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Cincinnati Enquirer
Wahlberg sheds bad-boy image
July, 2000


by Matthew Gilbert

GLOUCESTER, Mass---"Come HERE!" A gaggle of girls calls from the green across Harbor Loop, their voices blending with the call of hovering gulls, who also seem to be ogling the scene.

Mark Wahlberg steps out of the back door of a shiny black car, in town to flog his new movie, The Perfect Storm, and he turns around to face them. "Not now, "he yells in his familiar Dorchester accent, smirking, his hand shading his squinty eyes from the bright sky. "Not now!" Resigned, and maybe reliever, the girls reply in unison: "We love you!" Marquee Mark.

But, the question of the moment regarding Mark Wahlberg is this: Which Mark do they love? Because in his decade of fame and fortune, Mr. Wahlberg has been a couple of very different men. The 29 year old who's being led by publicists onto a dock weighted with international press is an actor whom some claim has already been cheated out of an Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights.

He is a friend and protégé of George Clooney, he has made 12 movies (two of them, Three Kings and Boogie Nights, were critical darlings), and he is doing meeting with Hollywood heavies like Time Burton about future projects. His role in The Perfect Storm, which was No. 1 in its premiere week, moves him up a peg from the kid-with-promise category to he-could -be-a-star status. As proof, ads for The Perfect Storm feature his name alongside Mr. Clooney's, above the title. Today, Mark Wahlberg is Marquee Mark. More surprisingly, he is also a man who claims to attend church and pray regularly, who rescues friends from the same Dorchester streets that almost led him to a life behind bars, and who says, without betraying a hint of irony, "If I can inspire one person to do something, that's a huge accomplishment. But...as anyone with a magazine subscription or a remote control knows all too well, not many years ago Mr. Wahlberg's image appeared on the other side of the coin. First, he was a flash-in-the-pan rapper named Marky Mark, an accused homophobe, and an unrepentant Dorchester punk who had spent 45 days in jail at age 16 for a racially tinged assault. Then, thanks to Calvin Klein, he wasn't an underwear model and a ripped gay icon with a famously airbrushed third nipple. And all along, he was a shock artist who liked to drop his pants onstage, who dedicated the official Marky Mark book to his penis and who staged a tiff at an LA party with fellow underwear aficionado Madonna. In short, he was the Perfect Worm. Today, overlooking the harbor where he spent a few weeks filming outdoor shots for The Perfect Storm last fall, Mr. Wahlberg talks about his stormy history both with quiet regret and with the shrewd understanding that it's the dishiest part of his media profile, that it's his sales pitch. Publicists often warn interviewers off unattractive topics---and racism, violence and drug abuse certainly qualify as unattractive- -but on one has tried to control Mr. Wahlberg's spin during the Storm promotion Truth is, many young actors in Hollywood---the ones who, like Mr. Wahlberg, wear scruffy goatees, stringy hair, and loose jeans---would love to add juvenile delinquency and House of Detention to their resumes. Mr. Wahlberg's authentic "street" aura, the sense that he actually stole cars and sold drugs, is precisely what Hollywood casting agents and directors are sniffing around for.

And so the tales of Mr. Wahlberg's illegalities and immoralities trail him. "They keep writing the same article over and over, "he says without much annoyance. "I actually ad a talk with the president of one of the studios about it. They were trying to get me to do this interview, this magazine cover and I said 'Look, I did something for that magazine before and they just wrote the same story. This is their angle.' And he said 'That's why you should do it! They (expletive) love it! It's great.'" What would a more updated Mark Wahlberg story sound like? "It would talk about the obsession with my past," he says, "and my understanding it, and being OK with it to a certain extent. But not getting off the path of what I'm trying to do as a person, which is to really develop myself, which is to grow and continue to educate myself."

"Every day, I wake up and try to make myself a better man." Accepting his past In talking about his psychological changes since he put Marky Mark behind him, Mr. Wahlberg pulls out stock phrases like "Comes a time when you have to look in the mirror," and "You get to a certain age where you're supposed to know what right and wrong is." But, leaning over the tape recorder, his hazel eyes admit no possibility that he's putting on a performance. Indeed, when the interview is over, he says he'll call later to elaborate on his changes. Unlike most Hollywood players, he follows through. "I've been very fortunate to get out of Dorchester for a little while to see that that's not how the rest of the world things," he says. Despite skepticism from friends and colleagues, he goes to church on a regular basis. "I'm trying to make up for all the (expletive) I did. Being raised Catholic is tough, man. I don't look at my girlfriend in a sexual way too long without feeling guilty and blessing myself"---he crosses himself to illustrate. "It helps me, and I believe." Behind his career, he says, there are larger motives: self-expression and the chance to serve as a role model. "To come from where I come from and accomplish the things I have, to set goals like really going out and educating kids and religion---and God knows all the (expletive) that goes on the streets today----is not something people expect. I'm not doing it to shock them either. I just feel like, anything to make me feel better. To do something for somebody makes me feel better."

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