His first name, shouted mostly by excited women, echoed through the lobby of the South Loop cinema. Mark Wahlberg, 41, signed autographs as he made his way into the auditorium to introduce, alongside director Allen Hughes, a screening of the new crime-and-politics thriller Broken City. Wahlberg plays a working-class cop turned private detective who’s hired by the NYC mayor (Russell Crowe) to investigate the suspected infidelity of the city’s first lady. The next morning in a Mag Mile hotel, Marky Mark sat down to field a funky bunch of questions.
When you hear people screaming your name, do you use that as a career gauge?
That’s not an everyday occurrence for me. I got four kids who are usually screaming—but they’re screaming at each other!
Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari is your agent and the basis for Ari Gold on Entourage, for which you were an executive producer. Do the Emanuels invite you over for Hanukkah?
You know what, Ari never invited me over for Passover dinner! Ari and I play golf often.
Does Rahmbo tee it up, too?
No! Rahm doesn’t play. Rahm’s a real adult. He’s got too much responsibility as mayor to be playing golf. Is Rahm doing a good job here in Chicago? I wasn’t sure what his approval rating is.
He certainly has his critics.
Yeah, well, everybody does. [Laughs] You’re never going to have everybody’s support.
Who’s your toughest critic?
My dad, who passed on. He was a movie lover and a very honest critic. He hated a few of my roles and movies. He’d just say, “That was a stinker!”
You can throw a punch onscreen, but lately you’ve been hitting more punch lines. Does comedy come naturally for you?
I always wanted to do comedy. The more I got known for doing dramatic roles, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. So I started meeting with a lot of comedy guys, and a lot of them are weird and dark and not funny in real life. I was like, I don’t want to deal with that shit. It took sitting down to dinner with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay about The Other Guys for me to do a full-blown comedy.
At last night’s screening, you said Chicagoans should be “promoting peace.” How so?
That was inspired by an article in The New York Times about gang violence in Chicago. With my foundation, I’m trying to do a lot with inner-city kids. We started building studios for recording, animation, television and film at Boys & Girls Clubs. It would be very useful here in Chicago.
As an adolescent in Boston, you ran with a gang, sold drugs and served time for assault and attempted murder. What do you tell kids who don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel?
That you have to work hard. Growing up, the only things I thought I could be was a crook or a cop.
And now you have, onscreen.
I remember when I was playing a sergeant in The Departed and the filmmakers called and said, “Do you want to do some research, meet with the cops?” I said, “I’ve been dealing with cops all my life! I don’t need to talk with them.” When I decided, okay, I’m gonna leave the gang, that’s when life became most difficult for me because I couldn’t just move out of my neighborhood. We were still a poor family. But prison was not a nice place and I didn’t want to go back, so I decided to work hard and change my life. But my past helps me communicate directly with at-risk kids. They realize I’m one of them, and if I turned things around, they certainly can, too.
You’ve said you’d like to get to a place where you can apologize to the man you blinded in one eye. Are you still considering that?
I think about it. But I’ve paid for my mistakes and I have to constantly keep moving forward, trying to help others, trying to be the best father and husband. I’m 41 years old now, and I was a kid then. There were a lot of other people that I did a lot of wrong things to and I had a lot of wrong done to me. You have to forgive and let go, and my faith allows me to. I wrote in my prayer book this morning.
Being a practicing Catholic makes you an anomaly in secular Hollywood, right?
Hey, to each his own. I don’t try to mask my faith and don’t try to push it on anybody. But it’s the most important part of my life. I pray most for kids whose parents are incarcerated.
Broken City touches on the underhandedness of back-room City Hall deal making. Do politics and campaigns pique your interest?
I certainly use my right to vote, but I’m not out there campaigning for one person or another. Stuff like the fiscal cliff pisses me off because I don’t mind paying more taxes. I’m worried more about the middle class. There’s a war on the middle class.
You’re known for your blue-collar roles. Is it hard to stay true to those roots now that you’re wealthy?
The way I’ve always looked at my life and my career is keeping in mind that I could end up back where I started at any time. And if that happened, I thought, I’d want to be welcomed back.
Broken City opens January 18.