Mark Wahlberg: the Player


This is a PREVIEW of Mark Wahlberg’s cover story in the JULY/AUGUST 2015 issue of Men’s Fitness. For the full story, download the app >>>

A boxy figure in a blue suit, collared shirt, and no tie emerges backlit from smoke and shadow. He walks toward you, hands in pockets, fabric draping in symmetrical billows, his gait even, steps steady, and pauses, yellow light now hitting him full in the face. Mark Wahlberg nods once, then blinks, and asks, “How was that? Again?” He turns, walks back into the shadow and smoke, stands there, waits.

He’s here on a Hollywood sound-stage, filming a promotion for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. For pay-per-view watchers—in other words, all of us except the precious few who could afford the many thousands of dollars it cost to be in the MGM Grand Garden Arena that night in May—the first thing we saw before the big fight, after the preliminaries, before the ring walks and the cameras panning to the celebrities in the audience, was Mark Wahlberg walking out of the smoke and shadow, his familiar drawn, beseeching, hungry face staring at us and uttering with action-hero solemnity a kind of beat poem for the pugilistic set: “A rivalry, deeper than competition, so personal it transcends sports, it speaks to the very core of human nature.”

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He goes on in this macho cadence for more than 30 seconds. It’s no easy task to stand there and spout this steroidal copywriting, but Wahlberg does it with aplomb, never wavering, in two quick takes. Like after a hard left and a hard right, this promo is down for the count. The lights come up and a few dozen camera, sound, light people, and a half-dozen guys in suits seated in armchairs, a phone in each hand, can finally stand up and stretch, talk full-throatedly into their phones. Wahlberg is a pro. He got here on time. He filled out his suit like a panther does his fur. And then nailed his lines. You can’t say the same for the other guy slated to do the promo, Sean “Diddy” Combs, who, as of Wahlberg’s nailed take, was already an hour late.

When Wahlberg emerges from his dressing room a few minutes later, he’s wearing a Travis Mathew golf shirt, white with a gray horizontal stripe, Timex digital watch, and what can only be called gray leisure pants. He was up at 4:45 a.m., hit his knees in his prayer room, resting on a small church bench his wife bought him for his birthday, bowing before a Frederick Hart black sculpted cross, head bowed, lips moving earnestly, a daily reflection, a few devotionals sent to him by a friend, a couple of psalms every morning. This has been his routine for the last 15 years: hit the knees every morning and focus, he says, on what’s right and what matters. “It keeps my head on straight.”

Then it’s 27 holes at Moorpark Country Club—he’s a member of the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, but his buddy is the manager at Moorpark. He tees off at 6:30 a.m., plays the first 18, has a breakfast of Ezekiel bread and almond butter, and then goes out for nine more. “I’m hitting ’em pretty good right now. I’ve been home three months since my last movie. I have a little range there, so I’ve been practicing.”

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He’s been into the game since he first moved to Los Angeles in the early ’90s and Johnny “Drama” Alves and Ari Emanuel, who would become the models for their pseudonymous characters on Entourage—both the television show and the feature film that came out in June—convinced him to give the game a try and he literally could not hit the ball, the ultimate frustration for the hypercompetitive Wahlberg. The youngest of nine siblings, he’s used to scrapping with his bigger brothers. He was a hard-driving point guard as a kid in the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League and a fleet wide receiver in neighborhood football games. To this day, gatherings of the Wahlberg siblings are as likely to turn into wrestling matches and punch-ups as they are sit-down dinners. “We’ll be at my mother’s house, and I’ll have my older brother in a headlock, and my mother will be like, ‘What are you doing?’” 

So Wahlberg swinging and missing during his first round on the links meant there was no way he was quitting golf until he could whack it 240 yards off the tee—which he now routinely does as easily as he nails a simple line in a TV promo.

After filming, he sits in the canteen down the hill from the soundstage, leans over a plate of turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and broccoli, and waits on Diddy to show up. In person, Wahlberg’s most noticeable features are his arms— heavy-gauge guns that seem to double his width as he walks. His hair is a brown up-and-back quiff, his face Cagney rough. His skin has a weathered quality; maybe it’s from all the dawn patrol golf, or maybe it’s from his hard-won experience.

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