Mark Wahlberg had blood on his arm when he arrived on set in Miami for our cover shoot, and he didn't even realize it. As we were chatting prior to getting set up, I pointed to the spot on his forearm and said, "Tough scene today?" He shrugged, smiled, and grabbed a tissue to wipe away the crimson. "It's makeup," he chuckled.
I won't lie; I was a little disappointed. I'm not a sadist, but showing up to a shoot bleeding is the equivalent of finishing a race on a broken foot. On the other hand, I also wasn't surprised I believed it was real. That's the thing about the 41-year-old actor and star of the upcoming comedy Ted (about a crude teddy bear come to life, and the brainchild of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane): He's believable in everything he does. Funky Bunch frontman? We bought it. Calvin Klein model? Sold. Tough guy? Definitely. Funny? For sure. Award-winning leading man? No question about it.
Whatever Mark Wahlberg does, he does well—and if you've been paying attention, he does a lot. Actor, entrepreneur, producer, philanthropist, husband, and father—there doesn't seem to be a role he can't fill with relative ease. For his MF cover story, he almost interviewed himself.
"What do you want to talk about?" Wahlberg asked when we sat down. Celebrities don't ask you that. This approach is all too rare, but it served to open a door to something different—something, perhaps, that hasn't been said for a man about whom so much has already been written. I was ecstatic to let him take the wheel and tell me what he wanted me to say about the things he thinks are important. As ever, Wahlberg didn't disappoint.
"I don't even know what cool is anymore!" The statement, totally unprompted, is indicative of a man who knows his past—and his place in the world. It's also quite telling of his actually being a lot cooler than even he thinks he is. And, truthfully, Wahlberg really is cool.
He's not Marky-Mark cool. He's not Dirk Diggler cool. He's Mark Wahlberg cool—a reflection of everything he's done and the work ethic he employs, as well as everywhere he's been and the experiences he's learned from along the way. "I can't forget where I came from," he told me, lacking any of the pretension that could be layered in such a statement.
Born in the Dorchester section of Boston, Mass., seasoned with a checkered youth that saw him split his time equally between the backseat of squad cars and secluded makeout spots with members of the opposite sex, Wahlberg had been the bad boy and played the role well. But that's not who he is right now: "I try to be as respectful as possible. My wife and little girls expect it of me," Wahlberg says.
He doesn't lament his past, but he is intensely aware of it, and it's likely the main catalyst, along with raising his four children, for his creation of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation. "Too many kids have fallen through the cracks," he remarked to me with a sincerity that a presidential candidate would envy.
"I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I had this amazing life and didn't give back." And indeed he does give back. The Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation alone has raised more than $1 million since its inception.