Imagine Kevin Federline announcing he wanted to be an actor. Consider the ridicule, the embarrassment, the doors slammed in his face — and then you might begin to understand where “Marky” Mark Wahlberg found himself in 1994.
More than a decade later, he’s the producer of HBO’s hit show “Entourage,” one of Hollywood’s top leading men and an awards-season darling thanks to a breakthrough performance in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning “The Departed” (see “Marty’s Party: Scorsese, ’Departed’ (And Effie Too) Get Oscar Gold” ). With the respect of Hollywood finally in his hip pocket, and the sniper-on-the-run flick “Shooter” on its way into theaters, Wahlberg sat down with MTV News to discuss his love of ’70s tough guys and kicking butt at the local Starbucks.
MTV: “The Departed” is being praised as a return to Scorsese’s heyday, and “Shooter” plays like a cross between 1974’s “The Parallax View” and some kind of Lee Marvin tough-guy movie. What attracts you to these ’70s-style films?
Mark Wahlberg: Well, that’s when I was born, in ’71. I was going to the movies on a weekly basis with my dad, from like 7 to 14 years old. They don’t make those movies anymore, but they seem to be cool again. That’s certainly good for me, because I haven’t had too much interest in going to the movies lately.
MTV: Tough-guy movies of the ’70s, like “The Getaway” and “Death Wish,” made a big impact on society. But over the last decade, we’ve had more sensitive leading men like Hugh Grant and Jude Law.
Wahlberg: Which is cool, which is cool. But hopefully there’s room out there for a little bit of everything.
MTV: If you’d been around during the ’70s, whose career would you have had?
Wahlberg: To me, there’s a couple guys that are even earlier than the ’70s: [James] Cagney, John Garfield. Then, of course, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. Those are guys who remind me, in some ways, of my dad, as opposed to these matinee idols whose looks remind me more of my mom in a weird way. [He laughs.] There’s a lot of very good-looking gentlemen out there making movies.
MTV: Do you think of McQueen or Bronson and say, “I need to remake ’Bullitt’ so kids will see how cool it is,” or are you more like, “It’s a classic; I need to leave it alone”?
Wahlberg: I’m not into remaking anything, but there’s only so many stories to tell. If you look at “Shooter,” there are elements of “The Fugitive” — there’s a guy on the run, I get set up, and I’m trying to prove my innocence and get revenge at the same time. There are also elements of “Rambo” — I was a military guy and got left for dead. It’s about finding new and interesting ways to tell stories. But no, certain movies I don’t think you should ever touch. You know, somebody like Michael Bay might do an interesting remake of “The Godfather.” [He laughs.] Yeah, some things need to be considered sacred.
MTV: Your “Shooter” character, Bob Lee Swagger, is a bleeding, wounded hero like John McLane in “Die Hard,” not some “Mission: Impossible,” Tom Cruise type who walks away from a massive battle without a scrape.
Wahlberg: Definitely. When I get set up, I get shot a couple of times. I have to figure out how to stay alive, how to get better. And then it’s all about how I’m gonna get revenge.
MTV: You’re constantly training for these action movies. So be honest: If you’re sitting in Starbucks drinking your mochaccino and some crazy bad guy walks in, would you be able to handle yourself?
Wahlberg: Yeah, I think. I’ve always been able to handle myself. If, in a worst-case scenario, I had to protect myself or somebody who couldn’t protect themselves, then yeah, I’d do what I gotta do. But you never know — I might run. I might just try to save myself by hiding in my car. [He laughs.]
MTV: It might be hard to sell these action movies after your fellow Starbucks patrons tell the tabloids about how Mark Wahlberg went and hid in his car.
Wahlberg: [He laughs.] I’ll worry about that after I’m safe, you know?
MTV: All the awards nominations suggest that “The Departed” is considered your best work. Do you think it’s the greatest performance of your career?
Wahlberg: It’s hard to say. I’ve done other films where I’ve had to work really hard, dig deeper and prepare more. But I also spent 17 years living in that [Boston] neighborhood, dealing with the police day in and day out. I think it’s up to other people to decide. Hopefully my best is yet to come.
MTV: Did all the awards-season success mean more to you because you started out as a somewhat ridiculed Calvin Klein model and rapper?
Wahlberg: Definitely. For some reason, some people think I had an advantage because of my background, but that’s certainly not the case. To be taken seriously in this business I completely dropped everything: I never made another record, never did anything other than try to find great roles to prove myself. [For years], any time I mentioned the fact that I wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, people kind of chuckled. There weren’t too many people who had made the transition, certainly not as a white rapper. The only other person was Vanilla Ice — and the only roles I was being offered, because of my musical success, were white rappers or some other role that would’ve exploited that. So yeah, I’m proud.
MTV: Now that you’ve finally got the critical acclaim to go with the box-office clout, you’ve never been more powerful in Hollywood. So what’s the next stage of your career?
Wahlberg: Back to rapping, man. [He laughs.] I’m going back to rapping and underwear modeling. [I’ve] finally gotten my beer belly off, so I’ll go back and slap on the underwear, and we’ll run with that.
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