Actor Mark Wahlberg is finding his niche as a producer in Hollywood.
Associated Press Enlarge
LOS ANGELES -- Mark Wahlberg doesn't keep an office. The 40-year old actor, who is one of Hollywood's most bankable stars and is becoming one of its most ambitious producers, prefers to hold court at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, a million miles away from his troubled beginnings in Dorchester, Mass.
Whether it's breakfast with his wife and four kids or a meeting with an actor or a business partner, Wahlberg spends hours at the restaurant that once kicked out Marlene Dietrich for wearing pants. His favorite booth is in the far left corner of the Loggia Room; he knows the maitre d' and wait staff by their first names; even his neighbor stops by to comment on how the construction's coming along on his house.
You keep waiting for Wahlberg to say, "Say hi to your mother," the phrase comedian Andy Samberg used to spoof him on a recurring Saturday Night Live skit.
Wahlberg's preference for the watering hole that hosted some of Hollywood's earliest deal makers could be taken as a sign that the kid who rose to stardom modeling in his skivvies and rapping about partying finally has become part of the establishment. Wahlberg, though, doesn't see it that way.
Yes, he has an Oscar nomination under his belt for his role in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, produced and starred in his passion project The Fighter (2010) to the tune of $93 million at the box office and seven Academy Award nominations, and continues to produce HBO's acclaimed Prohibition-era series Boardwalk Empire. But Wahlberg still sees himself as an outsider.
"I'm still on the outskirts a little bit," he says. "I just keep working and working. I want to do more, do better stuff."
In the next 18 months, Wahlberg will star in two films: the crime drama Broken City opposite Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones; the offbeat comedy Ted from Seth MacFarlane; and he currently is starring in Contraband. A remake of the Icelandic hit Reykjavik-Rotterdam directed by that film's star and producer Baltasar Kormakur, Contraband sees Wahlberg play Chris Farraday, a reformed con man living in New Orleans who takes one last smuggling job to make good on his brother-in-law's debts.
Wahlberg began his producing career in 2004 with the HBO series Entourage; his first produced film was James Gray's 2007 We Own the Night, in which he starred opposite Joaquin Phoenix.
Ultimately, Wahlberg and his business partner and manager would like to finance their own films and create their own library of movies and television properties.
"I've got good people skills and I'm a good salesman," Wahlberg said. "I'm always ready to tell people that [the right role] will change their life, and you know what, for the most part, it has."
It was his tenacity that fueled The Fighter: Wahlberg spent more than four years training to play Ward, while trying to secure financing for the movie that saw a revolving door of talent and filmmakers come and go. He eventually moved Ward and his brother Dick Eklund (portrayed by Christian Bale in the film) into his home.
The success of that film empowered him to move forward on other material, specifically Broken City, which Wahlberg believes wouldn't have been financed without the success of The Fighter. Based on a script from Brian Tucker, Broken City deals with corruption and secrets in Chicago politics and is the kind of project for which Wahlberg wants to be known.
"It's a combination of the best parts I've ever had," he said of his role in the film, due next year. "It's the energy and craziness of the guy in The Departed with the quiet stillness of the guy in The Fighter. The whole story was something I couldn't put down."
Wahlberg says he came to the movie business back in the early '90s reluctantly, only after Penny Marshall convinced him that the strutting he was doing onstage as Marky Mark and on the streets of Boston as a hoodlum were ideal preparation for a career as an actor.
He says that back then, he gave a lot of thought to the old movies he watched as a kid with his dad, especially the ones starring his favorite actor, James Cagney, and he still does.
So while Wahlberg says he comes to the Polo Lounge because it's close to his house and he likes the booths, maybe he's also trying to recapture some of that old Hollywood glory, to conjure the bygone charm of the time when Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy, and Darryl F. Zanuck did business at the restaurant following their polo matches, when the green wall phones rang during meals.
"I like to talk to people," Wahlberg said. "I've got one assistant, one BlackBerry. That's my overhead. I don't text that much, or email. I like to sit down face-to-face and have a conversation with you. I'm old-fashioned."