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Mark Wahlberg - Biography

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Mark Wahlberg

Personal details

Name: Mark Wahlberg
Born: 5 June 1971 (Age: 44)
Where: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Height: 5' 7"
Awards: 1 Oscar and 1 Golden Globe nomination

All about this star


It's often been said that pop stars should steer well clear of movies. Their attempts to cross over have such a tawdry and unintentionally hilarious history. Remember Mick Jagger in Ned Kelly and, worse, Freejack? Madonna in Body Of Evidence, Evita, and The Next Best Thing? David Bowie in Labyrinth, Basquiat, and the unbelievably bad The Linguini Incident? Frightening, isn't it, a catalogue of cinematic horrors. And these are the GOOD pop stars. How awful would the BAD ones be? Well, recent examples have actually been surprisingly excellent. For one, Donnie Wahlberg from the execrable boy band New Kids On The Block was quite stunning as the freak in Bruce Willis's bathroom in The Sixth Sense. And Donnie has nothing on his brother, Mark, formerly known as Marky Mark. Like a street-cred Matt Damon, he served his apprenticeship in tough, cool little numbers like The Basketball Diaries and Fear. Then he went ballistic with his mega-pecker in Boogie Nights, and alongside George Clooney in Three Kings and The Perfect Storm, before moving on to headline blockbusters such as Planet Of The Apes, and scoring an Oscar nomination for his efforts in Martin Scorsese's The Departed.

Unlike most of Hollywood's squeaky clean heroes, Mark had a tough upbringing, and became tough (and occasionally mean) to deal with it. He was born Mark Robert Michael Wahlberg on the 5th of June, 1971, in St Margaret's Hospital, Boston. He grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, with his Irish Catholic parents - mother Alma and deliveryman father Donald - who divorced when Mark was 11. Life was hard from the start. The family lived in a 3-bedroom apartment, and Mark was the youngest of nine - he has five brothers and three sisters. He cannot have had much he could genuinely call his own - including space, clothes and parental attention.

He almost, ALMOST escaped early. Music entrepreneur Maurice Starr had, in the early Eighties, made a big hit out of New Edition, then split with them acrimoniously. Starr decided he would recruit, mould and promote a white version, and enlisted the help of an old friend, Mary Alford, a talent agent who also worked as a personnel officer at the Massachusetts Department of Education. Quickly, they discovered Donnie Wahlberg, and his little brother Mark. Both hard kids, heavily immersed in street culture, neither took comfortably to the shiny, inoffensive image they were ordered to adopt, or the constant evening rehearsals. Donnie though persisted, while Mark dropped out after three months, being eventually replaced by Joey McIntyre.

Mark returned to the street. With little parental control, and now missing his confidant and best friend Donnie, he seldom attended school, and began a career of petty crime. He sold drugs, stole cars, shoplifted habitually, now recalling how he used to try on sneakers he fancied then run out of the shop, without troubling the cashiers. At 16, he ended all pretence of school attendance and concentrated on blue collar labour (he was a bricklayer, a hospital worker, a trainee mechanic) and more crime. He'd been convicted of minor felonies already, and arrested for allegedly making racist comments to schoolkids, but now he was actually jailed for beating up two Vietnamese men he was trying to steal beer from. He spent 45 days inside, at Deer Island.

He's since said that jail changed him, made him choose a different path. It seemed nothing else could, even a spell living with his aunt's father. He was a drill sergeant in the Marines who tried to bring discipline to his young charge, even taking him down to the Marines Recruiting Office, only to find Mark was ineligible without a High School diploma (Mark would later earn a General Education Certificate from an adult education centre). But change he eventually did, with a great deal of help from Donnie, now a huge star with New Kids On The Block. Donnie knew his little brother had the talent, he just needed the chance. So he found the requisite songs, helped score the deal with Interscope, produced the records and ensured the coverage. Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch were born.

