Mark Wahlberg for “The Truth About Charlie”

Mark Wahlberg was looking debonair wearing a black Armani suit [“They’re nice enough to give me free clothes”] and pink tie no less. Perhaps it was that Cary Grant thing. But then he has a clear disdain for those inevitable comparisons, stepping in those shoes in a very modern remake of the classic Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn film Charade.

Retitled The Truth about Charlie and directed by Silence of the Lambs’ Jonathan Demme, Wahlberg plays the old Grant role of a mysterious stranger trying to help the beautiful Regina Lambert [Thandie Newton] to find out not only who killed her wealthy husband on a train, but why she is a potential target herself. Wahlberg feels uncomfortable talking about filling Grant’s shoes, but it’s an inevitable starting point in a discussion relating to this film. Wahlberg insists that there was more to doing Truth about Charlie than merely stepping into Cary Grant’s shoes. “It was never about that or about: We wanna do this, and we think you’re the new Cary Grant. [Jonathan] thought I was the right guy for the part, to bring something different and interesting to the role, so I said sure.” That simple.

Wahlberg admits that he wasn’t even a huge fan of the original. “I thought this is a beautiful film but not necessarily a huge fan of the script. I was a huge fan of Jonathan Demme, so I said, ‘I’ll work with this guy in whatever role. I’ll play the guy on the bus who doesn’t say anything. I think it would be a learning experience for me.’ ” Wahlberg adds that for the next couple of years, “that’s the kind of journey that I’m on, and will be on, just try to work with talented filmmakers, especially writer-directors who have very specific visions and allow me to start with their vision and learn a lot in the process. So, when I venture off on my own, I will have worked with some of the best filmmakers in the business.”

Wahlberg loved working with his beautiful co-star Thandie Newton. Asked what makes her sexy, he grins slightly. “Everything, except the fact that she’s married. That’s a big turnoff.” The interesting thing about Mark’s character is that neither the audience nor Thandie’s character really knows who this guy is. He’s teasing and tantalising the audience. For Wahlberg, that was fun to play. “Yeah, it was a lot of fun but it’s a fine line to walk too because I always wanted to push the darker side, but you have to kind of please the audience in a way and make them want to see the characters get together. I think if you pushed it too much, there’s still something about him that’s a little dark, a little risky. So, it was really Jonathan’s job to monitor that, because I was willing to go darker because I want to do that.”

Always shy and introspective, the 31-year old Wahlberg has often been drawn to characters that have a quiet demeanour. Perhaps that sense of quiet is part of the actor’s own natural charm. “I have my moments, but yeah, for the most part I’m pretty quiet. It’s usually like two hours of the day when I explode, then run out of gas. I think that’s just who I am, laid back, but I have my moments, definitely. It’s usually if I have a drink or two,” he says, again, half smilingly. During those “moments” to which the actor refers, Wahlberg sees himself as having a “lot of bark but not much bite as I’m not trying to impress the wrong people any more. When I was young, I was a knucklehead and I did a lot of stupid things, but I’ve just kinda grown up, things kind of slowed down. The only thing that I’m bummed out about is the fact that my metabolism has slowed down. I put on 45 pounds to do this project that didn’t happen, and I had to lose it all for this thing I’m doing now, and it wasn’t as easy as it used to be.” The project he was going to do, he says with mild bitterness, “was this thing called Pride And Glory, this cop drama that I was going to do last January, and about a month before we were about to shoot it fell apart. It’s something that hopefully I’m still going to be able to do because it’s a fantastic piece of material. I get to kind of let loose and play a bad guy which I haven’t done since Fear.”

Before he started acting, Mark Wahlberg was best known as Marky Mark, the pants-dropping rapper who attained fame and notoriety with his group the Funky Bunch. In the tradition of Will Smith and Ice Cube, Wahlberg has made a successful transition from music to film, garnering particular praise for his role in Boogie Nights.

Born June 5, 1971, Wahlberg had a troubled early life. One of nine children, he dropped out of school at 16 and committed a number of minor felonies. After working various odd jobs, Wahlberg briefly joined brother Donnie and his group New Kids on the Block before forming his own, Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch. The group had widespread popularity for a time, most notably with its 1992 hit single “Good Vibrations.” However, it was Wahlberg himself who received the lion’s share of attention, whether it was for the homophobia controversy that surrounded him for a time, or for the 1992 Calvin Klein ad campaign featuring him wearing nothing more than his underwear, Kate Moss, and an attitude.

In 1993, Wahlberg turned his attentions to acting with a role in The Substitute. The film, co-starring a then-unknown Natasha Gregson Wagner, was a critical and commercial failure, but Wahlberg’s next project, 1994’s Renaissance Man with Danny De Vito, gave him the positive notices that would increase with the release of his next film, The Basketball Diaries (1995). Although the film received mixed reviews, many critics praised Wahlberg’s performance as Mickey, Leonardo DiCaprio’s friend and fellow junkie. Following Diaries, Wahlberg appeared in Fear (1996) in the role of Reese Witherspoon’s psychotic boyfriend.

