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|Posted: Tue May 27, 2003 10:47 am Post subject: Mark's Article- May 26, 2003
|Posted on Tue, May. 27, 2003
Wahlberg's lost his wise-guy rep — and Marky Mark's gone, too
BY MICHAEL JANUSONIS
The Providence Journal
BOSTON - The stately hotel with the gloomy, dark-paneled lobby and the rooms filled with heavy, expensive-looking furniture doesn't exactly seem like the digs Mark Wahlberg would choose to stay in.
"Are you kidding?" the puckish Wahlberg says, looking around the spacious suite in which Paramount's publicists have set him up for interviews. "I'm staying at my mom's house in Braintree.
"I get free laundry," he adds cheerfully. Then his voice goes a register lower and he says, "But I still have to do chores."
Wahlberg, who once sent teenage hearts pitty-pat as hip-hop artist Marky Mark. Wahlberg, who went on to generate heat in daring photo shoots wearing only Calvin Klein underwear. Wahlberg, who then graduated to movie star status, winning critical praise in such wildly different dramatic films as "Boogie Nights," "The Perfect Storm" and the "Planet of the Apes" remake.
Apparently, underneath it all he's still just a kid from Dorchester - Mark from the Block - still hanging out at the local Boys Club when he's in town.
Despite the imposing air of the hotel suite, which appears it might require a jacket and tie just to sit in, Wahlberg has dressed down in chino pants and a tight T-shirt that shows off powerful biceps. He grabs for a bottle that looks like it might hold gin. But relax! It's only English bottled water.
Affable, thoughtful and well-spoken, the kid from Dorchester has made movies from Paris to Venice, one of the sites of his "The Italian Job," which opens May 30. (He plays the ringleader of a gang of safecrackers who have been cheated out of a cache of gold bars worth $35 million.) Wahlberg has kept company with George Clooney, Julianne Moore, Leonardo Di Caprio. His "Italian Job" co-star Donald Sutherland - "one of the most likable, sweet guys I've met" - sent him three bottles of very expensive French wine after the shoot.
Yet because of his own checkered background, which includes hordes of screaming teenage fans as well as a stay at the Deer Island House of Corrections for a variety of misdeeds, Wahlberg says people meeting him for the first time usually base their expectations on whatever snippets they've read about him.
"They always kind of have that double-take thing, and I can tell that they are expecting something else," he says with amusement.
Having been thrust into the spotlight as lead singer of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch nearly a decade and a half ago, he quickly earned a reputation for being a cocky wise guy - one he's quick to concede was justified.
What changed him, he says, is this: "I just grew up.
"What happened was, at 18 years old I was taken outside of Dorchester, which is all I thought existed, a very, very violent place. When I got out of there, I was amazed. I was exposed to the real world and I got an opportunity.
"And I'm still learning so much, in my travels and in my readings, in so many things that I never had any interest in or exposure to before. So it's been an amazing journey."
One of the reasons he makes a point of going back to the old neighborhood Boys Club is to talk to the youngsters there, whom he sees as versions of himself 15 years ago. "I'm just trying to inspire kids like myself to venture out into the world, to teach them that it's okay to be creative and to be artistic.
"I remember being 25 years old and still worrying about, 'I don't know if I can do this role because I don't know what the guys in the neighborhood are going to think.'
"And then I said to myself, 'What is wrong with you?'
"And from that point on I decided, 'I am an actor. I don't care what they think. I'm playing a role. I'm going to continue to challenge myself and push myself. Because, if not, I'm denying myself the right to learn, to grow as a person.'
"So I'm really trying to push that on kids and inspire them and give them a level of confidence that will allow them to explore their career possibilities."
And does it work?
"At the Boys Club some kids might be impressed for a couple of minutes. But when they realize that you're just like them, they actually like to put you down a lot more, put you in your place. Which is great. I think we have a mutual respect for each other. I certainly don't feel like I'm any better than them.
"I just want to try to inspire them to do as much as they can with their lives, with the opportunities they have. I point out that they don't have that much opportunity, but that it is very possible to achieve their goals, just that it takes more. It's a lot of work."
Asked whether his reputation as a teen singing idol and all those sexy underwear posters worked against him at first in his acting career, he answers quickly, "Oh, definitely. Of course!
"But it did work to my advantage in a way, because they expected me to be so bad that if I did something even remotely interesting, it was going to blow them away. So they kind of set themselves up to let me sneak in the back door."
His first break came when director Penny Marshall decided he would be right for a small role in the 1994 Danny DeVito comedy "Renaissance Man," playing one of a group of underachieving Army recruits to whom DeVito's character is trying to teach Shakespeare.
At the time, Wahlberg was having artistic disagreements with his record company and although he had been approached previously for films, "it was always, 'Play the white rapper in "Sister Act 2,"' something to just kind of put the other foot in the grave.
"Then Penny Marshall approached me and said, 'You know, I really think you could be a great actor.' Here's a woman who's from New York, who has a similar upbringing and background as me, and we just clicked. The next thing you know, I'm auditioning for her movie, studying a Southern accent, flying myself to L.A. and back for screen tests."
He built up a career on small roles, eventually breaking out in 1997's "Boogie Nights," playing an up-and-coming porno star.
He long ago worked to lose his "Daw-chestuh" accent for the movies, "and then when I really lost it, 'The Perfect Storm' came my way (which was set in Gloucester) and I had to go back and do it again."
Wahlberg's last three films - "Planet of the Apes," "The Truth About Charlie" and now "The Italian Job" - were remakes in which he filled shoes previously worn by Charlton Heston, Cary Grant and Michael Caine respectively. He didn't set out to become the Remake King of Hollywood, but things simply fell into place that way.
He wanted very much to work with Tim Burton on "Apes," as well as Jonathan Demme on "Charlie."
Wahlberg said the 1969 version of "The Italian Job," which also starred Noel Coward and Benny Hill, "has a huge cult following in England, though it wasn't a big hit here." F. Gary Gray, director of the remake, convinced him that the film would "be a character-driven piece" and also would have the potential for commercial success.
Although Wahlberg says "there wasn't much action" in the script at first, it now has a speedboat race through the canals of Venice as well as Wahlberg behind the wheel of a tiny Mini Cooper as it zooms down the steps into a Hollywood subway station.
"They make it as safe for you as possible," he says of his daredevil stunts, honed on a race track outside Philadelphia. "As always, there's a certain amount of risk, an element of danger, but you get paid well. It would be just as risky to be working on the Big Dig, I think.
"But I'm not one of those actors who will sit here and talk about how cool they are and how they do their own stunts. They're all full of it, basically."
He'll turn 32 on June 5. Two months or so after that, he expects to become a father of a daughter who will be born to his girlfriend, Rhea, who is not in the "business" and whom he met through a mutual friend in New York.
It sounds like it will be a much quieter life than he experienced not much more than a decade ago, the screaming hordes of teenage girls replaced by one tiny screaming girl.
Asked whether he misses the rousing adulation that greeted his appearances on stages around the country in his Marky Mark days, he says with a resigned sigh, "No. Not at all."
Still ... at the time ...
"It's always fun," he admits. "I couldn't get girls to talk to me until I was 17, 18 and famous. And then it was like they were all over you.
"It was exciting, but then reality set in. Who's being taken advantage of?"