Success was immediate. Mark had big hits with Wildside and a remake of Good Vibrations. His debut LP, Music For The People went platinum in 1991. And he was controversial, famous for dropping his pants onstage and tearing off his remaining clothes to reveal the hard body he begun honing when lifting weights in jail. His looks served him well. Interscope boss David Geffen suggested to his friend Calvin Klein that Mark would make a fine model. Klein agreed and cast him alongside Kate Moss in his latest ad campaign. Wahlberg was suddenly everywhere, a ubiquitous star.

It didn't last long. Mark would have hits in Europe in 1994 with collaborator Prince Ital Joe, and release a solo cover of Nils Lofgren's No Mercy the next year, but his star had already waned. 1992's You Gotta Believe had not sold so well and, worse still, the press had cottoned on to Wahlberg's past offences. There were accusations of racism, not helped by a British TV appearance when fellow guest Shabba Ranks declared that homosexuals should be crucified. Mark's silence was construed as condoning the statement. His gigs were disrupted by demonstrations by gay and Asian anti-defamation groups. The criticisms would not go away, and became increasingly confused. Mark's workout video became a hit in gay bars ("That's cool," said Mark later. "Hell, yeah. I made that during my get-the-money-while-you-can phase"), leading to claims that he was gay himself - as well as being a supposed gay-basher.

By 1993, Wahlberg had begun his screen career, appearing in The Substitute, where Amanda Donohoe starred as a teacher who kills her husband and his mistress, takes a new identity and takes drastic action when her past resurfaces. Then came the comedy Renaissance Man, where Danny De Vito headlined as an ad man who takes a job with the Army, Wahlberg playing a hard private (fairly apt for a man who dedicated his 1992 autobiography to his own penis). Next there was the harsh, disturbing Basketball Diaries - Wahlberg playing Leonardo Di Caprio's thuggish best friend as he seeks redemption from heroin addiction. This was a part Wahlberg knew inside-out from his experiences on the streets of Boston, and it showed.

Despite the bleak seriousness of the movie, and Wahlberg's undoubted charisma, still he was known popularly as Marky Mark, that guy who pulled his pants down onstage. He attempted to rid himself of this unwanted rep by appearing as a psychotic boyfriend in Fear, then in Traveller, as Pat O'Hara, a young man battling to be accepted by a society of Irish travellers in North Carolina. He was great in both, appropriately mean and unforgiving, far from the pretty boy who made teenage hearts flutter with his slinky moves and naked beefcake chest.

Finally, he gave up the struggle and took the opposite tack, embraced his reputation and thus exploded it. In Boogie Nights he did the three things he swore he'd NEVER do onscreen - dance, sing and strip. As Eddie Adams AKA Dirk Diggler, snatched from a bar-job by porn-king Burt Reynolds and, armed with a preposterously mighty tool, elevated to blue stardom, he was tremendous - innocent, needy, coke-confidant and lost. It was the first time he was likeable onscreen, and he won serious plaudits. There was extended coverage in the tabloids too, everyone wanting to know whether Mark had needed an extension to portray Diggler's whopping 13-incher. He had, as it happens, and recalls his embarrassment at having to have his penis examined by people from makeup, wardrobe and SFX - 25 in all at his first production meeting. Even now, Wahlberg complains that men openly check him out whenever he's in a public urinal.

Now Wahlberg began to expand his range. In The Big Hit, he played Melvin Smiley, a hit man who gets into trouble over some extracurricular kidnapping. The film was an unexpected hit, taking $11 million in its first few days and topping the US charts. Then came explosive thriller The Corruptor, with Fear's director James Foley and John Woo's mainman Chow Yun Fat. For the role, Wahlberg learned some Cantonese, and spent time with real-life Internal Affairs in Chinatown. Now came another surprise smash and, beside his brother Donnie, the most important relationship he'd yet forged. During the filming of Three Kings, where American troops in Iraq go after millions-worth of gold bullion, Wahlberg was befriended by George Clooney, then on the up after Out Of Sight.

