Skip to main content

Oscar Nominee Mark Wahlberg

Actor Mark Wahlberg is an Academy Award nominee for best supporting actor for his role as a police sergeant in the film The Departed. After a number of smaller film roles, Wahlberg became known for his role as a porn star in Boogie Nights. Wahlberg's other films include The Perfect Storm, Three Kings, The Italian Job, and Invincible.


Other segments from the episode on February 8, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 8, 2007: Interview with Mark Wahlberg; Review of James Brown's album "The Singles: The Federal Years 1956-1960."


DATE February 8, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Mark Wahlberg discusses his movie "The Departed" and
also his life and career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Mark Wahlberg, is nominated
for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Martin Scorsese's
crime drama "The Departed." It comes out on DVD next week. Wahlberg's other
movies include "Invincible," "Four Brothers," "I Heart Huckabees," "The
Italian Job," "Rock Star," "The Yards, "Three Kings," and "Boogie Nights."
Wahlberg's also the executive producer of the HBO series "Entourage," which is
loosely based on his early experiences in Hollywood. Before he started his
acting career, he was briefly in an early version of the boy band "New Kids on
the Block" with his older brother Donnie. Donnie also produced Mark's
platinum-selling hip-hop album, which he recorded under the name Marky Mark.
Let's start with a scene from "The Departed." Wahlberg plays a sergeant in the
Massachusetts State Police department trying to bring down an Irish mob boss
named Frank Costello in South Boston. Leonardo DiCaprio is the undercover cop
on the case infiltrating Costello's gang. In this scene, DiCaprio believes
that the case and his life are in jeopardy because there's a rat in the police
department giving inside information to the mob. He's on the phone with
Wahlberg, who speaks first.

(Soundbite from "The Departed")

Mr. MARK WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) Why don't we just meet up, sweetheart? Let
me buy you an ice cream.

Mr. LEONARDO DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) I'm getting on a plane unless you put
Queenan on the phone.

Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) Queenan had a funeral to go to, OK? This is my
shift. Just calm down.

Mr. DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) He's out? You actually want me dead. Look, there
is a rat in your unit. That is a fact, all right? Where's Queenan?

Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) He's not here.

Mr. DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) They knew you had cameras in the building. They
knew everything. All right? There is a leak from the inside. It's real,
man. Smoke him out.

Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) Yeah? How do we do that?

Mr. DiCAPRIO: (As Billy) Let it slip through SIU that you have a sealed
wiretap warrant for Costello's apartment. Don't tell anyone in our division,
but tell SIU. Flush it down the pipe and see if it comes out on my end. All
right? That's what we do first. We narrow it down.

Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Dignam) You want to meet up? Or you got something real,
call me back.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Mark Wahlberg, welcome to FRESH AIR and congratulations on your Oscar

Mr. WAHLBERG: Thank you very much.

GROSS: In some of your roles, you're really not very talkative, but you're
quite verbal in your role in "The Departed" and speak in a really stylish way.
Was it a different kind of role for you verbally?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, it was verbally, but it was--I grew up in Boston, so
basically I just had to revert back to my old accent and my mom and dad's
speech pattern, and a lot of those cuss words are actually straight from my
mother's mouth.

GROSS: So--but finding like a really like stylish way of speaking, too.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, there's just a rhythm to it. You know, Marty, when we
read the script and decided that--well, they were able to work out the
schedule, he basically said to me, you know, `Say what you want and, you know,
take out what you don't feel is real and authentic, and, you know, as long as
you don't lose any plot points, just do what you want to do.' So, you know,
I've had a lot of experience with the Boston police, and, like I said, my mom
speaks like that as well as my dad, so it was basically just kind of going
back to the accent that I worked so hard to lose.

GROSS: What are some of the other ground rules that Scorsese works with when
he's directing you?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, you know, it was such a relaxed atmosphere. It was
tense in a lot of ways. It was extremely quiet on set, but, at the same time,
he gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do. But it was very
relaxed. It was very quiet. We never really rehearsed anything. We would
just kind of get in there and start playing around.

GROSS: Wait, wait. You never rehearsed anything?

Mr. WAHLBERG: We never rehearsed any scenes, no.

GROSS: Why is that? You know, some actors really like to rehearse before a
movie so that everything kind of like--you get it right on an early take and
you know what you're doing.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, well, we certainly did all of our--everybody did their
homework, but, you know, I guess it was just the--it was my first time working
with Marty, and I've worked with people that like to rehearse a few weeks out.
And, you know, in this case, we didn't rehearse at all. We would kind of come
in in the morning and we'd talk about the scene a little bit, but, you know,
he'd just kind of want to see what we were going to do and put it up on its
feet and then, you know, he'd figure out where he wanted to put the camera.

GROSS: Did he talk with you about your character and like backstory for your
character, any of that? Or is it just, you know...

Mr. WAHLBERG: We did. We'd have a lot of conversations about backstory, and
he wanted me to pull from some of my real-life experience, and you know--but
we'd start talking about the character and, I don't know if you've ever talked
to Marty, but we'd start talking about the character and then we'd be in the
middle of a conversation about 17th century Irish immigrants...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. WAHLBERG: I mean, it would be a history lesson. And you know, the guy
is just an endless source of information, so...

