Mark Wahlberg's Toughest Role Yet
by terri trespicio
The A-lister gives us the straight dope about his most hard-won project to date—and his most demanding one, as the father of four.
"You want your ba-ba?" These are not words you expect to hear from one of the toughest actors in Hollywood. But Mark Wahlberg, like most parents of young children, is trying to multitask, and so while conducting an interview, he’s also trying to appease his two-year-old son, Brendan, one of the four children under eight he and his wife, Rhea Durham, have.
There’s Ella, the eldest, then Michael, four. Grace is the youngest at just 10 months, and then there’s—“Brendan, get down!” Right. This is why we love Mark Wahlberg—not because of the rough exterior, but because of the flicker of vulnerability beneath it. And being comfortable with that is a fairly new endeavor for the actor, who grew up the youngest of nine in Dorchester, battling violence and addiction from a very early age.
It’s not surprising, then, that he feels duty-bound to impress upon his own children the lessons he shook off as a kid. “For a long time I thought, like most kids, that my parents didn’t know what they were talking about and were completely out of touch,” he says. “If I’d heeded everything they tried to instill in me, I might have avoided a lot of trouble.” And while he has a clear advantage over his own parents, who struggled to put food on the table, his good fortune also presents a challenge. “I want to give my kids the world, but I also want them to appreciate everything, to succeed, to be good people, to enjoy life. This is my most important role. If I fail at this, I fail at everything.
Directed by David O. Russell, The Fighter tells the true story of working-class hero “Irish” Micky Ward from Lowell, an amateur boxer turned pro, and his struggles to become the best. “The Fighter is a classic against-all-odds story about a guy who wants it more than anybody else,” says Wahlberg. “Micky might not have had all the talent in the world, but he had the drive and the desire—and that’s more powerful than a God-given gift.”
It’s not hard to see why the story would appeal to Wahlberg. “Micky and I come from the same world. We had a lot to overcome in order to accomplish our goals,” he says. “The opportunity to play him was a dream come true— not only because I’ve always been a huge fan of his, but because I also always wanted to play a boxer.”
He wanted the role pretty bad, too—so bad he fought for more than four years to bring the project to fruition. “Getting this film made and actually making it were two of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he says. “It was my life’s mission to bring this story to the screen.” And while the project was on, then off, then on again over the years, as far as Wahlberg was concerned, it was always on; he trained for the role nonstop.
Part of that drive was pure passion for the project, but part of it was a desire for authenticity. “I didn’t want to look like an actor who was convincing as a boxer. I wanted to look like a boxer.” So he pulled out all the stops: He built a boxing ring in his backyard (“speed bags, the works”) and invited Micky and his brother, Dicky, to move into his guest house for a few months. Christian Bale, who plays Dicky, joined them, once again transforming his appearance à la The Machinist to play Micky’s brother.
“That’s what I like about Christian: his willingness to commit 100 percent and become the guy,” says Wahlberg. “Not a lot of actors are willing to do that.” When asked if the story about a boxer will appeal to women as well as men, Wahlberg’s quick to point out: “It’s not a boxing movie. It’s a relationship movie. People will be very surprised when they see it.
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