The film, which featured the best blowing-up of a cow ever screened, was a monster. Wahlberg moved on to star alongside a resurgent James Caan in The Yards, playing an ex-con drawn into a world of industrial subterfuge and sabotage, and engaging in a particularly brutal fight with Joaquin Phoenix. Then Clooney came through again, casting him as Bobby Shatford, one of the doomed crew of the Andrea Gail in Wolfgang Petersen's real-life disaster flick The Perfect Storm. Deadly serious about his work, Wahlberg went to Gloucester three weeks ahead of schedule, meeting Shatford's family and even staying in his room. It was vital to him that they thought his performance to be accurate and respectful. He went out fishing, being forced to gut fish while the professionals looked on in amusement. So sick did it make him that he vomited during filming, something Clooney made great play of. "It was a drag getting wet all the time," said George afterwards "but it wasn't dangerous. It WAS dangerous with Mark, because he could throw up 15 feet away and still hit you". Wahlberg claimed it was all down to bad sushi.

Again, the film was a huge hit, and again Clooney held out a helping hand. As executive producer of Metal God (renamed Rock Star), he needed someone to play alongside Jennifer Aniston as the copy-machine-repair-man-come-singer of a Steel Dragon tribute band who's asked to perform in the real thing - the film being based on the true-life experience of Tim "Ripper" Owens, recruited by Judas Priest. He asked his good buddy Wahlberg, a man he considers wholly authentic, lacking as he does any of Clooney's showbiz heritage.

Another fellow said to see Wahlberg as profoundly "real" is Matt Damon. There were many reports that Damon had become obsessed by Mark. Having written and cast himself as the genius brawler in Good Will Hunting, Damon, it was said, was jealous of Wahlberg. Because, having become a star despite not having Damon's Harvard education, despite being raised in Boston's hardest areas, Wahlberg WAS Will Hunting. One particularly nasty story had Winona Ryder, then Damon's girlfriend, visiting Wahlberg to clear up the unpleasantness, but falling for him instead. Not only was this hurtful for both Damon and Ryder, but also Wahlberg, who had himself just found love. He'd dated Jaime Rishar, and China Chow, an actress and model he'd met while filming The Big Hit, but now he had Jordana Brewster, Panamanian star of The Faculty, soap opera As The World Turns (as was Julianne Moore) and later The Fast And The Furious. She was also grand-daughter of Kingman Brewster, the former president of Yale. The couple were married on New Year's Eve, 1999.

Sadly the union did not last. Come 2001, Wahlberg has split from Brewster and was seeing Revlon model Rhea Durham. Theirs would be an on-off relationship, so much so that two months after they had seemingly broken up in 2003, Durham announced she was due to have his baby.

2001 was a full and frenetic year for Wahlberg. Not only did he break with Brewster, but he was also sued by a former bodyguard for allegedly beating him up outside New York's Serafina restaurant (bashing your own bodyguard? You have to think he didn't need one in the first place). Mark furthermore began to engage more fully in charitable work, setting up and pumping cash into the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, an organisation dedicated to giving kids the opportunities he never had.

Onscreen, Mark would now take his first major headline role in Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes. Here he was Leo Davidson, an astronaut who, in 2029, boards a pod-cruiser for a routine recon mission and, due to one of those pesky space-time worm-holes, ends up on Monkey Planet. Interestingly, he made his character dour and obsessed with his own escape - a proper military man, then - and left the emoting to the simians whose lives he has disrupted.

Amazingly, Wahlberg still had trouble finding satisfactory projects. He pulled out of The Jacket due to a lack of suitable leading lady, and departed from Clooney's Ocean's Eleven, his place naturally being taken by Matt Damon. Instead, he was next seen in The Truth About Charlie, Jonathan Demme's remake of the 1963 classic Charade, with Mark and Thandie Newton in the roles originally played by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. He'd follow this with another, far more successful remake, this time of 1968's The Italian Job. Here, having been double-crossed in a gold heist by co-gang-member Ed Norton, he pulls together another team and seeks revenge by way of several Mini Coopers and the biggest traffic jam in Los Angeles' history. The film was a tremendous success. Having taken around $100 million at the US box office on its initial release, it was re-launched some three months later, reaping further dividends.

