Mark Wahlberg emerges from his house bare-chested and sweaty—obviously. If you follow the 48-year-old on Instagram, you know of his on-again, off-again relationship with shirts. It’s not even noon and he’s already finished his second workout of the day, which also is consistent with what we know about Wahlberg—that he is a serious fitness buff. His stamina for pullups is a thing of wonder. When he bench-presses, he doesn’t avoid the pain cave—he hangs pictures on its walls. What else do we know about Wahlberg? Well, we are contractually obligated to remind you that he is from Boston and loves Boston. He is devoted to his faith, his family, and the New England Patriots. He finds more hours in the day than the rest of us. He is a scratch golfer, spends time with the troops, and when he grills a steak, he knows the exact moment it is medium-rare.
This kind of familiarity can happen when you’ve spent the better part of three decades in the public eye. Everyone knows Wahlberg—or a version of him. For many, he’s an actor—both an Oscar nominee (The Departed) and one who sparked up with a CGI teddy bear (Ted). He’s a rapper. (The Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch song you’d recognize is “Good Vibrations.”) He’s an entrepreneur who has founded a bunch of non-show-biz-related businesses. And there are still others for whom Wahlberg will always be a six-pack with a coy smile (Calvin Klein ad, circa 1992).
My version of Mark Wahlberg is the one who inspired and served as executive producer of HBO’s Entourage, the epochal show about a hot young actor and his crew of boys from back home. The scene seemed to fit. His Beverly Hills spread has a regulation basketball court in the back, emblazoned with the Celtics logo, a practice green on the property’s edge, and, of course, a massive swimming pool. Wahlberg’s famed gym is equipped with all the accoutrements—dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, VersaClimber, TechnoGym bike, treadmill, rower, boxing equipment, and a top-of-the-line body composition machine.
Only today, there’s a noticeable lack of entourage. Just his longtime publicist is around. Otherwise, Wahlberg is flying solo. He is low-key—not a description usually associated with him. Of course, Wahlberg being Wahlberg, he’s chest-deep in a dozen things. He’s leaving for London in a few days for a movie shoot (the action thriller Infinite, directed by Antoine Fuqua), and trying hard to resuscitate a project that nearly stalled out—The Six Billion Dollar Man, a reboot of the ’70s television series. Last year, he launched a production company, Unrealistic Ideas. And then there are Wahlberg’s five other business ventures, which require other levels of attention.
Why continue to hustle so hard when he clearly doesn’t need to? Wahlberg can’t help himself. “I give it my best and do everything that I need to do to be prepared, and if it doesn’t work, it’s not for lack of effort,” he tells me, sitting across the table in his light-drenched kitchen. “If I just show up and phone it in—like I’ve seen a lot of people do in the past—and then it doesn’t work, a lot of that is on me and what I didn’t give.”
THIS, I WOULD COME TO LEARN, IS THE gospel of Mark. The yardstick he uses to judge himself and others is the amount of effort one is willing to put in, whether it be on a movie set, at the gym, in the boardroom, and especially at home, taking care of the people around you. A lot of guys get called “The Hardest-Working Person in Hollywood.” But I wonder if I’m not sitting across from the real deal.
At least there’s golf, to which he is famously devoted. “Do you really play a round every morning?” I ask.
“Nope,” Wahlberg says. “I haven’t picked up a golf club in two weeks.” His four kids, ages 16, 12, 10, and 9, just went back to school, and he wants to be around to wake them up and pack their lunches. Golf can wait. It was such an anomaly that his buddies from the country club called to make sure he was still alive. “And my wife [Rhea] didn’t realize I wasn’t golfing until I told her,” Wahlberg says. “She was a little impressed. She’s not impressed by all the other stuff.”
Presumably, “all the other stuff” includes his famously early wake-up calls—that part of Wahlberg lore is true. This morning, he was out of bed at 3:30 to read the new script for Infinite, set to come out in August 2020. He’ll be playing Evan Michaels, a man suffering from schizophrenia, who falls in with a secret society and comes to learn that his hallucinations are actually visions of past lives. He’s also starring in a film called Good Joe Bell, opposite Connie Britton. It’s the true story of an Oregon man whose son was reportedly so badly bullied for being gay that he took his own life. In 2013, Bell began a cross-country trek to memorialize his son and bring attention to bullying.
Wahlberg gravitates to these roles. He likes telling the stories of everyday heroes. And he’s willing to go all-in, transforming himself to be believable. “To play Joe Bell, I got as thin as possible,” Wahlberg says. “The guy walked over a thousand miles. So to look the part, I was just sprinting on the golf course every day. I didn’t touch a weight, didn’t work out, nothing.”
Sometimes he goes in the other direction and packs on the pounds, as he did for Deepwater Horizon, the 2016 movie about the disaster on a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 crewmen. “I had to get as heavy and out of shape as possible,” Wahlberg says. “We were in Louisiana, and it was fun for a couple days. But after a few weeks of po’ boy sandwiches and beer, you start feeling like crap.”
These are not po’ boy days. He’s trained hard for Infinite, and if all goes well, he’ll get in even better shape for The Six Billion Dollar Man. The project has the makings of a big hit—if it ever happens. It was caught in the vortex created when the Weinstein Company collapsed. Warner Bros. snapped it up, giving the project a second wind. Wahlberg, who’s been slated to play the lead role since the get-go, is optimistic. “The good ones have been the most difficult to get made,” Wahlberg says. “But I won’t lie—the biological clock is ticking. Here’s a guy who was a test pilot, and then spent 15 years in a lab to make him superhuman. So I got a window. I don’t want to be the guy playing a part he’s too old for.”
