Mark Wahlberg: From Rapper To Leading Man

Probably the best thing Mark Wahlberg ever did was quit New Kids On The Block before they got famous.

The star was a member of the iconic 90s boyband thanks to older brother Donnie, but before ‘Hangin’ Tough’ was a twinkle in the Billboard chart’s eye, Wahlberg Jr. had decided to move on.

In fact, he did want to make music – but in his mind, his tough Boston upbringing lent itself more to hip hop. Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch may have had a terrible name, but they scored a number one record with ‘Good Vibrations’, while debut album ‘Music For The People’ went platinum. They disbanded after two LPs, but Wahlberg went on to get a German number one in collaboration with reggae artist Prince Ital Joe.

His celebrity stock was rising and it hit critical mass when in 1992, Calvin Klein decided to pair him with the coolest female model in the world.

Kate Moss and Wahlberg’s Klein campaign burst into the mainstream – half the audience in raptures over Wahlberg’s six-pack and the rest enthralled by a topless Moss.

Wahlberg has since said that he didn’t particularly enjoy the experience – apart from the subsequent attention he got from women – but it was a crucial moment in his career. Not only was it a successful commercial enterprise, but it demonstrated that audiences would accept the performer as more than the frontman of a Funky Bunch.

Hollywood was almost inevitable after that. After a TV movie in 1993, he made his cinematic debut as a soldier in 1994’s ‘Renaissance Man’ (pictured above) with Danny DeVito and then impressed critics alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in 1995 addiction drama ‘The Basketball Diaries’.

But it wasn’t until ‘Boogie Nights’ in 1997 – and that infamous (fake) appendage – that Wahlberg really solidified himself as a star in the making.

His tender, ridiculous, courageous and above all hilarious performance in PT Anderson’s porn epic seemed to crystallise both his and the audience’s belief that he was a viable leading man.

Yet as his career progressed, with wins like ‘Three Kings’ and ‘The Italian Job’ and duds like ‘Planet Of The Apes’ and ‘I Heart Huckabees’, a strange thing began to happen.

Not content with just being a human prop in front of the camera, he started building a producing business behind it. ‘Entourage’, loosely based on the experiences of himself and his posse partying in Hollywood, premiered in 2004 and became a phenomenon.

He was executive producer on the critically-acclaimed HBO drama ‘In Treatment’, as well as ‘Boardwalk Empire’.

He also made the clever decision (possibly prompted by George Clooney after they worked together) not to spend his life solely heading up blockbusters.

This led to effective indie collaborations with director James Gray in ‘The Yards’ and ‘We Own The Night’, as well as his continued relationship with David O. Russell in films like ‘The Fighter’.

And while he could have sleepwalked through endless mega-budget franchises (and there have been some, *cough*, ‘Max Payne’), he instead earned a role in Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ – which led to an Oscar nomination – as well as showing off his comedic chops in ‘Ted’ and ‘Date Night’.

The billion-dollar success of ‘Transformers: Age Of Extinction’ proved he can still pull in the punters (with the help of massive fighting CGI robots), but the actor is at his best when doing something slightly unexpected. He was funnier than Will Ferrell in ‘The Other Guys’ and more than a match for Denzel in ‘2 Guns’.

And what about showing up in a cable reality show about his burger chef brother? It’s those kinds of esoteric decisions – the “let’s just do what I want as long as it’s fun and fulfilling and not really worry about my image” mindset –which makes Mark Wahlberg one of the most interesting stars around.

Plus, you know, he’s secure enough to play second fiddle to a teddy bear. Who else can say that?

‘The Gambler’ is in cinemas from 23 January.

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