From bad boy pop star to a Hollywood star Mark Wharlberg talks to Flavour Magazine about his time in jail, love for boxing, Marky Mark and his movie The Happening which is out now on DVD and Blu Ray.
M. Night said that he had you in mind from the outset
I’ve played innocent and naïve in some other films and I cried well in other films so I think he could see me in the part. Plus he knows how strong my faith in God is, so I think that was another thing that made him feel confident in my ability.
How did you prepare for the role of Elliott?
I play a science teacher and I never got a passing grade in science in my entire life, and I left school after the Eighth Grade, so I didn’t want to tell him that right away! I wanted to study. It’s the same with anything I do — I don’t just want to say the words, I want to know what they mean. So I did a lot of homework. Also you have to understand how M. Night sees the film and how he sees the part being played, because it really does come down to each little detail.
How do you mean?
Sometimes I’ll be off camera and I’ll only have one line in the scene, and Night will shout ‘Cut!’ I’ll be, ‘What happened?’ And he’ll say, ‘You didn’t do the line right. It’s got to be right every time, even if you are off camera! It’s got to be so real, every time.’ And that’s great as an actor, because you know that you’ve got to step up. You know there’s not a second to be taken off. Also, you really have to make pretend. He didn’t bust out these big machines to create the elements. He just said, ‘Okay, there’s danger over there.’ And he wanted you to convey all these different emotions, so it was definitely an acting job.
Were there any scenes in the movie that particularly disturbed you?
I read the script 100 times, but obviously I’m not in the really disturbing scenes, so I didn’t actually see any footage until I saw a rough cut of the movie. I thought it’d be okay, I knew what was coming up, but when I saw it I was like ‘Oh God!’ Every time, I had to look away, and my girlfriend totally freaked out. That’s Night for you. He loves it.
Were any of the scenes too much to take?
It’s rated R for a reason. If you’re old enough and mature, it’s fine. It’s entertaining, it scares the crap out of you, but it’s also something that will raise debate about some important issues out there in the world. People will ask if these things are possible, with all the crazy stuff that’s happening out there, so I’d go and see it! I don’t want the wrong people seeing it; I don’t want the wrong weapons in the wrong people’s hands. But hopefully people who are mature enough to get it will enjoy it. It’s awesome to see Night work. No other director is as efficient or as well prepared. I’ve always heard Gary Oldman say Ridley Scott is like a Swiss watch – everything is so smooth. Well Night is like that… I almost can’t explain the experience. You go back to other filmmakers and they’re like ‘Let’s do it like this, hmmm, maybe like that.’
Night is a lot like the character you play, right?
I think Night is exactly like the character I play, everything but the complexion. He’s a little bit darker than Elliott! I studied him the entire time because while he says he wrote it for me; he instinctually writes it for himself. Once he’d passed on the part he was nice enough to offer it to me. It’s contagious, his positive energy. I’m more comfortable with being childlike and just making pretend with the situation and going with it. Often, before, I’d perhaps spend too long trying to make things as real as possible. Sometimes you don’t need to smash your head on the wall to feel dizzy! There’s a thing called acting, and he made me feel more comfortable and not silly. I remember doing the scene on the porch and doing the singing and the whole crew bursts out laughing. I was like, ‘I told you, Night!’ But he was like, ‘No, it’s great, go with it.’ With a guy like Night you have to trust him once you’ve committed, because he’s demanding so much and you have to be fearless.
Do you think these events could happen?
I think it’s a possibility and when you look at what’s happening in the world there’s evidence pointing towards it. And if I didn’t believe that before, going into the movie, Night did a good job of persuading man that it can. Like he sent me the article about the honeybees — I was shocked! I think it’s a possibility, but I’m optimistic. I don’t think that it’s too late. I’ll think we’ll be okay, but we have to cherish these gifts from God, because if you don’t, it’s a problem.
You’ve changed your ways since the prison sentence. What would the old Mark Wahlberg think of the new one?
He’d beat the shit out of him, man [laughs]. What do you think he’d do? Knock him down, take his wallet off him for sure, and tell him to go back to wherever he came from! I’ve changed a lot though. I’m pretty boring now. I remember my agent getting me golf clubs and thinking, ‘What? That’s not me!’ But if you’re competitive and athletic, once you hit a good shot, it’s very addictive. I see friends playing with their dads, and I wish I could have had the sort of thing going with my dad.
Do you reckon your dad’s absence made your youthful rebellion worse?
It starts in the home, people listening to hip-hop. I aspired to be like the guy on the corner. I grew up in a violent neighbourhood, where there was very little money, a lot of drugs, and the guy on the corner with the nice car and the good-looking girl, he was cool. That’s what you wanted to be. I didn’t have anybody else to look up to. And for me, that’s why it would be criminal to forget where I came from, and what we went through in my childhood. There’s no way in hell that God put me in the position I’m in now so I can forget about where I come from. It’s about making the right decisions, because for me, getting out of jail, it was hard to survive in my neighbourhood if you were no longer one of the ‘guys’. Having turned my life around, I was still concerned about what people in my neighbourhood thought a full ten years after I’d left! Having that whole ego thing. When I was thinking about whether to do Boogie Nights, it basically came down to this struggle over what the guys might think of me, being vulnerable and innocent and crying and weak. But then I thought ‘Fuck them!’ They’re not doing the right thing; and they’re old enough now to know the difference between right and wrong.
