Mark Wahlberg's loyalty permeates 'Fighter'

Joe Williams
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

ST. LOUIS — His glamorous life in Beverly Hills is the basis for the TV series "Entourage," but Mark Wahlberg left his heart in Massachusetts. Raised in the tough Boston suburb of Dorchester, where he was a teenage car thief and drug dealer, the actor-turned-producer returned to his home state to film the true-life boxing bio "The Fighter."

In a recent phone interview with the St, Louis Post-Dispatch, Wahlberg said that his local notoriety can be a distraction. "For about two weeks, it's good to be home, but then it becomes pretty hectic."

When Wahlberg shot "The Perfect Storm" in Massachusetts in 1999, some of his old cronies visited the set, and the rising star had to stop them from stealing the cameras.

But like the character based on Wahlberg in "Entourage," he is famously loyal. "The Fighter," the story of boxer Micky Ward and his troubled half-brother Dickie Ecklund, was directed by David O. Russell, with whom Wahlberg worked on "Three Kings" and "I Heart Huckabees." Like actor Christian Bale, who plays the crack-addicted Dickie, Russell was infamous for an on-set tirade (against "Huckabees" co-star Lily Tomlin), but as the producer, Wahlberg thought Russell was the right man for the job.

Likewise, the cast includes some nonactors with whom Wahlberg had a personal connection. "One of the guys I used to look up to in Dorchester, and who I got into a lot of trouble with, plays Dickie's drug buddy, Boo Boo. He's a good friend of mine named Paulie Campbell. He had never acted before, but I thought he could give a very real performance. And he was fantastic."

Wahlberg, 39, was a stickler for realism, and to prepare for the role of the boxer, he trained for more than four years in a ring he built inside his California home.

"I didn't want to look like an actor who could box a bit," he said, "I wanted to look like a boxer who could win the world welterweight title."

Wahlberg said he was attracted to Ward's improbable rags-to-riches story because it resembled his own. "I grew up 30 minutes from where Micky was from. I met him for the first time when I was 18. I was a huge fan, because of how he won the title against all odds, because of his relationship with his hometown of Lowell, because of his relationship with his mother and his siblings. He's from a family of nine kids, and I'm the youngest of nine. The parallels are hard to miss."

Like Ward, Wahlberg has an older brother who preceded him into the spotlight. Donnie Wahlberg was a member of the hugely popular boy band New Kids on the Block and inspired Mark to pursue a music career of his own. Rapping led to acting, and now Mark is one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, as both an actor and producer.

Wahlberg said he has at least one more debt to repay. He said he hopes that someday he can make a movie with Donnie, who plays a detective on the TV series "Blue Bloods."

"I'm committed. One hundred percent."

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