GROSS: You say he told you to pull from your real life. What did you pull
from? Like what...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, I had, you know, spent 15, 16 years of my life torturing
my parents, and, you know, being arrested and having to call them and tell
them to come bail me out of various jails for various petty crimes. And, you
know, there is a very fine line between cops and crooks in Boston. A lot of
my friends that I got into trouble with at an early age went on to become
cops. So all of that real-life experience, all of that torture that I caused
my parents, I was able to use in playing this part.

GROSS: So you see--I mean, was it really different to try to get into the
mind-set of a sergeant?

Mr. WAHLBERG: No, because you really have to, in order to be able to
understand criminals, you have to think like them anyway, so I really--I had
that part covered.

GROSS: Right. What surprised you...

Mr. WAHLBERG: It's crazy..

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WAHLBERG: ...but you know, it really was. It really brought a lot of
closure to a lot of, you know, things that had kind of haunted me in the past.
You know, redemption, it's a big deal for me to have been able to turn my life
around and to really be on the right side of the law and to be able to learn
to appreciate them and what they do.

GROSS: Well, you actually spent, I think, like, 45 days or so in a

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah. Yeah. And I was 17 at the time, so it was certainly a
frightening experience, but if that's what I needed to experience to turn my
life around and to start living a positive life, then it was the best thing
that's ever happened to me.

GROSS: Is that what happened to you that you turn your life around inside?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Oh, definitely. Definitely. I like to be able to come and go
as I please. I like to eat my mom's cooking, so losing my freedom was
obviously a horrific experience.

GROSS: So if you were about 17 and you were in like an adult penitentiary...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...did you have to draw on acting skills you didn't know you had yet
in order to kind of look tough and confident and be relatively safe inside?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Oh, definitely. I mean, I had always joked around that I had
been acting for a long time without ever being in front of a camera because,
from convincing my mom that it wasn't me to the judges, I mean, I was
constantly acting. And it's pretty amazing that God kind of put me in a place
to, you know, find out that this is my niche and this is what I'm supposed to
be doing.

GROSS: So did you--I--just getting back to the acting, did you have like a
different way of speaking or carrying yourself or you know being yourself to
convey that you were--that you could handle yourself inside?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Definitely. I mean, you don't want to walk around and draw
too much attention to yourself either. But, you know, I was in an altercation
the first day I was there, and, you know, they tried to take my property and,
you know, basically punk me, and, when I was able to stand up for myself in a
large holding cell, people kind of knew that I was prepared to do what I had
to to protect myself, I think.

GROSS: Is being young and attractive definitely like a liability when you're
in prison?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah. It's the worst thing possible. I mean, I never look at
myself as being attractive but certainly, you know, I had all of my teeth and
I was young and I probably weighed about 110 pounds. I was probably about
five-two at the time. I didn't really start growing until I was in my
twenties. So, yeah, it was pretty frightening. I probably looked like a
little young girl with no breasts. So, yeah, I used to...

GROSS: Not what you want to look like in prison.

Mr. WAHLBERG: No. No. I...

GROSS: That's when you started working out, right?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Working out, yeah.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.


GROSS: So I guess you really did that with a lot of urgency.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yes. I started before I went. I figured, based on the
horrible things that I had done and the pain that I had caused people that
didn't deserve that, that I was going to have to pay for my mistakes. I
certainly had to just try to prepare myself as best as possible. And getting
sober and doing all the right things was, I mean, that was all part of it.

GROSS: Well, let me get back to "The Departed." You know, Scorsese's a great
film director and his film editor Thelma Schoonmaker has, you know, she's won
an Oscar for her editing.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Oh, she's awesome.

GROSS: Yeah, so can you talk a little bit about what it was like to see
edited scenes that you had shot, and what was most surprising about the way
scenes were edited, how it changed what you thought they were going to be?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, we had shot the movie, and then I was off making another
movie, and the first time I had seen any cut footage, I was actually on the
phone with Marty and Thelma. They were in New York in the editing room, and I
was in Canada doing some looping, and I had a hard time paying attention. I
kept missing the beeps in the loops, the cues, because I was just caught up in
watching the scenes. I had only seen the stuff that I was involved in but I
just kept kind of pinching myself that, A, I was in a Scorsese movie, and, B,
it looked really cool. So I just couldn't wait till I had seen the final

And then when I saw the movie in its entirety, I saw it with some friends who
didn't know anything about the movie, and they were laughing at parts where I
didn't necessarily intend for them to be funny, so I was a little freaked out
after that screening. But then after seeing it with an audience, people kind
of got the joke, so I was relieved.

GROSS: What were they laughing at that you didn't think was intended to be

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, like, when I was interrogating Leo the first scene that
I'm in, they're laughing hysterically, and I'm like, `Well, you're not hearing
all the dialogue. I don't think it's meant to be funny,' but, you know,
there's some pretty harsh dialogue in there, and they just, they were
entertained. And even when they were uncomfortable, you know, people have a
tendency to laugh. So it was a good thing. It just didn't dawn on me right

GROSS: My guest is Mark Wahlberg. He's nominated for an Oscar for his
performance in "The Departed."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Mark Wahlberg. He's nominated for an Oscar for his
performance in "The Departed."

