Mark Wahlberg has come a long way.
Born the youngest of nine children in the Dorchester neighborhood of South Boston, he was addicted to cocaine at 13, and was later charged with attempted murder for blinding a Vietnamese man with a stick in a racially charged attack. Wahlberg pleaded guilty to assault, and was sentenced to two years in prison, serving 45 days. When he got out, he vowed to change his ways, left his childhood gang, and devoted himself to Catholicism.
Now, the juvenile delinquent and artist formerly known as Marky Mark is at the top of the Hollywood food chain. In addition to producing the HBO series Boardwalk Empire and the underrated film drama Prisoners, he’s starred in four movies that were released this year—Broken City, Pain & Gain, 2 Guns, and now, Lone Survivor.
And he saved the best for last. Directed by Peter Berg and adapted from Marcus Luttrell’s non-fiction tome of the same name, Lone Survivor stars Wahlberg as Luttrell, a member of SEAL Team 10’s Operation Red Wings—a group of four snipers tasked with killing or capturing a suspected Taliban leader in the hills of Afghanistan in 2005. The men soon find themselves cornered, and must fight together to survive.
You’re older than Luttrell, who was 28 at the time of the op, but you do pull it off. Peter said it’s because you have a “boyish quality” about you. But did you have any doubts about playing Luttrell?
I knew the physical demands, but I’ve done it before so I know to be really gung-ho when the game has started and the clock is ticking, not in rehearsals. I don’t have too many more of them in me like this—unless I’m away from the front lines barking orders at somebody else.
Your first movie role was as an army cadet in Renaissance Man, so did starring as a Navy SEAL sniper engaged in an intense firefight seem like a strange, full-circle moment?
Yeah, I was going through boot camp and then had to study Shakespeare. [Laughs] I was playing a guy from Willacoochee, Georgia. It’s kind of a trip.
I heard there was a close call on the set of Lone Survivor where your head was almost blown off?
This is after I’ve operated on myself and they’re giving me water and food and I’m asking the Afghans why they’re helping me. I’ve had metal fragments in my eyes before so I’m very sensitive to anything going in my eyes when shit is blowing up around you.
Did that happen on Three Kings?
No, it actually happened while training for The Fighter. Hitting the speed bag so much, and the faster you hit it, those two metal brackets were just rubbing together, and tiny pieces of metal debris were flying in the air and into my eyes. I had to have those [pieces] removed, which was not a pleasant experience, so I’ve been hyper-sensitive to things going in my eyes. We had this mortar thing [over my shoulder], which was supposed to explode when I moved, and Pete said I was a little twitchy. So, it was supposed to be “3, 2, 1… boom,” but [Pete] took it upon himself to just fire it on “2,” so I didn’t have time to move and it just shot in my face.
I kind of lost my shit. There’s no room for those kinds of mistakes because people can really get hurt, so I went off on [the explosions guy], throwing shit around, and then Pete said, “No, no, it was my fault! I didn’t tell you, I just wanted to get the shot.” So I said, “Well, I’ll fuckin’ knock you out, too.” I threw my mic down, said, “Fuck this,” and then threw some other shit down on the stage on my way out. Then, I went to my trailer and cooled down for about 45 minutes. Just sat there. Pete was standing outside of my door, and I let Pete in to apologize. By that point, I felt bad about the way I’d acted around everyone. I’ve never had any situations on set, and I pride myself on that, as well as setting the tone for everyone, so Pete said to take the rest of the day off but I said, “No, we haven’t shot [Ali Suliman’s] coverage yet and I wouldn’t do that to him,” so I went back and apologized to the effects guys and everyone else on set, and that was it. But it wasn’t the only time Pete tried to fuck with me. He attacked me on the plane twice! But I love him. If he said, “Let’s make a movie tomorrow,” I’d say, “Just tell me where to show up.”
Being a soldier must be difficult for a number of reasons, but one of those, which the film deals with, is being able to harness and control your aggression under near-impossible circumstances—to keep it at bay, and then tap into it when necessary. You had a lot of rage in you when you were younger, so I’m curious how you were able to harness it, and only use it in things like intense screen performances.
I’m very grateful that I have a way to use that, and my real-life experience, in a positive way. Now, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t change certain things I’ve done, but there’s no way I can do that. It’s about growing, maturing, and having a better understanding of what life’s really about—being a husband, and a father. I don’t think the way I used to about a lot of things … but it’s always good to know it’s there if I have to tap into it. I’m like most guys: I want to be in the game, I don’t want to be on the bench, and I want the ball. What matters is how you act when you get hit in the mouth. Does it motivate you to push harder, or do you say, “All right, I don’t like the taste of that … it’s more than what I bargained for.”
