BEFORE THE SCENE with Mark Wahlberg

by AJ Buckley on January 17, 2011

Before the Scene is where we all start. In a small town with our families. In front of a mirror with our friends. The days spent sleeping on a couch. The nights working at a bar. Living with the unknown and surrounded by uncertainty. It’s about the times that define us. It’s about the darkness just before the limelight.
Mark Wahlberg is a veteran film actor and producer, Oscar-nominated for his role as Sgt. Sean Dignam in The Departed. He is also the executive producer of HBO’s Entourage and Boardwalk Empire.
What made you become an actor?
I was in the music business before, which glorifies that “sex, drugs, rock & roll” lifestyle and encouraged me to be irresponsible. When I discovered acting, I really came to enjoy the discipline and structure required to make a movie. Penny Marshall asked to meet me for Renaissance Man and I only went because she was “Laverne” from Laverne and Shirley. But then she talked me into auditioning and once I read the scenes for her a few times, I really wanted that part. And once I got the job and made the movie, I truly felt that I’d found my calling. I pretty much quit music then and there to focus on acting.

What was your biggest fear?
When I read Boogie Nights, it was still early in my career, and I was concerned about what the guys in my neighborhood would think. Growing up in the area where I did, you constantly had to prove you were a tough guy. Playing a vulnerable character like that was a huge risk for me. But I finally just thought to myself, “If you’re going to be a real actor, you can’t worry about that.” Looking back, it was a pivotal decision for me.

What was your lowest point?
I’ve had a lot of low moments. Personally, it was going to prison when I was seventeen years old. It made me realize I didn’t want that life and I needed to do anything I could to change it. Professionally, I’ve had some lulls in my career where a movie hasn’t performed well or I would get offered parts in bad films. For a while, I even considered leaving acting and becoming a professional golfer.

What kept you from walking away?
When I started my production company and was able to create my own opportunities. That’s when things really changed. I became the architect of my own destiny. I didn’t enjoy sitting around waiting for good roles to come my way, so I decided to go seek out the material and filmmakers I wanted to make movies with.

What did you walk away from?
I’ve said no to a lot of easy paydays. Maintaining your success means making the right choices. Sometimes it’s hard to say no when people are throwing money at you, but I want to be in this business for the long haul and I have to keep the big picture in mind.

Who was your closest ally?
I would have to say my manager, Stephen Levinson. He’s been with me since the beginning of my acting career. We have talked almost every day for sixteen years. He’s helped me choose my movies and now he oversees my production company. There have been so many people responsible for my success. David O. Russell has been a close friend and collaborator. We’ve made three films together: Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter.

What were you doing the morning before the audition that changed your life?

I’m not sure if there was a single audition that changed my life. There have been many. I would say the most memorable one would be partying in Puerto Rico in the morning and auditioning for Basketball Diaries in New York that afternoon.

What were the words that kept you going?
I go to church every morning. It’s a great way to start my day and it reminds me to constantly strive to be a better person. My faith has really gotten me through a lot of dark times. Also, my mom is great at keeping me grounded. She gave me a lot of tough love whenever she thought the success was going to my head.

How have you changed?

Well, I’m a husband and a father of four, for starters. Becoming a parent really made me much more responsible and serious. I’ve got mouths to feed now! Plus, just getting older changed me. I’m mellower, more even-tempered. I also listen to K-Earth 101 when I’m in the car. When I’m working out or boxing, it’s still hip-hop, though.

What words do you have to inspire others?
I started a charity about ten years ago called The Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation. Our mission is to provide opportunities to underprivileged kids from the inner cities. We send them to summer camp, fund after-school programs, build gyms…whatever we can. I want kids growing up in similar circumstances to mine to be inspired to dream big and never give up.

Over the past six years, AJ has starred as Adam Ross on the hit TV show CSI:NY, now in its new time slot, Friday nights at 9pm. Originally from Dublin, he has spent the past ten years in Los Angeles acting and writing. AJ is also currently writing and starring in the web series Ghostfacers for Warner Bros, and has the romantic comedy Christmas Mail opening this winter. Find out more at