Now, I'm thinking, if you win the Oscar and you have to get up there and make
your acceptance speech, it's not going to sound exactly like the speech you
made when you accepted the--all the adult film awards in "Boogie Nights." So
before we talk about "Boogie Nights"...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, it may.

GROSS: It may?

Mr. WAHLBERG: It may. That speech worked out pretty, good and I actually
still remember some of it. You know, and you know, Dirk was so passionate
about making better films, and these films can help, they really can. So, you
know, it's a good base to start from.

GROSS: I thought we could hear that speech, and this is in "Boogie Nights"
where you play, like, a young porn star rising in the field and wanting to
make more serious films with, like, action plots and everything. So here you
are accepting...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, he definitely felt like he was accepting the Academy

GROSS: Exactly.


GROSS: And he's accepting like one adult film award after another. This is
his night, and here's one of his speeches.

(Soundbite of "Boogie Nights")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WAHLBERG: Wow. I don't know what to say.

Unidentified Actor: Come on, say it!

Mr. WAHLBERG: I guess--wow--I guess the only thing I can say is I'll promise
to keep rockin' and rollin' and making better films.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

Mr. WAHLBERG: You know, it seems we make these movies, and sometimes they're
considered filthy or something by some people. But I don't think that's true.

Unidentified Actor #1: Uh-uh.

Mr. WAHLBERG: These movies we make, they can be better. They can help.
They really can. I mean that.

Unidentified Actor #3: Right.

Mr. WAHLBERG: We can always do better. I'm going to keep trying if you guys
keep trying. Let's keep rockin' and rollin', man.

(Soundbite of music)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Mark Wahlberg in his movie...

Mr. WAHLBERG: I think...

GROSS: ..."Boogie Nights."

Mr. WAHLBERG: I think the award he was receiving was Best Penis.

GROSS: Yes. But it's put slightly different in the film.


GROSS: I love that film. You played an actor whose gift, whose greatest
asset is basically in his pants.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And you're not great at like the line reading parts of acting, but
this performance really helped establish you as a terrific actor. When you
first got the script for it, did you--could you tell from the script what a
really great film it was going to be?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, I read the first 30 pages, and I had to put it down
because I was really terrified. I thought, A, either this guy thinks I can
really pull this off or he just wants to kind of exploit me and finally see
Marky Mark pull off the Calvin Klein underwear. So I had to put the script
down, and it was something that I avoided reading for a long time. My agents
were trying to get me to read the script. They were telling me how great it
was, how many people were attached to it in the business and how excited
people were about it. But I was freaked out, and I had to go and sit down
with Paul Thomas Anderson and, within two minutes of sitting with him, I knew
exactly what he wanted and why he thought I could pull it off. And I still
was pretty frightened going into it just because, you know, I mean,
"Showgirls" had just come out and you didn't really know--you never know how
things are going to turn out. You know, you think you're going to make
something great, but it doesn't always turn out that way and--but what an
experience, you know, working with those actors, and, you know, just day in
and day out being able to kind of work off of them and as generous as they
were with me. They really kind of walked me through the process, and I, you
know, I felt like after that I would be willing to try anything as an actor.
And it was also...

GROSS: Tell us about--go ahead.

Mr. WAHLBERG: It was such a pivotal point for me because I was still kind of
trying to be that guy from the neighborhood. I was still trying to be the guy
who people considered to be tough and cool, and this character wasn't that.
He was vulnerable and insecure in a lot of ways, and weak in some ways. But,
you know, I felt...

GROSS: And naive.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yes. Very naive. And I just felt like, you know, if I want
to be an actor, this is what acting's all about. You know, what am I going to
play, the tough guy, you know, from Boston all the time who gets the girl? I
mean, let's step up and really go for it.

GROSS: So after learning how to really act confident in prison, now you had
to like take that off and...


GROSS: ...act vulnerable.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah. But I was--yeah. And I was concerned what people in
the neighborhood were going to think. And then I'm thinking to myself, why am
I concerned with that? That's why I'm so adamant about trying to encourage
kids to go into the arts and to try to be creative because, you know, you want
to be either a tough guy or an athlete? I mean, there's more to life than

GROSS: To make this film, did you watch pornography in a different way, like
not, not to be graphic, but...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, I'm not a big...

GROSS: ...just to see what the acting's like?

Mr. WAHLBERG: I'm not a big fan of porn but...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WAHLBERG: ...there were certain things--there was a documentary about
John Holmes that Paul wanted us to watch.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Some of the older films that we referenced we watched. And we
visited a porn set, which was pretty bizarre.

GROSS: What was bizarre about it? Just how matter of fact...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, how matter of fact everybody is and the fact that, well,
this guy's got to perform in front of all of us, and we're all kind of
standing around, you know, with coffees in our hand waiting for it to go down,
and it was just weird.

GROSS: One of my...

Mr. WAHLBERG: It was a bit uncomfortable.

GROSS: One of my favorite scenes in the film is where you and John C.
Reilly, and a third actor, whose name I forget, are at a drug dealer's house

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, Thomas Jane.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. WAHLBERG: And Alfred Molino plays the drug dealer.

