Donnie Wahlberg was exhausted at the end of a day doing interviews to promote his starring turn in Saw II. “I’d rather be out auditioning”, the former New Kid on the Block confesses. But here he is in a Los Angeles hotel room putting his best foot forward on the eve of the release of the thriller sequel in which he plays a burnt out and corrupt cop reluctantly doing battle with the game-playing Jigsaw. “I’m a fan of good horror movies, like most people, but I don’t go see like every horror movie that comes down the pike but ones that are different, that sort of takes your interest,” Wahlberg says, when asked if he was a fan of the genre in which he is currently front and centre.
The actor says that as far as Saw II was concerned, he was attracted to both his character and the nature of the script. “I mean, obviously by it being a sequel there was precedent, and so the script had to sort of measure up or have the potential to measure up and it also had to have the surprise element. I mean everybody had to walk out of the theatre saying, oh, shit, what a surprise, I didn’t see that comin’, but not just for the sake of doing it, it had to be somewhat plausible.” But the actor said he could also identify with the character on an important level. “I could use an instant emotional connection, being that I’m a dad who never says goodbye to his kids without saying I love you and to have this character make the mistake of not doing that was appealing”, he explains. “I think most people can relate to that with loved ones, especially parents but, also with brothers and sisters or parents or children.”
Wahlberg says it’s always been important for him to ground a character in some sort of reality. “As an actor is I try to ground most of my characters in reality somehow. And that’s kind of what I bring to the table.”
Born in Boston, the assumption is that Wahlberg made the transition from music to acting, but the actor denies it was a transition since, ironically, acting was his initial love, he recalls. “In my freshman year in high school I, I went to the only public high school in Boston with a theatre program and I started doing plays in my freshman year in high school and outside of school I formed my band, so my whole high school experience was acting in plays and writing and directing and producing plays during the day and doing the music at night.”
New Kids on the Block made Wahlberg a superstar for a short time, but resisted a foray into acting while he was at his musical peak. Then, as quickly as he attained stardom, the band slowly disappeared. “I guess fortunately – then at the same time unfortunately – I waited until my band was sort of dead news and no one cared anymore,” so he set out to carve a new career. “So I when I met with an agent, I didn’t have big movie offers, or any real big agents wanting to work with me. I had to sort of go grassroots, start at the bottom and go on 150 auditions before someone finally gave me a shot. But in the long run I was very fortunate that it went that way, because I had to learn how to become a real actor, I had to suffer and be rejected and face that 100 times just like every actor, and it wasn’t like someone handed it to me and said, here’s your first break out movie role, without even trying.”
Wahlberg says it was a learning experience and one that others should emulate. “It just allowed me to just be with young struggling actors, and to know what their process is and to not feel better than anyone and also not to feel as insecure. It’s got to be a little weird, like Justin Timberlake for example, who just walked into a huge movie with Morgan Freeman, so it’s got to be one of two things happening – one is he’s either really insecure and feels unworthy, and hopefully he’ll be able to channel that into working real hard and making it work for him, or, two, he feels a sense of entitlement, which hopefully he’ll be able to manage. But either way it’s tough so hopefully he’ll make the best of it for his sake. But I wasn’t that fortunate but I feel lucky that things worked out for me the way it did.”
And Wahlberg says he has only one regret, which was “we never really kind of quite felt a real level of respect, you know what I mean? I mean the fame was fantastic, , the benefits are great, but that wasn’t that important to me, because ,for every million people that loved me I really focused on the one that hated me just as much, so part of me always kind of wants to go back and say, look, we were talented, we were good – watch this.” But now, he says, he is at least gaining renewed appreciation as an actor. “I had to earn the respect as an actor, and it wasn’t like until The Sixth Sense that people started saying, wow, man, you’re an actor and people didn’t think of me as the guy in a band anymore.”