Mark Wahlberg plays golf as Donald Trump watches on. Photograph: The Golf Channel
We are meeting the morning after the first presidential debate and Wahlberg, while eager to watch the highlights, refuses to say who he will be voting for. But Ive played golf with Donald Trump, he says, spotting an escape from this discussion about his political preferences.
Obviously, I bite the bait. How was he, I ask?
Hes an OK golfer, he says, and the faint praise is damning. Ive gotten to know him a little bit since, at various occasions. Ive never met
It turns out that Wahlberg and Trump met almost a decade ago at one of those weird celebrity golf events that always seem to be happening in California or Florida. What did they talk about? He was very Donald Trump-like, talking about the things that he does, things that he has, business interests, properties, stuff like that. But he wasnt ever mean or rude. I dont think he asked me too many personal questions, or about what I do.
Perhaps Ivanka explained to her dad who Wahlberg is, because Trump has since invited him back to play golf at his own events. Yeah, its a little crazy where we are now, is all Wahlberg says about the election in which his golf buddy is barely a breath away from the White House.
Click here to watch the trailer for Deepwater Horizon.
Wahlberg is in London, suffering the weather and talking Trump, because he is promoting his latest film,
Deepwater Horizon, the true story of the 2010 oil-rig explosion and spill crisis, the worst ever in the US. Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, the heroic lead character based on a real person, alongside Kurt Russell as the gruff ol boss and John Malkovich, who hams it up enjoyably as the BP rep, evil to an almost southern gothic extent. It is a strikingly harrowing disaster film and Wahlberg is in classic Wahlberg mode: the blue-collar hero, standing his ground against, on the one side, Malkovichs scenery chewing and, on the other, the pyrotechnic special effects.
Wahlbergs career is remarkable in two respects: first, the sheer range of films he has made. There are the intense dramas (The Basketball Diaries, Boogie Nights,
The Fighter, Broken City, The Departed, We Own the Night), the comedies ( I Heart Huckabees, The Other Guys, Ted, Date Night), the action movies ( Transformers: Age of Extinction, Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon).
Wahlberg sinks himself so deeply into a role that you can easily forget who you are actually watching, which is not something you can say of most big-name actors (on some level Id forgotten that the same guy who played Dirk Diggler was also the one who larked around with a talking teddy bear). This relates to the second point about Wahlberg: it is rarely noted how excellent he is at being the calm centre of a movie, often surrounded by flashier performers, from
Christian Bale smoking crack in The Fighter to Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson in The Departed to that talking bear in Ted and neither competing with them nor being overshadowed.
I just do my thing, he says, most comfortable with self-deprecation when talking about his acting. But then he loosens up as he switches to producer mode (he produced, among others,
The Fighter and Deepwater Horizon): Im thinking about the big picture, not my individual experience as an actor. Ive seen actors who are like: Oh God, this is my moment, and I dont think it services the movie. You have to put the movie first.
Largely, I suspect, for this reason, Wahlberg has a tendency to be overlooked by critics and accolades, which shine instead upon his co-stars. He was nominated for a
supporting actor Oscar for The Departed, but he was almost completely ignored for The Fighter, even though hed spent four years training as a boxer for the role; the awards instead went to his co-stars, Bale and Melissa Leo. Does that not bug him?
Well, I come from the real world and youre only as good as the people around you, he says. Thats always been my philosophy. I dont know if its because of my background in sports, but I want the whole team to be good.
It is partly this lack of look-at-me starriness that has helped him retain a relative kind of normality in the eyes of the public, and there is a loose, hey-Im-just-a-guy attitude to him in person. Whereas fellow Massachusetts boy
Matt Damon is covered in Hollywood glitter, Wahlberg despite being a celebrity for far longer still has a coating of grit.
Look, I live in a big house, I drive a fancy car, he says. But I still feel like Im gonna end up where I came from and as long as I can go there with my head held high and Im welcomed back with open arms, then Im OK.
Click here to watch a trailer for Wahlburgers.
