Mark Wahlberg: A remarkable journey from troubled youth to bonafide superstar

Having emerged from his less than ideal controversy-laden teenage phase relatively unscathed, Wahlberg went on to earn a name as one of Hollywood's most talented actors.

Mark Wahlberg: A remarkable journey from troubled youth to bonafide superstar

Think Mark Wahlberg and you almost immediately subconsciously associate him with this tough-guy persona — the line of thought no doubt aided by the fact that his difficult upbringing and numerous run-ins with the law are common public knowledge. His penchant to play the police officer, military personnel, or the scarred, thuggish criminal in films go a long way in furthering the notion that the 47-year-old is this tough-as-nails, gritty, dogged stalwart of a man who, if you looked at the wrong way, would show no hesitation in putting you in your place.

His latest movie does little to quell that particular stereotype. Wahlberg will once again be teaming up with Peter Berg — he has worked alongside the director for projects such as 'Lone Survivor' and 'Deepwater Horizon' — for 'Mile 22,' an action-thriller where he will be portraying James Silva, an operative of CIA’s most highly-prized and least-understood unit -- Mile 22. Joining him will be the likes of John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, and Ronda Rousey, with the movie following Silva and an elite task force as they escort a high-priority asset 22 miles to an extraction point while being hunted by terrorists.

'Mile 22' will premiere on August 17 (Source: IMDb)
'Mile 22' will premiere on August 17 (Source: IMDb)

Set for an August 17 premiere, an official description reads: "James Silva is an operative of the CIA’s most highly-prized and least-understood unit. Aided by a top-secret tactical command team, Silva must retrieve and transport Li Noor, a valuable intelligence asset who holds life-threatening information, through 22 miles of hostile territory to reach an extraction point."

Reads like the quintessential Mark Wahlberg movie doesn't it? It certainly checks all the boxes. Does it have a misunderstood hero who is tasked with an impossible mission? Yes. Does it have the hero battling against seemingly unimaginable odds to achieve the said mission? Of course. And most importantly, will it have a scene where the hero and his trusty team are bogged down by the enemies and close to defeat, only to come out victorious after they go all guns blazing? We're not sure, but going by the trailer, we would bet good money on it.

We also see Wahlberg ominously cocking his gun, throwing threatening looks at suspects, and generally going about making a nuisance of himself in his characteristic way. But it took the actor a considerable amount of time to build up this machismo on-screen persona and to shed the unruly reputation he had earned over the course of his teenage years. His was a remarkable journey from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. 

By previously terming Wahlberg's upbringing as just 'difficult' we'd done him a grave injustice. Born to a bank clerk and nurse's aid mother and a delivery driver father, Wahlberg developed an addiction to cocaine and other substances by the tender age of 13. As a result, he never graduated from high school, and only received his diploma in June 2013. 

In his teenage years, he painted a picture of angst and uncontrolled aggression, resulting in multiple confrontations with law enforcement and a permanent felony record. Amongst his indiscretions were harassing three African-American children by using racial epithets — he repeatedly yelled 'Kill the n****rs' while chasing them — and throwing rocks; brutally assaulting two Vietnamese men with no provocation and later making "numerous unsolicited racial statements about 'gooks' and 'slant-eyed gooks' when questioned; and fracturing the jaw of a neighbor in another unprovoked attack.

For these crimes, he was charged with attempted murder, pleaded guilty to assault, and was sentenced to two years behind bars at the Suffolk County Deer Island House of Correction. Taking this colorful history into account, it should come as little surprise that he looks so at home in the roles he usually plays; he's lived through so many of them himself. All of those characters involve an aspect that he unabashedly flaunted during those strenuous few years in the 80s and early 90s.

Wahlberg certainly deserves the criticism he's faced over the years for his appalling behavior — you'd be hardpressed to find someone who argues that he doesn't —but it did seem as though he turned a new leaf after his stint behind bars.

Speaking of his incarceration, he had said: "As soon as I began that life of crime, there was always a voice in my head telling me I was going to end up in jail. Three of my brothers had done time. My sister went to prison so many times I lost count. Finally, I was there, locked up with the kind of guys I'd always wanted to be like. Now I'd earned my stripes and I was just like them, and I realized it wasn't what I wanted at all. I'd ended up in the worst place I could possibly imagine and I never wanted to go back. First of all, I had to learn to stay on the straight and narrow."


 

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And he would keep true to that promise, for the most part. He first achieved fame with a stage name of Marky Mark as the frontman for the hip-hop group Mark and the Funky Bunch. He released three albums, with 'Good Vibrations' from the debut album 'Music for the People' hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming certified as a platinum single. Wahlberg's music career was by no means a dud, but it would pale in comparison to an acting career that was still in its infancy at the time. 

Having made his debut in a TV film titled 'The Substitute,' he dropped the Marky Mark moniker, signaling the winds of change. A big screen debut in Danny DeVito feature 'Rennaisance Man' would follow and soon enough, he had caught the eyes of the critics as well. His role as Mickey alongside Leonardo Di Caprio in 'The Basketball Diaries' in 1995 thrust him into mainstream attention as an actor with a burgeoning reputation, and his first starring role came a year later with James Foley thriller 'Fear.' 

It was, however, in the 2000s that he came into his own. Roles in the likes of 'The Perfect Storm,' Four Brothers,' 'Planet of the Apes,' and 'The Italian Job,' as well as a coming-of-age performance in David O' Russell's 'I Heart Huckabees' earned him a one-way ticket to the upper echelons of the industry. With 'The Departed' in 2006 came his first Academy Award nomination, first Golden Globe nomination, and a first major honor in a National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor award. 

He was no longer the wayward, rowdy teen that producers wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole; rather now he was their golden boy. There was always a clamor from the vocal minority who claimed he was a limited actor with a restricted skill set, but along came 'Ted' to prove he wasn't a one-trick pony and that he could successfully front a movie in a non-serious, comedic role. The adult-targeted flick about a Teddy bear brought to life went on to gross $549.4 million worldwide on a $50 million budget, breaking debut records wherever it premiered. 

But he still found himself in the odd controversy courtesy his proclivity to speak his mind, even regarding what some might perceive as sensitive issues. In 2012, he was quoted in a magazine interview regarding the American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the twin towers on 9/11. His plans had changed the day before the flight resulting in him canceling the reservation, but Wahlberg still couldn't help theorizing a hypothetical situation where, had he been on board, the attack would never have happened.

 

"If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did," he said. "There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'OK, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry.'" He was later forced to issue a public apology after family members of those killed expressed outrage about his statements. 

If anything, no one ever characterized Wahlberg as the guy you brought home to meet your mother (the statement is a little disingenuous considering he's been with his wife since 2001, is a stand-up dad to his four children, and is a devout Christian who went as far as to seek forgiveness from God for portraying a porn actor in 'Boogie Nights'). He's the guy you call to rough up that bully that's been troubling you in school all this time, and that's not a bad thing.

With 'Mile 22,' you could argue that he's pigeonholing himself further into a kind of role that has very much defined him as an actor these past two decades, and you wouldn't be wrong. But you'd be hard-pressed to find another actor who slips into these characters with such consummate ease. He's carved a niche for himself in Hollywood and is now one of the most recognized and in-demand celebrities on the planet, even topping the list of world's highest-paid actors in 2017 — he was paid $1.5 million for just reshooting parts of 'All the Money in the World.' If you'd told that to ol' Marky Mark, he would have straight up bitten your hand out for it. 

 

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