Mark Wahlberg is no stranger to playing cops. In addition to a litany of big-screen law enforcement roles, the 41-year-old Boston native picked up an Oscar nomination in 2006 for his portrayal of Sgt. Sean Dignam in “The Departed.”
Despite his penchant for playing police officers on film, Wahlberg, who stars in the new cop drama “Broken City,” hasn’t always found himself on the right side of the law.
“I’m the king of talking [expletive.] I grew up snapping on people and getting snapped on my whole entire life. You had to really get creative. My parents were poor, there’s nothing worse than going to the store with food stamps,” Wahlberg said. “You always had to be quick-witted and quick to do whatever you had to do physically to protect yourself.”
Wahlberg, the youngest of nine children from a struggling Roman Catholic family, grew up in the notoriously rough Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. He believes his tough upbringing gives him an advantage over other actors.
“I had a lot of real-life experience and that’s what I think benefits me as an actor and it gives me an edge,” he said. “I’ve never studied acting, but there isn’t anything that I won’t do to prepare for a part, whether it involves research, working, rehearsals. If somebody wanted me to take a class, I would take it.”
Wahlberg began his Hollywood career in the early 1990s as the lead singer of the band Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. He was able to make the rare transition from music to movies by dedicating himself fully to acting.
“When I decided that I wanted to make movies I said, ‘You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to stop making music.’ The only time I continued to make music was overseas so I could finance my attempt at becoming a credible actor,” he added. “I’d go overseas, I would go to Germany and tour, make money, then come back and just try to find the next good role that would help me slowly build a resume and eventually become a respected actor.”
In “Broken City,” Wahlberg stars as Billy Taggart, a disgraced cop who is kicked off the force for killing an alleged rapist and murder. Taggart is forced to start his own business as a private investigator and eventually gets called upon by the corrupt Mayor of New York City (Russell Crowe) to investigate his wife (Catherine Zeta Jones), whom he believes is having an affair. The film, which is director Allen Hughes’ first solo project, explores Taggart’s struggle with the corrupt political system of New York and his decision to take justice into his own hands.
“Power attracts very interesting, dynamic people. In the movie business, you just have to graduate from kindergarten,” Hughes said. “But politics, it’s not the arts. In the arts, you can kind of slip through and make your own way. In politics, you got people that either really want to change things or really want power.”
The 40-year-old director is best known for the films “Dead Presidents” and “Menace II Society,” which he produced with his twin brother Albert Hughes. And at first, Allen said, he wasn’t interested in directing “Broken City.”
“It was on The Black List — the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood, the caviar of scripts. But I threw ‘Broken City’ in the trash two times. I never told that story before,” Hughes revealed. “Thank God you can drag it out of the trash. I dug it out and I read the first 20 pages and I was like, ‘Oh, [expletive]! How did I miss this?’”
Wahlberg’s interest in the film stemmed from his childhood. “It just reminded me of the movies that I grew up watching with my dad,” he said. “The great 1970s movies where you had just real guys in real situations and it just felt like it was something real. There was an authenticity to it.”
The film features several intense fight scenes, many of which Wahlberg performed himself.
“Mark is very respectful of the filmmakers; he’s very respectful of his fellow actors. When we get to the physical scenes, it’s like a kid in the sandbox. He just jumps right in there,” Hughes said. “He’s like Peyton Manning, calling plays. And he’s good. He’s really good at the physical stuff. I just stepped back.”
Wahlberg admits that he is more than willing to get physical, but only if he feels that the movie warrants the risk.
“I’ll be honest with you. I love beating the [expletive] out of people. But I don’t like getting the [expletive] kicked out of me. Now at 41, being the father of four, if it is something where I’m just going to jump out a window and land on a car and hurt my back, hell no. I’ve got two guys that look just like me ready to go,” Wahlberg said. “But, in this particular movie, we wanted the fights to be very real. There wasn’t a lot of violence shown on the screen, but the violence that we did show we wanted it to be impactful.”
Wahlberg wasn’t just willing to perform his own stunts in the film, he was passionate enough about the “Broken City” script to offer part of his paycheck to get other actors involved with the project.
“We didn’t have the F-you money just to pay whoever we wanted. We had to get people to respond to the material and that’s why everyone is in the movie, because they love the parts,” he said. “Everyone had nice, meaty, juicy roles to play. I wanted them badly enough to offer a piece of my backend.”
Wahlberg prepared for months, as he does for many of his films, for “Broken City.”
“I read the script out loud at least twice a day for about eight weeks before we even started shooting. I know the whole script back and forth,” he revealed. “I think my preparation helps me to be very aware of where we are and what is going on. I even go back and read the scenes that we’ve already shot.”
Wahlberg, who has four movies slated for release this year, strives to do more with his career as a producer and director.
“I never wanted to just be an actor. I have this business sense about me so ultimately everything I’m involved with I want to control, I want to own. I want to do it all,” he said. “I also want to be able to create opportunities for other talented people that haven’t gotten their shot yet.”
“Broken City” hits theaters Friday, January 18. Click here to purchase tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.