Writing a long and extended introduction to an interview with Mark Wahlberg seems counterproductive because the chances are very good that you know who Mark Wahlberg is. The chances are also very good that you are at least familiar with the movie he’s promoting, Ted 2. (In this sequel, Ted, voiced by writer and director Seth MacFarlane, is fighting for his right not to be considered property.)
Wahlberg was in London when he called during what was still early in the morning in New York City. (I was told the interview would be at 9 a.m. New York time, but I then received a text message at 6:45 a.m. that said, “Mark would like to talk earlier.”) Ahead, we discussed a plethora of topics, including Deflategate, the reaction to Entourage (which he produced), his excitement for Dwayne Johnson in Ballers (which he also produced), why Peter Berg replaced J.C. Chandor on the currently filming Deepwater Horizon, and how he feels today about his Planet of the Apes.
Also, Wahlberg explains a game that he plays with his kids called “pick it or kick it,” and why Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been “kicked to the curb” in the Wahlberg household.
Last time we spoke you had a neck brace on from shooting Transformers.
You know, we were shooting and we were doing all kinds of stuff in and around Hong Kong on the roofs. And jumping around and balling around and there are Dinobots in the air and Optimus is 50 feet tall, so it wasn’t one specific thing. And then next thing you know, I woke up the next morning and I couldn’t move my neck.
There is a lot of jumping on roofs.
Yeah, I was rolling around and diving into elevators, it was just a cumulative effect.
Ted 2 ends at New York Comic Con, which means there are more pop-culture references than in most Seth MacFarlane projects. Did you get all the references?
You know, I’ve never been a big Star Wars guy, so Comic Con was a learning experience for me.
What about Star Wars didn’t you know?
I don’t know. I’ve just never been into it. Most of the characters that were at Comic Con I wasn’t that familiar with. The superhero stuff, yeah, I get it.
You’re going to have to get into Star Wars — it’s going to be taking over our lives soon with many movies.
Yeah, I don’t know. My kids do the “pick it or kick it” and if they’re not into it, we don’t go.
We watch the trailers at the movies and we always say, “pick it or kick it.”
What does that mean?
“Pick it,” we go to see it; “kick it,” we kick it to the curb.
So what did they say when they saw the Star Wars trailer? That’s a “pick it,” right?
No! That was a “kick it.”
It was a “kick it”?
And they pick, they’re not really into it, you know? They’re kind of into more grounded stuff.
What’s a movie they picked?
The last movie we went to see together that nobody could walk out of – the boys and the girls – was McFarland, USA, that inspirational sports movie about a cross-country team that won a state championship.
It reminded me a little bit of Invincible.
Yeah, all those Disney sports movies are great, you know? They’re inspiring.
Tom Brady is in Ted 2 and there’s a line about Deflategate, “I don’t think you’re a cheater,” that sounds like it was added in after shooting. You’re a Patriots fan, I assumed you’d never want to talk about that.
Yeah, I think it was just better to address the elephant in the room. And we all know that he’s not (a cheater) and is the greatest quarterback of all time. Ever! And he’s going to win two more Super Bowls.
Did you tell him that you guys were addressing it in the movie?
No, I didn’t. Obviously I called him and asked him to do the movie. And then I called him just to see how he was doing, how he was holding up. And he has such a great attitude about it. But Seth had just asked me to do the line one day over the phone, because he’s constantly changing and tweaking things.
I grew up in St. Louis, so my opinions of the Patriots are the opposite of yours, and even I think Deflategate is dumb. It feels like a distraction from more serious issues.
Yeah, I mean, look, I think the NFL is a little nervous about what we’re doing in Ballers. It’s all about making things right, do you know what I mean? It’s not about beating somebody down for something. There are things you need to figure out how to make better and address and move forward. So you protect the integrity of the league, the players, you’ve got health risks, you’ve got a lot of different things going on. But I do know that we weren’t supposed to beat The Greatest Show on Turf. That was one of the great, great memories of my life.