Wahlberg, who grew up in the working-class area of Dorchester in Boston, is the youngest of nine siblings. If you want to see how close this family is then allow me to direct you to their rather extroardinary reality TV show called – what else? – Wahlburgers, which you almost certainly have never watched. Ostensibly made to promote the familys
restaurant franchise, Wahlburgers, now in its sixth series, is a rather pleasing antidote to Keeping Up with the Kardashians because, with the exception of the shots of Wahlbergs LA house which is, indeed, big and fancy there is little here thats aspirational. Whereas the Kardashians go shopping on Rodeo Drive, the Wahlberg matriarch, Alma, hunts for bargain shoes at a store called Frugal Fannies. It is more than a little odd to see Wahlberg, an A-lister, on this shonky reality show, but, he says simply: It was an opportunity for the family to spend time together.
He talks about his childhood fondly, with his dad, a truck driver, taking him to see
Steve McQueen movies on weekends. The full picture, however, was more complicated, to put it mildly. Wahlberg was suffering from drug addiction by the age of 13 and, while still a teenager, racially abused a group of black schoolchildren and beat a Vietnamese man with a stick. He also assaulted another Vietnamese man, punching him in the face. He pleaded guilty to assault and battery and served 45 days in prison. He sums up that period of his life as one in which a lot of things happened and I made a lot of mistakes. But you try to live in the moment and look to the future.
The good thing that came out of it, he says, is that he connected with his Catholicism. Everybody goes to jail and gets on their hands and knees and says: Please God, if you get me out I promise Ill never do it again. And of course, by the time youre out, you fall back into the same habits. But something just kept me wanting to go a little bit more into it, he says.
Catholicism is still a major part of his life. He has a daily prayer routine which I absolutely cannot miss and any movie shooting schedules must accommodate his weekly trip to mass. Everything good that has happened to me in my life, whether its meeting my wife or the births of my children, happened when I started focusing on my faith, he says. He grins: I sound like Im in the recruiting office, dont I? Here, Ive got some brochures for you.
Youd have to work hard to recruit a New York Jew, I say.
Jesus was a Jew, he replies with mock solemnity, enjoying switching from talking about himself to teasing banter. I got a lotta New York Jews with me on this trip. Wheres Mr Weinstein? Bring him in! Hes my bubelah!
Indecent exposure: the 21-year-old Wahlberg poses with a 17 or 18-year-old Kate Moss. Photograph: Calvin Klein
But if finding religion is a common path trod by ex-cons, the other route Wahlberg took after leaving prison was a little more unusual: he became a hugely successful model. Back in 1992 he posed, in full muscular glory, with
Kate Moss for Calvin Klein in one of the most celebrated campaigns of all time. Moss has since said she deeply regretted the shoot. I had a nervous breakdown when I was 17 or 18, when I had to go and work with Marky Mark, she told Vanity Fair in 2012. It didnt feel like me at all. I felt really bad about straddling this buff guy. I didnt like it. I couldnt get out of bed for two weeks. I thought I was going to die.
Wahlberg was only 21 with no experience of the fashion world at the time. Did he feel similarly exploited?
Well, for me it was different, he says. The frustration that I felt was that when we talked about doing that, I was doing my music and they were like: OK, it will be about what youre doing, but then it became just about [the image].
But you know, I still signed up for it, it was what it was and I think there were pros and cons. And Kates had a good career, he concludes, which seems a tad dismissive of an 18-year-olds nervous breakdown, but, as Wahlberg says, he is not really one for introspection or reflection.
There is a distinct smack of the guys guy about Wahlberg, the one who still raves about his mothers bolognese and keeps his friends from home close. So close that
two of them are on this trip to London with him. Does he always travel with his buddies? Yeah! They may get fired for a short amount of time but they always come back. Were not the most professional group, Wahlberg says proudly. This part of his life was, of course, memorialised in the TV show and film Entourage, which he co-produced (You take a swing and hope to hit a home run and sometimes you miss, is how he sums up the widely panned film version.) But is it difficult when your life is so different from those of your friends that you can fire them?
Difficult? he repeats, baffled.
Yes, isnt it awkward?
I dont know, youd have to ask them, he shoots back, a little grumpily.
He pauses for a few seconds: No. Look, I think, my real friends are certainly happy for the success Ive had. But I try to spread and share as much as possible.
On cue, one of his buddies comes back into the room with a salad and a drink for Wahlberg. Any remnants of Wahlbergs boredom and glumness are gone. Instead, he becomes downright larky.
I have a major issue with adolescent behaviour with my friends, says the Hollywood mogul, punching his patiently smiling friend in the shoulder, and I realise I am basically in
Entourage. And suddenly, Wahlberg surprises me by being so unsurprising.
Deepwater Horizon is released in the UK on 30 September