GROSS: Alfred Molino plays the dealer, and he's like in his like underwear

Mr. WAHLBERG: Speedos. Yeah.

GROSS: ...and a like silk robe, and he's playing his favorite mix tape, and
firecrackers are going off in the background...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and he's also got a gun, and he's obviously really crazy, and
you've been dragged there by somebody who's also crazy, and you just want to
get out...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-mmm.

GROSS: Can...

Mr. WAHLBERG: And I very much--you know, we had been shooting the scene, the
movie for such a long time, that was one of the last scenes we shot...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WAHLBERG: ...and those guys hadn't worked a lot. Me and John C. Reilly
were working all the time. So it--and it took like four days to shoot and
they were really enjoying themselves. They were really getting into it, and,
like my character, I just wanted to get out of there. I mean, I was dying.
We'd been working, you know, long hours for a such a long time. You know, I'm
wearing high heels and tight pants and wigs and prosthetic penis and the whole
thing. It was just, you know. You know, I cannot wait to work, but when I
work, I want to finish, you know. I want to get it all done, and I'm just
weird like that. But, no, it was an awesome experience. It's my favorite
scene in the movie, too. There's one--that one take where I just kind of
blank out for a few minutes, and he just kind of holds on me there, I really
kind of blanked out at that moment.


Mr. WAHLBERG: I don't know. I had been hyperventilating to get, you know,
to where the character was. They were all kind of high, and I just, I don't
know, I just kind of blanked out for a minute, and they just kind of left the
camera rolling on me, and I finally snapped out of it and remembered that it
was my line, and Paul used that whole bit in the movie.

GROSS: I want to ask you a little bit about "Entourage," which is the HBO
series about a young actor who goes to Hollywood with his whole entourage, and
they're all kind of crazy, and he's very shallow and so on. And so you're an
executive producer and creator of the series, and the series, I believe, is
supposed to be loosely based on your early experiences in Hollywood?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah. Very loosely

GROSS: Very loosely based. OK.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah. I mean, certainly the cool stuff I'll take credit for,
and anything that's embarrassing, I want nothing to do with, but, you know,
it's more so--the part that's really based on my life and experiences, the
guys that are with me and the guys that worked with me, all of those
characters are based on people that are a really important parts in my life.

GROSS: So who was in your entourage?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, the real E. The real Johnny Drama. Unfortunately, the
inspiration for the Turtle character, one of my best friends, Donny Carroll,
passed away last year.

GROSS: Oh, I'm sorry.

Mr. WAHLBERG: And, you know, a couple of the guys, you know, have been with
me and gone, like the Dom character's based on a friend who got out of prison,
and we try to help him out and, of course, he didn't know that Hollywood is
very different from prison, and he started trying to do some of his prison
antics in the business and got the guys into a lot of trouble. So there's
stuff that's based on me and obviously there's stuff that's happened to other
people in the business that I'm friendly with. And, of course, the writers
are extremely talented, and they make up a lot of stuff. But I'm so proud of
those guys and what they've done with the show.

GROSS: Tell us who Johnny Drama is based on.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Johnny Drama is based on a guy named Johnny Als. I met Johnny
Als in California with my brother when I was on the road with my brother who
was in The New Kids on the Block. I had gotten out of jail, and being a guy
who was trying to stay out of trouble in Boston is a really difficult thing to
do, so when I got out I wouldn't hang with my friends, and then they--then all
of a sudden I wasn't cool anymore. So I'd gotten into a couple of fights just
trying to defend myself, and I was arrested a few times while I was on
probation and parole. So my brother hired Johnny Als to come and work with me
basically to keep me out of trouble. And we went back home to Boston so I
could make my court appearances, and he asked me one day to take him to
Plymouth to visit his mom, because he's originally from Massachusetts as well.
We went to Plymouth, and I walked in his kitchen, and I saw his mom walk by
the hallway. And I said, `Oh my--I know your mom.' And he said, `Yeah, shut
up.' He thinks I'm joking around. And I said, `Your mother works at the
Plymouth House of Corrections, the prison, right?' and he said, `Yeah, why?'
And I said, `Well, I was there for a month, and she used to come and pray with
me all the time,' because she had never seen anyone so young and little in
there before. And as soon as she came out she recognized me, and we've been,
you know, like family ever since.

GROSS: My guest is Mark Wahlberg. He's nominated for an Oscar for his
performance in "The Departed."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Mark Wahlberg. He's
nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Martin Scorsese's film "The
Departed," which comes out on DVD next week. His other movies include
"Invincible," "Four Brothers," "The Italian Job," "Rock Star," "The Yards,
"Three Kings," and "Boogie Nights." When we left off we were talking about the
HBO series "Entourage," which is loosely based on Wahlberg's early experiences
in Hollywood. He's an executive producer of the series.

Now, Vince, the character who's kind of like your loosely based surrogate...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: the series spends money really extravagantly and is often egged
on to do it by his friends in his entourage.


GROSS: Did you do that, too? And, if so, like, can you tell us about some of
the, in retrospect, most foolishly...