I had the opposite experience.
Hey, I’ve been there with the Giants games. Trust me. Twice. Brady could literally have six. How crazy is that? I was watching ESPN Outside the Lines and to put him in the same conversation as A-Rod and guys like that is absolutely crazy.
Entourage was nominated for 26 Emmys, but the reviews for the movie were not good. Did that surprise you?
You know what? It was one of those things where it got that until it became popular with the masses. And then it was like, “OK, this is not our own little special darling anymore. This has kind of gone outside of that box and we don’t want to share it, so we will kind of sh*t on it.” But I thought the guys did an amazing job with the movie. The fans of the movie absolutely loved it. For it to get the kind of reviews that it got and then get an A- Cinemascore really goes to tell you that people that wanted to see the movie absolutely loved it.
So it sounds like you were expecting the bad reviews?
Nothing surprises me these days.
What’s that mean?
You just have to keep doing what you’re doing, you know? To go from that, then see the amazing review we got for Ballers in the Hollywood Reporter and those guys comparing Dwayne Johnson’s character to Don Draper or Tony Soprano was a great thing.
He’s impossible not to like. He will win some sort of an award before he’s done.
Well, I’m pushing for it and, I’ll tell you, we are already mounting a major campaign for the Globes and the Emmys. I had talked to him about doing the show and showing, he’s got a great career, but he’s been doing very commercial things. To do something that’s really going to give him the credibility as an actor was something that was really interesting to him. And it’s a world that he knows and loves, so we wanted him to produce it with us and really make it his own.
You’re filming Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon right now?
What happened with J.C. Chandor leaving as director?
You know, you’d have to ask the studio exactly what happened. I think it just kind of came down to seeing it differently. And Peter Berg came in after J.C. had stepped away, so it wasn’t like, “Oh, we’d rather have him instead of him.” And it’s a very big and expensive movie and the movie is a very important movie. And we are dealing with 11 people who lost their lives – not that J.C. wasn’t – but we’re dealing with the families. Pete had done an extraordinary job on Lone Survivor, so when the J.C. thing wasn’t working out, we were trying to keep the movie going and we asked Pete if he would come aboard. Pete had been in talks to doing it before, but it didn’t work out. But I love J.C. and we’ve spoken and hopefully we’re doing something in the future. I was really looking forward to working with him.
How do you look back on your Planet Of the Apes movie? With the new series so successful, it’s kind of this outlier now.
Well, the great thing is I had the most amazing time working with Tim Burton and getting to know him. Even though I wasn’t thrilled to be remaking Planet of the Apes, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Tim – so I would literally rush to work every day just to hang out with him and pick his brain and watch him do his thing. Could the movie have been better? Maybe. Was it rushed because the studio had a release date before they had shot a foot of film – without having a script they had really nailed down? There are a lot of moving factors. But the best part was working with Tim.
With the new ones, this one isn’t talked about much.
Rupert Wyatt did a great job of bringing it back.
Who you worked with on The Gambler.
More people should have seen that.
That’s the thing, more people are discovering it now. I’ve been getting phone calls here and there, “Oh, man, I saw the movie. I can’t believe it took me this long to see it but I loved it.”
There’s a joke in Ted 2 — and to be clear, the joke is about improv performers – but Charlie Hebdo is mentioned. Was there ever a thought of ‘maybe that’s too recent’?
Here’s the great thing, I’m an actor for hire and Seth is the writer and director and the voice of the bear. He takes full responsibility and he’s never been one to tone anything down. But, like you say, it really was about the improv guys – and there’s always somebody horrible and they’re saying something ridiculous, right? So, John and Ted can easily be those guys, but Seth is not one to censor himself.
I wondered if he asked what you thought.
No, I just tell him that I’m not saying anything offensive about religion. If you want Ted to say whatever Ted wants to say, that’s up to you.
Had he ever asked you to make a joke about religion and you said no?
There were a couple of things early on, but he knows. He’s cool. And not just about my religion, but any religion.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.