Mark Wahlberg is quiet -- his gestures, his glances, his fading sentences -- and the reason is obvious: lack of sleep combined with an overdose of interviews. But there’s an underlying intensity that can’t be extinguished by temporary fatigue. And it mirrors the presence the 41-year-old has on screen. Though he seems innocuous at first, his authenticity creeps up on you, and it feels more real than 99 percent of the people plying his trade.
That goes for his roles in thrillers and dramas such as Three Kings, The Departed, The Fighter, and Broken City, as well as the blockbuster comedy Ted and this spring’s Pain & Gain, in which he does both funny and fierce. This quiet force doesn’t stem from his Hollywood experiences, or from his days rapping as Marky Mark. It is the aura of a person who has fought much tougher battles.THE RED BULLETIN: Is it fair to say that you used to be a bad boy?
WAHLBERG: Let’s say, I was a petty criminal for a while, but I was lucky enough to be able to get clean, unlike most of my friends from that time, who are dead or in jail. Today, the only real vice I have is golf.
You even served 45 days of a two-year sentence for assault. How does a jailbird become a Hollywood star?
Sometimes I ask myself that question. I just had a drive and a desire to turn my life around. I was completely committed to do something positive. Not that I ever thought I would have this kind of journey. But I worked very, very hard. Coming from nothing inspires you to go out there and make something happen. Some people are complacent and content with the situation that they are in, but I had other plans.
When exactly did you decide to change your life?
It’s a process. Hearing the sound of the jailhouse doors closing -- that was one of those moments. For me it was like, “Wow, this is not where I want to be. This is not the direction I want to go in. I have to start to get my head in the right place.”
Isn’t that easier said than done?
Of course, because I still lived in the same neighborhood after I got out. I didn’t want to be in the gang anymore, but I had to see those guys every day. And if you are not with them, you are against them. It becomes that much more difficult.
What happened? Were you attacked?
I had quite a few confrontations and altercations, but I didn’t want to fall back into that whole thing. And now I want to inspire other kids to do the same. It’s why I created a foundation for children in difficult neighborhoods in the Boston area where I grew up.
Is this why you choose to play characters on the wrong side of the law -- this year’s Broken City and Pain & Gain being just two examples?
Yes, it is, because for these I am able to draw on my life, and I always try to find roles that I can identify with. Here I use all of my experiences in a positive way, and because of that I can convey the feelings of these characters better than through some technique or method. Whereas sometimes, when I see other actors playing such parts, I go, “This doesn’t ring true to me.”
So you’re revisiting your old demons when you’re acting?
Exactly. For me, acting is exploring a dark side of myself, and that’s why I like extreme characters. The whole thing is therapeutic. At the end of a day of work, I like to feel gratified by having exorcised my aggressions, my passions, my emotions -- so I can say that I have tamed my demons.
To what extent are your children aware of what you experienced?
They are still young: 9, 6, 4, and 3. And I’m not telling them anything until I have to. I will wait until the last possible second.
But you will tell them about it?
I certainly don’t want to hide my past. But I don’t want to make it seem like: “Daddy went through bad stuff and he came out OK. We can do what we want, it will work itself out.” Because that’s not the case. I don’t know any other success stories of people who survived the kind of place I grew up in and the choices that I made and still have the freedom and the luxury to talk about it.
Will you be more understanding if one of them wrecks your car?
We’ll see. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Overall, your jail time seems to have had a pretty positive effect on you.
Not with regards to my relationships with women. I was a very nice guy early on -- the first time I fell in love—and when I was in jail, she denied me, she didn’t want to wait for me. I don’t want to blame her now, but my heart was broken, and I decided: I am never giving my heart to a girl again. Everything, but not that. And I ended up hurting a lot of people along the way. It was not until I met my wife and we had our daughter that I went, “Oh my God, this is happening to me for a reason.” So now I have the utmost respect for women, and I teach my boys that. They shall not take the path that Daddy took.
What is the most important lesson that you’re teaching your kids?
To love and to serve God. From this, everything else will follow.
So you are a believer?
I’m a practicing Catholic. I go to church every Sunday, because I have a lot to repent. You have a long way to go if you don’t want to end up in hell. I start the day by getting on my hands and knees and reading my prayer book. My faith is what has enabled me to be the father and the husband that I am. To accomplish all the things that I have set out to accomplish, personally and professionally.
What do you say when other people don’t take your faith seriously?
Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. I’m not going to change mine. I am a pretty open-minded guy, but my faith and belief are set in stone, even though I don’t try to beat people over the head with it.
A lot of Christians were willing to die for their religion. Would you be able to?
I would hope so. But you never know. Remember what Jesus said to Peter: “Before the cock crows, you’ll betray me three times.” And he did, even though he was one of his most beloved apostles.
Are there other situations in life when your faith comes in handy?
Dealing with loss, dealing with heartache. My sister passed away the same day my first daughter was born. My dad passed away—those are difficult things to deal with, but because of my belief in heaven I wanted to celebrate the life and the experiences that I had with him. So my faith helps me to realize what’s important.
Do you think your dad is alive in some other form of existence?
Oh my God: I see him so much in my younger son. Even the way he moves around, the way he talks. He is grumpy. My son’s got this old man thing going on. It’s incredible. He has all my dad’s mannerisms. My wife sees it too.
As a devout Christian, you must be familiar with “turning the other cheek.” What does a former gang member and current action star make of this?
It is hard to put into practice, but I try to as much as possible. But it’s hard, because there is a part of me who is like, “You do something to me, I’m going to mess you up and then maybe you can forgive me.”
When was the last time somebody had to forgive you?
That would be my wife. My sons are obsessed with paintball guns, and they asked me whether they could shoot somebody. I said no, but I have a friend who has been in a couple of movies, where he takes real punches. He is very tough. So they went, “Can we shoot him?” I said, “You have to ask him.” So he said yes, and we started shooting at him. We were dying laughing, and we got it on video, where we kept watching it. Until my wife found it. She was so upset with me. I got yelled at no end. I was in the doghouse for that for a long time.
Your wife calls the shots. Have you made many sacrifices for her?
I had to make some tough decisions, for sure. When I met her, I was living with five or six of my friends in an apartment, but I knew that there could be something special with her. So I decided that I was going to move out of that apartment and buy my first home. All of my friends were planning on coming with me, but when I actually bought the house, I said, “I hate to break it to you guys, but you are not coming with me.” I got rid of all of them.
Don’t you miss those times?
Those guys were bad influences; we were all partying too much. You’d be amazed how much you can accomplish once you stop drinking and going out at night. Sometimes I’m up at 4:30 in the morning to play basketball; at 6:30 I get the kids out of bed and get them off to school.
Are they nice kids, as opposed to the young Mark?
Of course -- but my 4-year-old always tries to punch me in the nuts. Sometimes he gets me when I’m not looking, and it really hurts. Then again, when I see him I can’t help but laugh, and that’s the best medicine. Everybody should laugh and smile a little bit more.
Then make us smile right now.
Just think of me filming Boogie Nights, with a huge rubber penis glued to the real one.
Check out the June 2013 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands May 14) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app. Follow Red Bulletin on Twitter for more.