GROSS: ...extravagant purchases you made?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, the first check I got for $100,000 for my recording
career, I went to a Mercedes dealer and bought a car for $100,000, and I
didn't have money left over for insurance or registration or any of that or

GROSS: That fits the bill.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, exactly. And then we, you know, we're in town
somewhere. I remember doing "Boogie Nights" and I--Paul came over to my house
with Phil Hoffman and John C. Reilly, and they were lighting fireworks off my
balcony in California, and I'm from Massachusetts, so I don't know the laws,
and, of course, the next day I get evicted from my apartment, so I ended up
renting a house that cost like, I don't know, like $6,000 a month and I only
had like $10,000 in the bank. Just stuff like that. Or taking my friends on
a trip. You know, we were going to go to New York, for instance, and we
missed the plane, so we decided to get a jet with money that we didn't have.
But I just always felt like, you know, if we just focused on doing the work
and had fun and don't stress out, then the money would come, and, you know, I
was able to go and do concerts and stuff in Europe because I never wanted to
take a movie for money. I always wanted to just grow as an actor and learn as
much as I possibly could. So I would do spot dates in Europe and stuff like
that to kind of pay the bills while I was, you know, pursuing my acting

GROSS: How did you make the transition from music to acting? You know, after
being in New Kids on the Block, invited into it by your brother...


GROSS: ...who is the star of the group and then having your own group as
Marky Mark, how did you make the transition to acting?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, I didn't want to act, and I didn't realize, you know,
that I was acting already. You know, I was acting as a tough guy rapper from
Boston. I was--you know, I had been acting for years. But when I met Penny
Marshall, I had actually been offered a few things. I was offered to play the
white rapper in "Sister Act II," which I just didn't think was a good idea for
whatever reason. I mean, I love Whoopi Goldberg, and I love Bill Duke, who
directed the film, but I didn't think it was a good idea for me. And because
of my association with The New Kids on the Block, people are already kind
of--didn't really know who I was and there were all these misconceptions out
there, so the last thing I wanted to do was act and confuse people more.

And I was in New York City, and I got a phone call saying, `Would you like to
meet Penny Marshall and Danny DeVito?' and, god, I grew up watching them and
you know, I felt like I knew them, so I was like, `Yeah, I'd love to.' I went
and met with them, and she kind of basically told me that I was already
acting, and I wasn't fooling anybody so why don't I give it a shot. And she
gave me the sites to the scene. I went outside for a couple of minutes,
looked at them and came in and read, and she said, `Well, I'd like you to read
again,' and I flew to California, and then by the time it came down to it, and
I'd screen tested, I really wanted the part and then, after making that movie,
I really didn't want to do anything else. I really felt like I had found my
niche. I was studying films, studying actors that I had always admired. And
then my second role was "The Basketball Diaries" opposite Leonardo DiCaprio
with Scott Kalvert, who had directed all my music videos. And he told me that
he had told Tupac Shakur, as well as Will Smith, who he had directed music
videos for early on in their career, that they should be actors as well. And
after those two experiences, I really didn't want to do anything else. I
could not see me doing another record, and, you know, being on MTV with a
music video and doing that whole thing. I just couldn't see it happening. So
I never really--I never even--I never entertained the idea of doing both. I
felt like, `OK, God has brought me to my thing,' and I didn't want to do
anything else.

GROSS: So the film that you did with Penny Marshall, that was "Renaissance

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yes. "Renaissance Man" was my first film.

GROSS: Before you started acting, when you were younger, did you care much
about movies?

Mr. WAHLBERG: I loved movies. I loved watching movies with my dad. You
know, my dad worked so hard. He worked two jobs. He was the youngest of nine
kids. And my mom and dad always worked just to put food on the table, so
whatever time I had with my dad was usually in front of the TV or we would go
once a week to the movies. He took me to see "Hard Times" with Charles
Bronson. It was my first film that I ever saw. And you know, I grew up
watching McQueen and Cagney and Robert Ryan and John Garfield and Edward G.
Robinson. You know, it's--that's what's so amazing about being nominated for
an Oscar. I called my dad, and he said, `Mark, do you know how many times I
used to stay up at night and watch the Oscars as a kid?' It was a huge deal
for him, so to hear him crying tears of joy because I was going to be on the
Oscars and I was nominated, he was blown away by that.

GROSS: My guest is Mark Wahlberg. He's nominated for an Oscar for his
performance in "The Departed."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with actor Mark Wahlberg.

How old were you when your brother invited you to join New Kids on the Block?

Mr. WAHLBERG: Twelve.

GROSS: Whoa!

Mr. WAHLBERG: Twelve. Yeah.

GROSS: I didn't realize you were that young.

Mr. WAHLBERG: No. I was--yeah, I was like 12, 12 or 13, and I had already,
you know, had a life in the neighborhood and had a group of friends. We had
our little gang, and we were already hanging out. And when we started, we
were working with Maurice Starr. We were rapping, and we made a couple of rap
records and then his intention was always to create a boy band like New
Addition, so he eventually started trying to send us to vocal lessons, and I
don't know if you heard my singing in "Boogie Nights," but it isn't pretty.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WAHLBERG: That's me giving a real effort there. Most people thought I
was trying to sing bad, and I wouldn't tell people while we were promoting the
film that I was trying to sing my heart out because they thought I did such a
good job. I think, just because of my rap career, they, for some reason they
thought I was like Whitney Houston, and so...