I wanted to ask you a few Red Sox questions. I’m a Yankees fan, but I’ve got family in Cambridge so I’ve been to my fair share of Sox games.
Well, I admire you being 3-13 with the Knicks, and still wearing the hat. And with the team you have, too.
Well, as a life-long Knicks fan this is nothing new for me. But how do you feel about the Sox now? You worried about us getting Ellsbury?
Nope. It’s been going on since Babe Ruth, man—the Yankees buying players. Johnny Damon, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens. It is what it is. I’m very happy for Ellsbury, who I know personally. I think he deserves it, and you’ve got to get the money where you can get it because it is a business at the end of the day. I’d be a little more upset had the Red Sox not just won the World Series and the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs. It was a dream season all-around. I was rooting for the Yankees to not make the wild card as much as I was rooting for the Red Sox to win it all.
Cold-blooded. By the way, did you see the recent Kate Moss Playboy pictorial for the mag’s 60th anniversary?
No, I didn’t see it. Were there pictures from the Calvin Klein stuff in it?
Nah, just a bunch of sexy pictures of her dressed as a bunny.
Was she naked?
Yeah, she was.
Anyways, I’m also curious: do you still listen to rap music? Daniel Day-Lewis once said that to get into character as Bill the Butcher on Gangs of New York, he blasted Eminem into his headphones to get really aggressive.
I have different things that I use. But training for The Fighter, I had The Game’s CD and Jay Z’s CD. I have different people I listen to. I love Kanye, I love Jay Z … I like Eminem. As far as newer rappers, I like J. Cole, Kendrick, and Drake.
You’ve been linked to a sequel to The Departed forever … is that happening?
You know, who knows. They talk about it a lot but I’m not holding my breath. It’s all been talk at this point.
With Transformers: Age of Extinction, did you agree to do that one for your kids?
Well, it was exciting because it was the first time my kids were really interested in a movie I was doing. Any time they see me with a gun, like Contraband or Pain & Gain, they want to see that, too, but they can’t because of the language and all that stuff. But I loved working with Michael Bay, and I thought he had a really interesting way to make it new, different, and fresh. Plus, being in movies that have the potential to be hugely successful allows me to make smaller movies that I’m really passionate about.
What’s going to make this Transformers different? The first one was OK, but then the sequels were a total mess.
It was a tighter script, and its own stand-alone thing. I think the emotional core of it, the human element, is going to be extremely powerful. It’s an ordinary man trying to do extraordinary things to save his daughter and keep her alive—and this boyfriend he didn’t know anything about. He’d had a child when he was in high school and his wife passed away, and the promise he’d made to her was that she wouldn’t date any boys until she graduated and that she’d be at the graduation—because we weren’t due to the pregnancy. So there’s an anchor to it and a realness to it that I like a lot.
[Wahlberg’s phone starts buzzing non-stop.]
This other producer on the movie keeps fucking calling me and I don’t know what the fuck he wants.
[Then, an assistant comes in and places a brace around Wahlberg’s neck.]
I hurt my neck in Hong Kong, and it hasn’t gotten better yet. I just woke up in the morning and couldn’t move, but still had to shoot 10 days of crazy action.
To take it back to Lone Survivor, aside from almost getting your head blown off, what was the toughest part of the role for you?
I had a pretty long year last year. I started with Broken City, then Pain & Gain, then 2 Guns, then Lone Survivor. I never had more than 30 days between principal photography of any of those movies except between Broken City and Pain & Gain. I was trying to cheat and get pumped up beforehand so I could train during Broken City, then the director said, “I really want you to be as lean as possible,” so I got down to 165 for that, then I got to 212 for Pain & Gain, then I had 30 days to lose 30 pounds for 2 Guns, and then right after that, I was training for Lone Survivor. So, the physical demands were difficult—but nothing compared to what those SEALs go through.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing a remake of The Gambler, which I start shooting in January, with Brie Larson.
She’s great in Short Term 12.
She’s fantastic, dude. She’s going to be great in this, too. Rupert Wyatt, who directed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is going to direct it.
I was surprised how good Rise was. I thought it was going to be shit.
Oh, of course! That one that we did was. So I was like, “They’re going to do this again?” But he has a really great take on the movie. And then we’re doing Ted 2.
Are Mila Kunis and everyone from the first one coming back for that?
I think so! We just got married, so unless something really horrible happens, I’m sure.