start work on a film. I want to know the whole entire script beginning to end before I get on the set. I don’t ever want to be the guy who shows up under prepared.
“Two weeks before one movie is over I start thumbing through the next script. I’m being paid; it’s my job – I have to be professional.”
I want to know the whole entire script beginning to end. I don’t ever want to turn up underprepared
He’s also a devoted father and husband. He has been in a committed relationship with model Rhea Durham since 2001 and has four children – two sons and two daughters.
He openly beams when he talks about his family and the perils of fatherhood. “It gets more complicated as they get older,” he smiles. “Once they get to be teenagers I’m sure my wife and I are going to have our hands full,” he laughs. “But it’s great watching them grow up and it’s interesting to watch their personalities develop. I just try to be around for them as much as I can and be the kind of father who they know will always care and love them with all my heart and soul.”
So while the Wahlberg of old may be retired, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the hedonistic Wahlberg who, with his huge group of pals, was wild enough to write an entire show about, will live on with Entourage. It may have come to an end on TV, with its eighth season having been the last, but Entourage the film, including the original cast and many, many A-list cameos, is coming to your local cinema later this month.
“I always believed that we would do it,” says Wahlberg. “Just like it took time to get the concept right for the TV series, it took time to get the script right and everyone on board. But I was ready to fight very hard to get this movie made and I’m very happy that audiences are going to be able to see these great characters come to life again.”
What’s next for Wahlberg? Comedies, more production work, maybe directing, the odd tough-guy role – and, of course, a little time with the old crew now and then.
Entourage is released in UK cinemas on 19 June.
Ted 2 is out on 10 July.
The full interview can be found in the June issue of Square Mile. To see if you qualify for a free subscription, click here