GROSS: Well, you do much better in "Rock Star" in terms of like, you know,
being like...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Well, I worked with a coach and I really...

GROSS: Big voice. Yeah, mm-hmm.

Mr. WAHLBERG: I really spent a lot of time trying to do that.

GROSS: So you were around 12 when you joined New Kids on the Block. Was it
fun? Did you like it?

Mr. WAHLBERG: It was fun being in the studio and rapping and stuff, but you
know, going to vocal lessons and then doing the choreography and stuff, it
just wasn't my thing. I was much happier being at the Boys Club doing sports
or running around at night with my friends. But, of course, then going to
jail and sitting--I remember sitting in a wreck room in Plymouth House of
Correction, and my brother and the rest of the New Kids came on TV, and they
were performing. And I told this guy, `Hey, that's my brother.' And he was
like, `That's not your brother. Shut up.' I said, `No, that's my brother, and
I was in that group. I quit.' And he goes, `And now you're here.' He goes,
`You gotta be the dumbest guy I've ever met.' And then, of course, I had to
wait until my brother was home because he was constantly on the road promoting
to come and visit me at Plymouth House of Correction, which he did, and then I
showed him off to everybody, and I was the cool guy in the unit for a week.

GROSS: Well, it must have been really strange to watch him become such a big
star after you quit and then end up in prison yourself.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, it was, but, you know, he wanted it, and he was willing
to make all the sacrifices. And I wanted to be the cool guy in the
neighborhood. I wanted to be what I thought was a bad ass, and I got what I
wanted and he got what he wanted. Obviously, it wasn't what I had expected.

GROSS: So how did you handle stardom early on, once you got it?

Mr. WAHLBERG: I handled it OK, I mean, aside from the fact that I was, I
don't know--my whole thing was I couldn't get girls to pay attention to me,
really, until I was famous, so I acted like a bit of a jerk early on, but I
realized quite quickly that I had no right to do that.

GROSS: Well, you wanted...

Mr. WAHLBERG: And of course...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WAHLBERG: mom, my mom is one of the toughest people you'll ever
meet, and anytime I acted out of line she was so quick to put me back in my

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WAHLBERG: And she still does to this day.

GROSS: Is that a good thing?

Mr. WAHLBERG: It's a very good thing.

GROSS: So you wanted girls to pay attention to you...

Mr. WAHLBERG: It's not good when she's yelling and screaming at me at the
time saying, `You're nothing. You're not a movie star. You're nothing!' You
know, that's how she does it, but a short time after I certainly realized that
she couldn't be more right.

GROSS: So, you know, you said you wanted girls to pay attention to you.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And they did, once you became a star so...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, I know, also, you know, growing up and not having
anything, too, I mean, you know, we--I wore the sneakers that my brother wore
the year before to school.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. WAHLBERG: So, you know, we always thought that we needed this other
stuff so, to having a car and, you know, being able to go out to eat, or
doing, you know, buy new clothes, sneakers, you know, all that stuff, was
important to us at the time.

GROSS: Well, after you were in the Calvin Klein underwear ads where you posed
in your underwear, I think you became a pinup, not just for girls but for boys
too, and...


GROSS: What was your reaction to knowing that in some ways you were becoming
something of a gay icon?

Mr. WAHLBERG: It was pretty weird at first, you know, because when you would
go to a concert of mine, you would look in the crowd and there'd be a bunch of
young girls and then there'd be a bunch of grownup guys. And at first I'm
thinking, `Well,they're probably dads or something.' But, you know, they'd be
coming up asking, you know, for me to sign pictures of me in my underwear, and
I'm saying, `OK, what's your daughter's name?' and they're like, `No, it's for
me,' to Mike or Bob or whatever it is. But you know, I got over feeling
uncomfortable about it pretty quickly, and I just felt like, well, if I had an
opportunity to speak to whoever and people wanted to listen or look, then that
had to be good enough for me.

GROSS: You know, when you were in music, you know, you became best known for
your hip-hop group. But in the movie "Rock Star," you played, you know, you
played someone in a heavy metal band that's basically a cover band or a
tribute band...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...that does its best to copy in every way this famous heavy metal
band that they love.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And then when the lead singer is forced out of that band, they find
out about your cover band, and you replace that lead singer.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And so suddenly, like for this role, you had like, those long, like
heavy metal curly locks...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: I guess I'm wondering what it was like to put yourself in a musical
persona that was so different from the ones that you had actually had.

Mr. WAHLBERG: It was crazy. I mean, I would show up at metal concerts and
stuff, and people would recognize me and be thinking what the heck am I doing
there, but I wanted to really just dive into that world and become that guy
until the movie was over, so it was--it took some getting used to that's for
sure. But I went out. I went shopping. I got, you know--I grew my hair. I
bought all the clothes. I rented a house and put all kinds of musical
equipment in there and just started hanging with the guys that were playing in
the band and started drinking too much beer and, you know, acting like a jerk
and doing the whole thing.

