Although they consider themselves good buddies these days, Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo DiCaprio were not always on each other’s Christmas list. The feud between the two Hollywood megastars dates back to the early 90s, when DiCaprio was building a legendary resume of performances, and Wahlberg was rapping in his underwear for the world to see.
Mark Wahlberg was on the fast track to stardom in the late 80s. His brother Donnie was a part of New Kids on The Block, and Wahlberg was initially the rapping element in the band’s equation. But, the group’s manager decided that the music act’s direction would be better served if it went the “boy band” route, and Mark dropped out. That’s when things got a bit hairy for the Bostonian.
Wahlberg — who was already selling drugs for two years — was imprisoned at just 16-years old for the vicious beating of a Vietnamese man, a crime that was allegedly motivated by race. He spent 45 days in Deer Island Prison, and it was during that time that he had decided to turn his life around for the better.
By the time Wahlberg was released from prison, New Kids on the Block were dominating the pop music industry, and Mark’s brother Donnie vowed to help him get his own music act together. In 1991, Music For The People — the debut album from Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch — went platinum, and Wahlberg became a household name thanks to hits like “Good Vibrations” and “Wildside” as well as his propensity for performing in just a pair of undies. It was that same year that Wahlberg would perform during halftime at MTV’s Rock and Jock basketball game and a blocked shot would lead to arguably the biggest movie star in the world hating his guts.
Wahlberg — being the tough, streetwise kid that he was — took the game seriously, and through a combination of trash-talking and aggressive ball playing, he managed to upset Leonardo DiCaprio. At the premier of his latest film, The Gambler, Wahlberg reminisced about the event that fueled DiCaprio’s hatred:
Leonardo DiCaprio and I had a weird run in at an MTV Rock N’ Jock basketball game, and I was performing at halftime in my underwear and I think I blocked his shot. I was a punk, I was a prick. I was not nice to Leo that day.
Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s sophomore album, You Gotta Believe, was not as well received as their previous effort, and in 1992, it seemed like the career of Mark Wahlberg — the rapper — was finished. The following year, Wahlberg — struggling to find his footing in another niche — had a part in a TV movie, and it was that role that led director Penny Marshall to call him for a meeting.
It was the first time I felt comfortable in the room. I could identify with them. They were neighborhood people. Penny said, ‘Why don’t you want to act? You’re acting anyway. You’re acting like a tough guy. You should give it a try.’
With only one feature film to his credit, Wahlberg was ready to commit to the film business full-time. “At first I was against the idea (of acting),” he said in an interview with The Star-Ledger. “The things that were coming my way — I mean, I was offered ‘Sister Act 2,’ which was not the right move. But then I got ‘Renaissance Man,’ and the director, Penny Marshall, she challenged me. And she was a real person, and I connected with her in a way I hadn’t connected with other people.”
When director Scott Calvert was casting for The Basketball Diaries, the film based on Jim Carroll’s memoir of his drug-addled youth, Wahlberg was called upon to audition for the role of Mickey. Leonardo DiCaprio had already secured the starring role in the film, and with several years of hatred stewing inside him dating back to the basketball game, he let Calvert know that he was not interested in working with the former Marky Mark. Wahlberg recalled to The Hollywood Reporter Dicaprio’s sentiments when told of the possible casting:
Leonardo [DiCaprio] was like, ‘Over my dead f—–ing body. Marky Mark’s not going to be in this f—–ing movie.’ Because we’d had a thing — I didn’t even realize it, [but] I was a bit of a d–k to him at a charity basketball game. So he was like, ‘This f—ing a–hole is not going to be in this movie.’
Wahlberg auditioned for the role several times while producers tried to sweeten DiCaprio up to the idea of casting him. Finally, DiCaprio succumbed to pressure, and agreed to read lines with Wahlberg. At the premiere of The Gambler, Wahlberg spoke about how the audition with DiCaprio got off to a bad start:
Of course I show up eight hours late, by accident. I was in New York and there was a huge snowstorm, so I went to Puerto Rico for the weekend with my entourage. Coming home, my flight gets canceled, I show up late, he’s sitting there, pissed.
The years of animosity DiCaprio had pent up soon melted away though after the pair’s first reading together. “So I come in and I do the audition and I kind of look at him and he kind of looks at me,” Wahlberg told The Hollywood Reporter. “And then we do a scene, and they’re like, ‘Hmm, this f*cking dude’s pretty good, right?’ The next thing you know, boom, we’re hanging out.”
And, just like that, the two went out partying that night and have remained good friends ever since. This perfect Hollywood ending even had a sequel, when, in 1996, DiCaprio turned down the lead in Fear, suggesting instead that Wahlberg would be perfect for the role. The former drug-dealing rapper’s performance in that film would help to launch a highly successful career, one that includes an Oscar nomination. Now, the two movie stars can relax with a few drinks and wax poetically about that time Wahlberg clowned DiCaprio at a basketball game.