Dear Friends: Camilla Davies writing for the Australian publication, Catholic Weekly, allows her audience to witness the strong faith of popular actor, Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg attributes his transformation from “street kid” to “actor” to his parish priest. This is a great story of how good people and good priests can transform our world. What do you say? Dr. Nick
AMERICAN star of the big screen Mark Wahlberg is a man who has used his faith to help forge a new path. The prolific actor grew up in Boston’s crime-ridden Dorchester neighbourhood but has risen up from the streets and created a style and brand that can only be respected.
Looking back, Wahlberg enjoyed public exposure, of sorts, as a 12-year-old, when breakdancing in the streets. One of nine children, the youngster joined his brother Donnie’s band New Kids On The Block as an original member, but ditched the act before the group achieved global recognition.
The 42-year-old, who came to fame as rapper Marky Mark, had multiple brushes with the law in his youth, and had developed an addiction to cocaine by his early teens.
Wind forward, and things are very different. A hugely successful career in film, a rapper, producer and model, Wahlberg has packed away the demons of old and boasts a growing family, with his Catholic faith acting as a pivotal force in reshaping what had threatened to become a troubled adult life. “It’s by the Grace of God I turned my life around,” he begins. “One of the most important people who helped me in life was Fr James Flavin, my parish priest in Boston, who has been in my life since I was 13. He helped set me straight and I feel the greatest respect and debt to him. He married me and my wife and baptised all my children.”
While his brother Donnie helped to get him involved in the release that was music, Wahlberg acknowledges that he predominantly drew on his faith to get to where he is today.
“Religion helped save me – there’s no doubt in my mind. I overindulged for a period back in my teens and 20s. I got caught up in living the street life, or the big life, but I realised pretty quickly that I had to quit partying and get serious about where I was going.”
Meeting his wife Rhea also played a significant role in helping to address the family values that come hand in hand with his religious attitudes.
“When I met Rhea, I felt I had to change things because I wanted it to work out between us,” he continues. “And when you’re raising children, you want to be the best father possible. You want to make sure your kids grow up with respect for you and have a good grounding. You want to be a better man; you want to live a good and healthy life. I’m proud of the life I’ve built for them. I live for them.”
Wahlberg goes to church whenever he can – daily, if his schedule allows.
“When I’m in LA, I’m usually in bed by 9pm and I’m up at 5am. I’ll work out for an hour, then help Rhea get the kids out of bed. I’ll drive them to school, then head to church for an hour. I find it very refreshing to be able to pray to be a better man and do my best for my family and friends. It’s a great way to start the day. I feel it clears my head and gives me a good feeling about whatever it is that I have to do.”
Having accomplished so much as an actor, Wahlberg has also gained a reputation as a prolific and talented producer of films, as well as TV series such as Entourage. This is a man who certainly has a sense of ambition and purpose, yet demons remain.
“I always wake up with the feeling that it’s never enough,” he admits. “I feel like I have to keep moving forward… keep working as hard as I can, or I’m going to lose it all. It’s crazy, I know, but I can’t seem to get away from that kind of compulsion.”
So as you would expect, Wahlberg sometimes has to be reminded not to take on too much.
“My wife tries to convince me to slow down and not be so hard on myself, and sometimes that advice sinks in. But then I get anxious and I’m back on the phone for five hours at a time working on a new deal, talking to producers, studios, and actors.”
Mark’s most recent role is in Lone Survivor, a film about a bloody US combat mission in Afghanistan that sees only one man, Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, come out alive. The project enabled him to use his faith for both inspiration and motivation.
“We were all committed to bringing everything we had to this film because this story meant something personal to all of us.
“We wanted to make it as realistic as possible. Sure, we’re actors, but we felt that at least we were going to do give everything we had physically and not hold anything back in terms of the training involved or the stunt work.”
Centred on an ill-fated attempt to rescue four trapped Navy Seals in a mountainous region of Afghanistan, this high-octane war movie leaves a lasting impression. It’s clear that Wahlberg takes this sort of real-life story to heart.
“It was our small way of showing solidarity with the real soldiers who go through hell and sometimes don’t get to come back home. It’s the real face of war. I think people take for granted what soldiers do for us.
“The war has been going on for so long that we’ve almost forgotten about it, but a lot of our soldiers are still losing their lives over there, or are coming home badly wounded.
“It’s such an amazing story, not just in paying tribute to Marcus, but paying tribute as well to the Afghan villagers.
“It’s about putting a face on the Afghan people as opposed to the assumption that because we’re at war in Afghanistan that we are at war with Afghanistan. We’re not.”
Wahlberg becomes animated when describing the sense of honour and loyalty felt by the soldier he portrays in the movie. But there’s a bigger life message on offer here.
“They are willing to die for each other. They become brothers. I like to think I would die for my wife and children if I had to. We’re talking about fundamental issues of sacrifice and a sense of duty. One of the things I took away from this film is this firm belief that you never give up on your brother or the guy you’re fighting next to.”
This sense of commitment strikes a chord with Wahlberg’s personal story. While he may have changed his own narrative through faith, work and determination, he still feels he has a lot to prove.
“I’m 42, but I don’t think I’ve got it made, or accomplished half of what I think I can or would like to. I came from a working class family and I was living in the streets without a lot of hope. I was making plenty of mistakes.”
A man with a keen sense of betterment and a positive, driven, outlook, Wahlberg is not one to feel complacent, nor a sense of entitlement. This is a man who is ready to “dig ditches if he has to”, who has shaped an interesting and varied career around the ultimate aim of providing for his family. And it’s not something he takes for granted.
“I’ve been given the chance to lead a good life, in every sense of that expression. I devote myself to being a good father and husband and being able to take care of my friends and family. When does there ever come a point where you want to stop doing that?”