GROSS: I want to play a scene from early in "Rock Star," where, this is
before--you're just in a local band here...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ... and you've just heard the concert by the band that you cover in
your own band. And you're in the arena parking lot afterwards and another
fan-slash-musician is taunting you about how you got the costume wrong, and
you're kind of bickering with each other about who's copying this band better.
So let's hear the scene.

(Soundbite from "Rock Star")

Unidentified Actor #1: Look who's here.

Unidentified Actor #2: Well, if it isn't Yoko Ono and the Fag Five.

Unidentified Actress: What do you think you're doing?

Unidentified Actor #3: Making sure nobody gets scammed into seeing some
cut-rate copy band.

Unidentified Actor #4: Cut-rate copy band. This dude can't even tune his own

Unidentified Actor #5: Yeah, and you could always use a little work on your

Unidentified Actor #6: I don't lipsync...(censored by station)...hole.

Actor #5: You'd be doing everyone a favor if you did...(censored by

Unidentified Actor #7: You know you could at least get the outfit right. I
mean your boots are from the Wasted tour and this is just like a cheap
imitation of the Twisted jacket.

Mr. WAHLBERG: You are so fully wrong ...(censored by station)...smoker.
This is official issue, the actual vest Bobby wore on the Twisted tour. My
dad bought it from someone who knows someone who knows Dragon's drummer.

Actor #7: I hate to break it to you but your dad got ripped. First of all,
the lapels are supposed to be blue. There's no green in the embroidery.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Actor #7: As a matter of fact, can anybody here honestly say that they've
ever seen Bobby Beard with a jacket with red lapels?

Actor #8: No, Curtis, I can't.

Actor #7: I don't think so.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Mark Wahlberg in a scene from "Rock Star." You know, I was just
watching the DVD of "Rock Star," and I was looking at one of the other guys in
the heavy metal band, and I'm thinking, `I know him,' and I realized, `Oh,
it's McNolte from "The Wire." And it must be so much fun for you to have...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah. Dominic West.

GROSS: Dominic West. Yeah, it must be...

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah. He's a great actor.

GROSS: much fun for you to have been in movies at the, you know,
earlier in your career with people for whom it was also early in their

Mr. WAHLBERG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and you can watch each other and how you've changed and what you've
become known for subsequently.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Yep. Yeah. Even like, you know, working with guys like John
C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman...

GROSS: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Mr. WAHLBERG: I mean, those guys are so talented. When I was working with
them, I was like, `These guys are amazing. How come they haven't done, you
know, bigger and better things,' and now, they've all, you know, Phil's won an
Oscar and John was nominated for an Oscar and, you know, to just--you know,
Julian was nominated for "Boogie Nights," and Burt, you know, it was his first
nomination. It's been amazing. I--you know, I went to the Golden Globes, and
it was like--it was--it was wild. I saw all these amazing people that I had
worked with early on, Bill Paxton and, you know, just to be there with all of
them and sharing that with them was pretty amazing.

GROSS: Well, listen, I want to wish you good luck at the Oscars and I really
thank you a lot for talking with us.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Terry, it was a pleasure. Thank you very much.

GROSS: Mark Wahlberg is nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "The
Departed." It comes out on DVD next week. His film "The Shooter" will be
released in March. Here's Wahlberg in the scene from "Boogie Nights" that we
were talking about a few minutes ago. His character, porn star Dirk Diggler,
is recording a demo trying to become a rock star.

(Soundbite from "Boogie Nights")

Unidentified Actor #1: (as Nick) OK, Dirk. You ready?

Mr. WAHLBERG: (as Dirk Diggler) Yeah. I was born ready, Nick. let's go,

Actor #1: Dirk Diggler demo.

Mr. WAHLBERG: Keep the vocals up.

Actor #1: "You Got the Touch." Take seven. Excuse me, Reed.

Actor #2: Oops.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WAHLBERG: (singing)
You got the touch
You got the power
After all is said and done
You never walk
You never run
You're a winner
You got to move
You know the streets
Break the rules
Take the heat
You're nobody's fool
Your acts are best
when the going gets rough
You've been put to the test
but it's never enough
You got the touch...

Mr. WAHLBERG: You think the base is taking away from the vocal?

Unidentified Actor #2: No, not really, but maybe. It sounds balanced to me.

Mr. WAHLBERG: It's definitely taking away from my vocals. Just take the
base down, turn up the vocal.

Unidentified Actor #4: OK, let's do it Nick. You heard him.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on James Brown's early singles.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Ed Ward discusses the beginning of James Brown's career

In December we lost James Brown, one of the most distinctive and influential
musical figures of the last half century. He was a one of a kind performer,
which wasn't always something that worked in his favor. Today rock historian
Ed Ward goes back to the start of Brown's career to show us how James Brown
came to be a star.