After the relative failures of Planet Of The Apes and The Truth About Charlie, Mark was now back on the up. He moved on to I Heart Huckabees, re-teaming him with Three Kings director David O. Russell. Here Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin played a happy husband and wife who help other people with their more existential problems. Imagine Hart To Hart starring Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beavoir. Mark would appear in a complicated love triangle with Jude Law and Naomi Watts, playing a rare comic role as a fireman who loathes SUVs and responds to emergency calls by leaping onto his trusty bike. Following this - having dropped out of Brian De Palma's noir thriller The Black Dahlia and the Truman Capote biopic Every Word Is True - he'd enjoy another hit with the violent Four Brothers, where a lifelong foster mother is shot dead and four of her "sons", two black and two white, seek revenge. Wahlberg would play Bobby, the eldest and most volatile, as they discover there may be more to the killing than the police believe.

Wahlberg's life was now looking good. Refusing to tie himself into another marriage, he'd had daughter Ella Rae with Rhea Durham in 2003 and, despite rumours that he'd gone off with actress Jessica Alba, he'd stick with Durham, the couple in 2006 producing son Michael. As a producer Wahlberg would also deliver the lauded series Entourage. Onscreen, he was still on the up. Set in the mid-1970s, Invincible would see him play real-life Philadelphia hero Vince Papale, a guy who's lost his factory job and struggles to keep his young family afloat. The whole city's suffering a depression, a depression shared by their losing football team, the Eagles. And so - this being a Disney feelgood flick - everyone's lifted by Papale's unlikely call up to the team and resourceful rise through the ranks.

Invincible would be America's Number One film for two weeks and would still be riding high when Wahlberg's next effort hit the screen. This was Martin Scorsese's prestigious The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs, where cop Leonardo DiCaprio would infiltrate Boston psycho mob-leader Jack Nicholson's gang, while Nicholson would plant his own stooge, Matt Damon, among the police. These were the leads but the movie was beefed up with a series of excellent supporting performances, Wahlberg in particular shining as Martin Sheen's tough cop sidekick, backing DiCaprio, suspecting everyone else and delivering outrageous insults at anyone unfortunate enough to move within earshot. Indeed, he had many of the film's best lines, and was rewarded with his first Oscar nomination.

2006 having seen the birth of his first son, Michael, 2007 would be another good year. First there be another dark police drama in We Own The Night, written and directed by James Gray, who'd earlier helmed The Yards. This would also reunite Wahlberg with his co-star in The Yards, Joaquin Phoenix, the pair of them hailing from a family with a long history of police work. Their father Robert Duvall would be continuing the tradition, as would Wahlberg, as they took on a marauding Russian mafia, Phoenix confusing issues by running a Russian-owned Brighton Beach bar. Eventually, as Wahlberg waged out-and-out war on the mob, Phoenix would have to take sides. Following this would come Shooter, directed by Antoine Fuqua, where Wahlberg would play a sniper drawn out of retirement when a plot to assassinate the president is uncovered. Unfortunately, he finds himself double-crossed and framed and must go on the run while he searches out the real killer.

Wahlberg likes to socialise with such buddies as Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. He also has big plans for the future. Not only is there that youth foundation, but he likes to write his own scripts and has already made several short movies, including Chippendale: A Murder Mystery, where a dancer kills the leader of his troupe in order to star himself, and Damn Van Damme, about a Belgian cult-army that travels to Hollywood to get Jean-Claude for giving away their kickboxing secrets.

On his body, Mark Wahlberg carries the marks of a colourful and often painful past. He has tattoos of Tweetie-Pie and Sylvester on his leg, Bob Marley on his left arm, his own initials on his right, and a rosary around his neck. He's a complicated character, still marked by his early experiences. And he's becoming one of the finest actors of his generation.

Dominic Wills

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