Every so often Mark Wahlberg leaves his home in the ridgeline above Beverly Hills, cruises down Benedict Canyon Drive across Sunset to where it turns into North Rodeo Drive, hooks a right onto Brighton Way, pivots right again onto North Roxbury Drive, parks, and goes inside a medical office building to correct some mistakes he made 25 years ago. It's the stupid tattoos. The stupid tattoos have to go. All of them. The big one of Bob Marley on his left shoulder looking half spliffed out. The one on his right shoulder with his family name, his parents' initials, his own initials, and his date of birth, 6-5-71, all of it loud and proud. The rosary-beads one that circles around his neck and runs down to his sternum, ending with the words IN GOD I TRUST. And, finally, the one on his leg, of Sylvester the Cat making succotash of Tweety Bird, which he got 23 years ago, when he was 17, to cover up the gang tattoo he gave himself when he was 12. Going, going, someday, hopefully, gone.
Right now, sitting in the guesthouse on his deluxe $14 million hilltop property (full gym with regulation-size boxing ring, pool, waterfalls, grotto, basketball court, putting green), Wahlberg rubs Bob Marley's faded remains and says with considerable exasperation, "Doctor told me five to seven visits. Yeah, well, over the last three years, I've been to him over 30 times. Hurts, too. Hurts 10 times worse than getting them done." He likens the pain to getting doused with hot grease. He says he usually comes out of the doctor's office looking like a mummy, bandaged up from having all the tattoos worked on at once. He says he has taken his two oldest kids – he's got four: Ella, eight, Michael, five, Brendan, three, and Grace, two, with wife Rhea – to see him get burned by the laser, as a lesson. Don't be stupid like your dad once was. Learn from his mistakes.
The tattoos were, of course, the least of the mistakes Wahlberg made as a vicious, run-amok kid growing up in southern Boston. The others were more serious, more deeply criminal, and that's not even counting the criminality of him once being the rap star Marky Mark (b. 1991, d. 1996, R.I.P.) and a guy who modeled underpants. The kids haven't heard anything about that. "There will come a time, but it's not something we have to talk about just yet," Wahlberg says. As usual, his voice is kind of a raspy whisper. As usual, his eyes are kind of slitted out, giving him the aspect of either someone you don't want to mess with or someone about to doze off. As usual, he'd like to be talking about anything but his past – "It is what it is. Hasn't that story been told enough?" – preferring instead to expound on his business interests.
"Actually," he says, brightening and leaning forward, "I'm more a businessman than anything right now. Acting takes me away from my family. My entire philosophy has changed. Acting careers are short-lived; a business will last a lifetime."
To this end, he has been on a roll quite unlike any other in recent Hollywood history. First, with longtime friend and partner Steve Levinson, he's become a big-time TV and motion-picture producer. It started in 2004, with the long-running HBO series 'Entourage' (based loosely on his exploits with his own entourage), and has continued with shows like 'In Treatment,' 'How to Make It in America,' and 'Boardwalk Empire,' all critical hits. "When he first came to us," says HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo, "I thought this was another guy making a vanity play, putting his name on something, dabbling in producing. But Mark doesn't dabble in anything. His growth as a producer has been prodigious. He has a great eye for scripts, a great eye for talent, a great eye for directors – all things I would never have imagined when we first met all those many years ago."
Wahlberg has also taken to producing the movies he stars in, his biggest being 'The Fighter,' which took him six years to make and received seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. His latest is the crime thriller 'Contraband,' the making of which he regards with a businessman's eye.
"It's an inexpensive movie," he says crisply. "We shot it for just under $40 million and it looks like $80 million. You take a lot less money up front and put a lot of money on the screen. Then, if it's a success, everybody reaps the rewards. I think as a business model, it's definitely a formula we want to focus on."
And then there are his businesses outside the movie business. He's got Wahlburgers, the new hamburger restaurant he opened with his brothers Donnie and Paul just south of Boston ("It has shakes and Tater Tots, salmon burgers, turkey burgers – and a full bar"), which may itself become the basis of a reality show. He's got a pizza joint in the works. He even owns a stake in a water company called AquaHydrate ("They came in and pitched me this whole thing about proprietary processes, osmosis, trace minerals, electrolytes, all this crap I had no interest in and knew nothing about; but when I started drinking it, my recovery time after working out changed instantly"). He's also thinking about starting a money-management firm ("It'd be about protecting professional athletes and entertainers and educating them about how to live within their means; things don't last, and you need to understand that"). And let's not forget the Elite Football League, which has its heart set on bringing American football to India; he's involved in that, too. "You talk about people living in poverty," he says. "But you put a ball in the hands of those kids, give them an opportunity to play and grow and learn – it's amazing, and it's just starting to take off right now."
In brief, he has been boning up on considerations of modern portfolio theory, seen the wisdom of global multi-asset diversification, and pulled the trigger hither, thither, and yon, with more to come. "Depending on if I can relate to it," he says, "I'll pretty much take a meeting with anybody."
In the meantime, he's continuing to work on those tattoos, hoping that one day they'll just fade away and no longer be anything anyone can see. And for God's sake, could somebody please get him Barry Pepper for the political snake-pit movie 'Broken City' that he's making with Russell Crowe? Don't know who Barry Pepper is? That's OK. Wahlberg does. And he wants him for 'Broken City.' Bad.