Is that why you turned down Brokeback Mountain?
No, I never met Ang Lee for that. We met but he never offered me the part. What I will tell you is that it was well worth turning down the Ocean’s movies [Laughs]. The second one sucked, right? You tell Clooney it’s great but we all know it sucked. Anyway, I got to do The Italian Job instead and I needed to grow as an actor. I didn’t need to be protected by established actors and go the safe route. I made two movies instead — Planet of the Apes and The Truth about Charlie — but they were invaluable experiences. Better than sitting here with you and Brad and George and saying how great everybody is! ‘We were in Europe, George was funny, then we had wine’, that’s not for me. I do love those guys, but I had to step out on my own. I’d done two movies with George [Three Kings, Perfect Storm] and he’d also produced Rock Star, so it was time for me to do my thing.
At what point do you think you turned your life around? When you went inside?
It was when I woke up and realised that I’d hurt somebody who didn’t deserve it. They were innocent and I felt pretty fucked up by that. But then you have to face the consequences and be able to survive the day. So for me it was that day that I woke up and then every day after. Going to jail. I like my freedom.
Was there anybody in jail who helped you out?
I had my parish priest, who was always there for me, but those guys couldn’t prevent me from making the mistakes I did. I had to figure those things out for myself. They’re still friends of mine. There were a few positive people in my life but I didn’t accept them as role models. There was a guy at my boys’ club, who’s still there to this day, but I was looking at other people. But then, when I went to jail, there was this woman, the real Johnny Drama’s mum in fact, and she goes from jail to jail helping people. She’s like an angel. And when she saw me she’d never seen anyone so young inside. I was 17 but I looked like I was about 12, and she prayed with me and helped me with the parole board. And then a year later I’m making my album in California and my brother hires this guy who’s related to one of his bodyguards. This guy is hired to baby-sit me. And one day I’m going home to Massachusetts to answer for some more open cases and he says that he wants to pop in and see his family. We drive down there, walk in the kitchen, and this woman walks by. I go, ‘Jesus, man, I know your mother!’ He’s like ‘Shut the fuck up!’ I said, ‘Does your mother work at the Plymouth House of Correction?’ It was her! She walked in and recognised me. And now, of course, he’s immortalised as Johnny Drama on Entourage.
You mentioned The Departed. Would you do a sequel if Scorsese is involved?
Oh man, that was crazy, you know. But you get a guy like Marty, and everybody wants to work with him. So you know he’s the reason why all the people showed up, and changed their schedules, and cut their salaries and everything else, to have the opportunity to work with him. Of course I’d want to work with him again.
You’re playing a real boxer, Micky Ward, in the movie The Fighter. We hear you’re pretty handy?
Like anything else I do, I need to be good. If Micky’s not proud of the portrayal then I’ve failed. But it’s been delayed and that’s great for me, because I just keep getting better and better as a result. I train a lot. During The Happening, that was easy, because I could get up at 4.30am, train til 6, come home, eat chicken, go to set, shoot for 8-10 hours, practice the script, go to bed. Basically I’ve just taken out the ‘Go to the bar and have a couple of drinks’ thing and now everything works! I do still drink, I love red wine, and I’m a beer drinker, in moderation. I’ve drunk too much wine on this trip, but you work it off. We’re heading to France next, that could be dangerous!
Your thumb is in a brace. Is that a boxing injury?
No, I fractured my knuckle shooting this action movie, Max Payne, and I keep re-injuring it! It’s usually when a nice older lady wants to say ‘Hi’ and then shows you how strong she is and just mashes your thumb. And playing the Wii causes me lots of pain, but I still play it with my daughter. The tennis really killed me; I’d never seen my daughter so happy though! You’d have thought that I’d bought her pony or something! Luckily it doesn’t bother me playing golf though…
You’re good at golf, right, Mark?
I play quite a lot. Actually, I remember one of the last times I played golf; I have a friend who’s an extreme eater, and so is Joe Pesci. So we were having a golf tournament and Joe says that he wants his extreme eater to go against my extreme eater, for a documentary he wants to make. My guy wants to impress Joe and so on the 18th hole, when I chunk this divot, I get my caddy to put it in his pocket. Then, when we finish, my guy puts this divot in a cheeseburger, with ketchup, mustard and eats the whole thing in front of Joe and his guy. They were like, ‘Man, don’t eat that, what about the chemicals from the golf course?’ Afterwards he didn’t feel so good!
What do you think of Marky Mark and the pop career now?
I thought I was the coolest guy in the world but really I was just a jackass! It’s a tough one I’ve got to explain to my daughter one day! And no, I don’t fancy going back to music. I feel a lot older and a little wiser. I learn something every day from meeting people, my kids, my job. This career path has afforded me a great education out of school. If it all ended tomorrow, I’m pretty damn happy.
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