ED WARD: It began like this.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAMES BROWN: (Singing)
Please, please, please, please

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Please, please don't go

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Please, please, please, please

Singers: (Singing)
Please, please don't go

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Honey, please don't go

Singers: (Singing)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Oh yeah, yeah
I love you so

Singers: (Singing)
Please, please don't go

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Baby, you did me wrong

Singers: (Singing)
You done me wrong

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
You done me wrong

Singers: (Singing)
You done me wrong

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
So you done, done me wrong

Singers: (Singing)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Oh, oh yeah,
Took my love and now you're gone

Singers: (Singing)
Please, please don't go

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Please, please, please, please
Please, please, please, please

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Heaven only knows what King Records thought they were getting when
they signed a Georgia vocal group called The Famous Flames and put them on
their subsidiary label, Federal, but this was it. Although the "please don't
go" backup was familiar enough--in fact, it had been taken from a 1952 record
by the Orioles--it was the maniac up front who made all the difference.
Nobody in January 1956 was singing like that, except in church. The Flames,
aware that they might never get another chance, asked to record their big
showstopper first. To make sure they had quality musicians, they borrowed
Little Richard's band, The Upsetters. Richard didn't need them. He was in
New Orleans, where great musicians grew on trees, recording "Long Tall Sally"
that week.

The record came out in March, despite the opinion of King's owner Syd Nathan
that it was the worst piece of crap he'd every heard. Ralph Bass, who oversaw
the rhythm and blues division, walked into Nathan's office a few weeks later
to tell him the record had gone top ten on the rhythm and blues charts, even
though it wasn't selling in the pop market. Nathan's reaction was
understandable, though. He was probably expecting something more on the lines
of another song they'd recorded that day.

(Soundbite of music)

I feel that old feeling coming on
I feel, I feel that old feeling coming on
I been so unlucky
ever since I been born
Yeah, tell me, pretty baby...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: But once "Please, Please, Please" had triumphed, the best the
record company could do was to copy it exactly. Worst of all, they repeated
this formula for nearly two years. The Flames did well on the road, but only
in the South. Their show contained a lot of blues numbers and climaxed with
"Please, Please, Please," but James was getting restless. He thought a ballad
would push him into nationwide fame but the record company thought otherwise.
Disgusted, he took his own money and recorded a demo of a song he wanted to

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) I need

Backup Singers: (Singing) I need

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) You by me. Tell me, darling I need you by me

Backup Singers: (Singing) By me...

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) By me, I want you to love me true, Oh, I need you

Backup Singers: (Singing) I need you

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Hold me...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Since none of the other records they put had done anything, the
company gave in and hired a crack band of New York studio musicians, including
guitarist Kenney Burrell, tenor saxophonist Clifford Scott and drummer Panama
Francis, and gave it a shot.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (singing)
Try me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Try me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Try me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Try me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Darlin tell me
I need you
Try me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Try me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Try me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Try me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
And your love will always be true
Oh, I need you

Backup Singers: (Singing)
I need you

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Hold me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Hold me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Hold me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Hold me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I want you right here by my side
Hold me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Hold me

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "Try Me" was James Brown's first number one R&B hit, and it even
slid into the low forties on the pop chart, ending 1958 for him on a
triumphant note. He was able to hire his own band and suddenly found himself
getting dates in places like Los Angeles. But although the follow-up, "I Want
You So Bad," was a minor R&B hit, 1959 slid by without another success. But
he had something else up his sleeve, and on it, you can hear how a new style
was emerging.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
If you leave me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Leave me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I'll go crazy

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Oh yes

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
If you leave me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Leave me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I'll go crazy

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Oh yes

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
'Cause you I love you

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Love you

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Love you
Oh I love you too much
If you quit me

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Quit me

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I'll go crazy

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Oh yeah

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
If you forget me

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: And although the pop stations didn't go for that one, it did well
enough that he dared to expose his brand-new sound on the record he released
in the summer of 1960, a total reworking of sound by The Five Royals. In it
you can hear the genesis of something revolutionary.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
About the good things
About the bad things
About the right things
About the wrong things
Lady before you leave me
realize I'm the one who loves you
Think about the sacrifices
that I made for you
Think about the hard times
that I spent with you
Think about the good things
that I done for you
Think about the bad things
I tried not to do
Come on children think
About the good things
About the bad things...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Nobody was doing anything that sounded even remotely like this,
and, because he could, James Brown was on his way to becoming a huge star.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He reviewed a collection James Brown singles
on Hip-O Select.


GROSS: We want to remind you that FRESH AIR is now available as a podcast on
our Web site,

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)

I've been so wrong, don't you know
I've gotta change

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Baby, if you come back

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I'll do anything you want me to do

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Baby if you come back

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Oh yeah

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Hey yeah don't you know
I've got the change

Backup Singers: (Singing)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I wash your clothes and hang 'em up on the line

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Come back

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Just to prove I'm still nice and kind

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Baby, if you come back

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Baby, if you come back

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I want everybody to know
I'm still your man

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Baby, if you come back

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
Come on back
Everything going to be all right
Well, I promise you

Backup Singers: (Singing)
You you you you

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I never, never I never...(unintelligible)

Backup Singers: (Singing)
Do Do Do Do, We We We

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I remember when I stay out late at night

Backup Singers: (Singing)
We we we we

Mr. BROWN: (Singing)
I know deep inside of me
I wasn't doing you right
Come on back to me baby
Everything's going to be all right

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue