Having survived one or two stinkers before, Mark Wahlberg ain’t about to get too upset with The Happening’s bad press. Movies.ie offers him a shoulder to cry on
You can tell a movie is in trouble when the only positive buzz surrounding it has solely been for the subway saboteur – or saboteurs – who keep defacing its posters.
Chances are, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan isn’t going to be too happy to see the title of his latest movie, The Happening, having a a little cut’n’paste makeover by some NYC cad so that it spells out ‘The Penis’. Or ‘The Crapening’. That the expected tale of the unexpected from Shyamalan came out on Friday the 13th didn’t bode well for the struggling filmmaker either. Having scored big with The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan subsequent Big Twist offerings have generally taken in less and less at the box-office as each subsequent release annoyed the hell out of cinemagoer more and more.
The last two, 2004’s The Village and 2006’s Lady In The Water, were nothing short of laughable. And they both bombed.
Which begs the question, what’s a nice guy like Mark Wahlberg doing in one of the year’s most un-anticipated movies?
“I think Night is a great filmmaker,” the 37-year old filmmaker states flatly. “You only have to look at his work to know that this guy has got something special going on.
“I think he’s had a rough ride of late purely because he refuses to play by the rules, because he doesn’t make his films the way the studios want him to make them. I’m drawn to filmmakers like that…”
Indeed. Mark Wahlberg has been here before, having signed on for Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of The Planet Of The Apes and Jonathan Demme’s attempt to update the classic Charade with 2002’s The Truth About Charlie. Both great directors, maybe even visionaries. Both movies sucked the big one though, and promptly bombed.
“That’s the thing about this business,” continues Wahlberg, “if we knew exactly what was going to work, there would be far fewer movies made, and everyone in Hollywood would have a big, big house. But there’s always risk involved, there’s always a chance that your film will take a left or right turn that you weren’t expecting. Sometimes, that turn is for the better, and sometimes – more often – it’s for the worst.
“You have to give films like this a chance. But you have to let filmmakers take chances, otherwise you’ll never strike gold.”
Or dirt, as would seem to be the case with The Happening. This is the man, after all, who stormed off from a meeting with Disney after it was suggested that his script for Lady In The Water wasn’t quite up to scratch. It wasn’t.
“Again, the guy does things his own way,” says Wahlberg when I remind him of this. “Who knows what film would have come out if he’d taken on their suggestions, but, the simple truth of the matter is, it wouldn’t have been M. Night Shyamalan’s film. It would have been a Shyamalan and Disney film. I don’t think we’re dealing with a guy who’s interested in that kind of filmmaking…”
Originally called The Green Effect, as with all of Shyamalan’s other offerings (which also includes Unbreakable and Signs), the plot for The Happening once again hooks upon a spooky unknown. This time though, it ain’t dead people walking amongst us, comic book heroes next door, aliens hiding in the cornfields, or mutant wolves hanging out by the pool. This time, it’s – gulp! – the vegetables!
Yep, it’s Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, & Killer Cabages, & Killer Carrots! As the earth’s vegetation unleash airborne neurotoxins that cause all those who breathe it to commit violent suicide, Wahlberg’s science teacher takes to the road with his estranged wife (Zooey Deschanel) and a group of friends in order to escape the hysteria. Planet Of The Grapes, anyone?
“Hey, that would have been a good title, yeah,” laughs Wahlberg. “What gets me most about the build-up with this movie is, no one’s seen it yet, but they’re already judging it harshly. I think everyone’s going to be pleasantly surprised…”
And if they’re not?
“Hey, it’s only a movie…” smiles Wahlberg.
If The Happening does bomb, it’s hardly going to result in any sleepless nights at Casa Wahlberg. This is a man who, after all, has survived many an embarrassing career lows. Such as being Marky Mark, leading his Funky Bunch to a series of enough hits in the early 1990s that he got to write his autobiography at the age of 21 – 1992’s imaginatively-titled Marky Mark. In the preface, Walhberg says, “I want to dedicated this book to my dick”. Which sounds about right.
That slow crawl from Boston-Irish jailbird to gyrating whiteboy hip-pop star and on to Calvin Klein model and, eventually, a genuinely respected actor is not exactly your typical career arc.
“No, doesn’t look like I planned it out all that well, does it?” nods Wahlberg. “I think if I had sat down and made a plan, it would have been very different. But it probably wouldn’t have been half as much fun…”
The rebirth of Mark Robert Michael Wahlberg began when he signed on or Paul Thomas Anderson’s rather fine porn star saga Boogie Nights. Having already proven he was more than a hard body and a cute face with The Basketball Diaries (1995) and Fear (1996), Wahlberg was perfectly cast in Anderson’s 1997 classic as the wide-eyed, well-hung suburban kid who becomes, well, John Holmes. Hollywood knew Wahlberg had it on him, when it came to playing Dirk Diggler, but they didn’t realise he had it in him. So to speak.
“It was always going to be difficult to prove myself as an actor because I had been a pop star, and a model,” says Wahlberg, “but I also knew that if I did the work as best I could, and didn’t go chasing after action roles, or the quarterback who gets the girl, I might just be in with a chance.
“Boogie Nights was the perfect movie for me, because it played to my strengths on one level, but it also surprised a lot of people. They didn’t think I could go dark, you know, but then, they didn’t know me before I became Marky Mark.”
Indeed. Back in his teen years, Wahlberg came close to having a cell named after him at the Boston Police Department, the force finally jailing their boy when, having robbed a pharmacy whilst under the influence of PCP, Wahlberg knocked a middle-aged Vietnamese man unconcious, left another permantly blinded in one eye, and attacked a security guard. He was sentenced to two years at Boston’s Deer Island House Of Correction, serving just 45 days.
“I was out of control, plain and simple,” says Wahlberg today. “You regret such things, but you also realise how lucky you are to have survived, to have lived through such times, as it makes you stronger, and hopefully, a little wiser. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without those dark years, and it helped me accept God into my life too.”
Hallelujah. A dedicated Roman Catholic, Wahlberg’s first date with his wife, Rhea Durham, was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in New York, and he’s also got The Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation up and running, to help underprivileged kids see a way forward. This is a man with an unquestionable belief in who it was that pulled him through those troubled teen years…
“It’s a miracle, from the good Lord,” says Wahlberg, “and that’s why I’m determined to give back to where I come from, and making sure I try to create opportunities for kids growing up in situations like I grew up in. Because it’s a miracle that I’ve been able to get to where I am…”
With four movies headed our way over the coming year – including Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones and The Brazilian Job, an inevitable sequel to the 2003 hit remake of The Italian Job – Wahlberg is keeping busy. Which suits him fine, given that he’s dealing with a bereavement in the family right now.
His father, Donald E. Wahlberg, a US army veteran of the Korean War, passed away last St. Valentine’s Day. Speaking to Wahlberg in 2003, in one eventful day – September 2nd – he scored his first box-office no.1 in the US with The Italian Job, his first child was born, and his eldest sister passed away.
He and Durham are expecting their third child in September, joining 5-year old Ella Rae and 2-year old Michael.
“It’s just a continuous circle,” he says, “and the passing of my sister brought us closer together as a family. And it’s happened again with my father’s passing.
“We’ve always been close – as pretty much all large Roman Catholic families are – but such moments – a passing, a birth – just focus the mind that little bit stronger on what’s important.
“It’s certainly helped me put all of this in perspective. Do the work well, but remember, it’s just work. A good life is far more important…”
Words : Paul Byrne
‘The Happening’ is now showing at Irish cinemas everywhere