Should he get too old, should the movie parts dry up, Wahlberg has contingency plans. At the moment, he’s a stakeholder in several companies, including Performance Inspired Nutrition, a supplements company he founded in 2015 with Tom Dowd, an industry veteran who spent more than 25 years with GNC. Wahlberg and Dowd wanted to differentiate PI from the rest by using all-natural ingredients—vanilla flavor comes from vanilla beans, and chocolate from cocoa. They add fiber for satiety and gut health, and they don’t sprinkle in any crappy add-ins that let you cheat your way to beefy. The company launched with six products; now they offer more than 35.
“Performance Inspired is not associated with juiceheads,” Dowd says. “This is for anyone who does F45 a few times a week and is checking labels for sugar, junk, and artificial ingredients. We keep our formulas simple and clean but robust, and we only use quality ingredients. We also stay away from overblown marketing hype.”
Wahlberg asks if I’ve tried the products, which I haven’t. “Are you a peanut-butter-and-jelly person?” he asks. “Chef, please bring a Keto Peanut Butter and Jelly bar,” he says to his personal chef, Lawrence, who has brought Wahlberg a lunch of grilled chicken and asparagus with blistered tomatoes. Lawrence returns with a box of bars, presenting them like a humidor of Cohibas.
“I want you to tell me exactly what you think,” Wahlberg says. I peel back the wrapping and take a tentative bite. Because if it’s bad, I’ll need to decide if today’s the day I lie to Mark Wahlberg. In fact, it’s pretty good. I tell him it tastes like the middle of a PB&J that’s been sitting in a lunch box for a few hours.
His other focus is F45 Training, which he owns a stake in. It’s a group fitness studio that emphasizes functional movements. A friend introduced him to the Australia-based company in 2018, so he dropped in on a class. “When I walked in the gym, I was just blown away,” he says. “I saw a 50-year-old woman working out with a college athlete, pushing him. The energy is incredible. I did a couple of the workouts and fell in love.” He’s so into it that he hauled a bunch of fitness equipment into a suite at the London hotel he’s at while filming Infinite and is doing F45 programming at 4 a.m. with his middle-aged entourage. That’s not a surprise. Wahlberg is a proselytizer for healthy living at all ages, and for putting in the work. I ask about an Instagram video he posted. “How’s it working out with the General?” he asks, the camera fixed on his sweaty buddies, strewn out on the gym floor. Then: “Hey, you guys ready for a cooldown? A little split-squat jump?”
“I can’t even open my eyes,” one guy gurgles.
“You know what’s great about that?” Wahlberg tells me. “My friend was all embarrassed. And I was like, ‘Why are you embarrassed, dude? You worked harder than I’ve ever seen you.’ I couldn’t have been more impressed and proud.”
IN HOLLYWOODSPEAK, WAHLBERG is a multi-hyphenate. In the Dorchester neighborhood of South Boston where he grew up, he’d be called a hustler. It started at a young age.
“The year I got my driver’s license, I had 20 cars,” Wahlberg says. “The first car I bought was a 1979 Pontiac LeMans for 200 bucks. I flipped it and bought another car for a couple hundred dollars more. I flipped all those cars, all 20, and pretty quickly I was in a pretty nice car.”
He’s far from those days, and the home where we sit bears little resemblance to the one he grew up in with his eight siblings and a mom with her hands full—his dad was a trucker and would be gone for long stretches. And yet Wahlberg is never far from his past. “Where I come from and what I’ve had to overcome still looms large in the background,” he says. The Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation gives underserved kids access to after-school resources, is creating a dialogue around opioids, and sends kids living in Boston’s inner city to camp in Maine every summer.
Wahlberg made it out of Dorchester not entirely unscathed, but perhaps these kids will. As for his own children, he’s already anxious about leaving in five days for the start of the months-long shoot for Infinite.
I ask Wahlberg a clumsy question about what it’s like for his kids to have their dad away for long stretches, since it’s something he knows firsthand. “I also know what it’s like to have to go off, even though you don’t want to or you’re forced to,” he replies. “That ain’t fun. I’d rather do it on my own terms. I’m very, very fortunate and blessed that I get to do what I do. But it’s tough. There are pros and cons to everything, and you make sacrifices.”
Another sacrifice is his body. He mentions a litany of injuries—shoulder, elbow, hand, back, knee, ankle—the result of training so rigorously for so many years. He takes recovery extremely seriously these days, going so far as installing a cryo chamber at his house. He eats very healthy and is considering a move toward vegetarianism.
He buffers the sacrifices as much as possible. When Wahlberg is in London for Infinite, at 3 p.m., he’ll take five, because it’s 7 a.m. in California and he wants to talk to his kids before they go to school. At the end of the year, shooting will wrap and Wahlberg will be home for a while, slipping into what is homeostasis for him: work out for half an hour or 40 minutes in the morning, play a little golf, and be home before the kids wake up. On Saturday nights, he’ll take the family to the Italian restaurant they all like, order one of everything, have some wine, then come home for a night swim. And with any luck, Wahlberg will soon be repacking his bags, leaving for a stretch to make The Six Billion Dollar Man.
Wahlberg hedges his bets. If the day comes when he’s not a leading man, he’s got his businesses. If the investors walk away, he’ll still be the hardest-working guy on set. He does the thing you do sometimes when you start with not a lot, see some shit, and find your way out of it: You never let up.
“I think the thing is: It’s just about going out there and doing the work,” Wahlberg says. “You leave no stone unturned. You don’t leave anything to chance. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But if you’ve given it your all, then you feel good about the effort.”
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