It was with the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights in 1997 that Wahlberg finally received across-the-board respect for his commanding yet unassuming performance as busboy-turned-porn star Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler. The film was nominated for three Oscars and a slew of other awards by associations ranging from the British Academy to the New York Film Critics Circle to MTV. The positive attention landed Wahlberg on a wide range of magazine covers and gave him greater Hollywood pulling power. He had, as they say, arrived.

Wahlberg’s follow-up to Boogie Nights was 1998’s The Big Hit, an action comedy that, particularly in the wake of Boogie Night’s acclaim, proved to be a disappointment. This disappointment was hardly lessened by the relative critical and commercial shortcomings of Wahlberg’s next film, The Corruptor (1999). Though he gained positive notice for his role in David O. Russell’ s unconventional war film Three Kings the same year, the film was only a moderate success, paving the way for an even more dramatic turn in the downbeat true story of the ill-fated Andrea Gail, The Perfect Storm, in 2000.

The following year found Wahlberg filling some big shoes — and receiving some hefty criticism as a result — with his lead role in Tim Burton’s much-anticipated remake of Planet of the Apes, the first of several remakes the actor would star in, including Truth about Charlie and next year’s The Italian Job. He doesn’t quite know why he is suddenly being associated with remakes of classic films and merely shrugs it off. “It’s always the same story. What is different, is just how it’s told anyway.” Like The Italian Job. This time he is stepping into the shoes of Michael Caine, who starred in the original crime classic. “It’s not a remake, just loosely based on that film, and co-stars Edward Norton, Donald Sutherland and Charlize Theron. It’s a great piece of material, a great spin on a great movie with a young director, who has similar taste in material.”

As busy as his professional life is, Wahlberg does try and relax and have a life of interests outside filmmaking. “Not in this order, but my work, my spirituality, my maturing as an adult, really noticing changes. Things that I’ve always talked about but have now actually happened. Everything. Food, wine, women, sports.” They are of paramount importance to this much grounded of Hollywood stars whose life changed when he went to France to shoot Truth about Charlie. “I broke up with my girlfriend a week after being there, then fell in love four or five times,” Wahlberg laughingly recalls. “But that’s life. The way I look at life now, it’s not about who’s trying to get me. It’s not about well, I’ve got to beat the shit out of this guy before he beats the shit out of me. I’ve just grown up.” And as he has grown up, Wahlberg has become more spiritual. “Everything has happened because of my spirituality which is not something that I certainly try to advertise but just something that means the world to me. I have a hard time talking about it because people always think this is just some sort of image that I’m trying to present and it’s just who I am. I had a lot of wonderful people in my life early on; I just didn’t realize who they are. I was always trying to impress people that I thought were important, which were those guys at the corner, the older guys. Thank God for those people and thank God that they never gave up on me. So, when I realized that I was basically being an idiot and realized what I needed to do to get back on the right track, it was just to refocus my faith.”

It is all well and good to live in a world of hindsight but asked what he would he would do differently given the chance, the actor sips some water and contemplates his response. ” I wouldn’t do anything differently. There were a couple of nights when I was 16 or 17 when I would have stayed in the house and watched television, but I think everything happened for a reason. If I grew up out here and my family was normal and I went to a great school, I don’t think I would be the person that I am today. It was a tough road getting to where I am, but looking back now, it seems nothing. I’m 31 years old, I have a life ahead of me, I have an opportunity to make a difference in kids like mine lives, and that’s wonderful.” Wahlberg adds that he is making a difference “just by going back. I never had anybody to look up to. There was a guy at the boy’s club who dedicated his whole life to bettering these kids’ lives, but here’s a guy who’s just not cool like the guys on the street. He doesn’t have a nice car. I never saw him with a good looking girl. He doesn’t have nice clothes and all the things that I thought I wanted. But he’s still there today. These kids can relate to me. They know that I’m one of them and they know the fact that I’m there and still very much one of them, it inspires them in so many different ways.”

Much has changed since Wahlberg first performed as a rapper all those years ago. That was then, this is now, and his music was a part of his life, but no more. “I did stuff below the radar for some of the films that I’ve made such as The Big Hit, Renaissance Man and Fear. I kind of joke around but I have no interest to return to music. A lot of people now, including my record company has approached me to do another record. Things are going good on this front, they’re like, ‘Hey, you know, Will Smith’s record was a big hit last year.’ I get embarrassed going on MTV to promote a film. It’s just low. Thank God kids are getting so much smarter.”

These days, acting is Wahlberg’s focussed and concludes that he remains amazed at how far he has gone and how he has developed as an actor. “It IS really amazing but at the same time it just seems very natural too and just the path I was supposed to have taken. A lot of people that have been put in my life were put there for a reason, the good and the bad ones.”