- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

What will Mark Wahlberg turn his talents to now that he’s joined the select club of Oscar-nominated actors?

“English period dramas. The Royal Shakespearean Academy,” the actor says by telephone in a thick, fake British accent.

He’s joking, of course. This is the actor formerly known as rapper Marky Mark, after all.

Not that one should underestimate Mr. Wahlberg. If he wants to do Shakespeare, he’ll do Shakespeare — and by now, it should surprise few if he ended up excelling at it.

He carries his latest film, “Shooter,” an action thriller that opens in theaters today. And he was the only actor to receive an Oscar nomination for “The Departed,” the best picture winner that featured one of the best casts of 2006.

In “The Departed,” he played Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Dignam. The 35-year-old actor was on the other side of the law growing up in Boston, however, a time he now calls a “whole other world.”

He was arrested more than once and spent some time in jail. He reinvented himself when he got out, becoming rapper Marky Mark and scoring a huge dance hit in 1991 with the single “Good Vibrations.”

He transformed himself again two years later, making his acting debut in a TV movie. The former Calvin Klein underwear model surprised everyone by showing real talent. He won acclaim for a part in “The Basketball Diaries” in 1995, and made his big breakthrough two years later in Paul Thomas Anderson’s porn industry saga “Boogie Nights.”

It was a long road from juvenile delinquent to Oscar-nominated actor, but Mr. Wahlberg says his new status won’t change how he approaches his career. “We make the kind of things we would want to see and that people would want to see us in,” he explains. “I want to challenge myself. I want to continue to grow as an actor. But I’m not going to think, ‘What’s the next thing that will get me nominated?’ I wasn’t expecting to get nominated for ‘The Departed.’ ”

“Shooter” isn’t likely to earn Mr. Wahlberg another nomination, but Antoine Fuqua’s film is a thoughtfully political action film with an intelligent performance from Mr. Wahlberg. He plays Bob Lee Swagger, a retired Marine Corps marksman coaxed back into service to prevent the assassination of the president.

“What better than to have a movie that actually has something to say, as well as being entertaining and extremely satisfying,” he says. The ending may prove controversial — Swagger is a patriot but resorts to vigilantism when he can’t get justice any other way. However, Mr. Wahlberg says he suspects America will be “screaming and cheering like it’s the Super Bowl and I just got a touchdown when I finally get revenge.”

“It’s a great character-driven piece,” Mr. Wahlberg adds. “He’s definitely a man of honor and integrity and very much a guy’s guy. We also wanted to make the movie for people like you who aren’t necessarily into action movies.”

Mr. Wahlberg was famous for his physique as Marky Mark, and he looks awfully good in “Shooter,” but he reveals that “I was a little overweight from ‘The Departed.’ Antoine got a little freaked out when I first showed up.” He trained both in the gym and in sniper school. “Those guys are as smart as they are dangerous,” he concludes.

With an Oscar nomination, Mr. Wahlberg probably has his pick of roles, but he may end up revisiting the one that got him the honor. He’s in talks to appear in a “Departed” sequel. It helps that his character was one of the only ones left standing at the end of the film’s Shakespearean bloodbath.

“I don’t want to do it for the sake of a paycheck,” he insists, “but if we can make ‘Godfather II’…”

Mr. Wahlberg once declared that he would retire at age 40. That’s only five years away, and he admits he feels no urge yet to slow down. “I said it for a couple reasons,” he explains. “I have a family. I’ve been focusing on me for the past 35 years.”

He also says that at the time, “I thought they weren’t going to make the kind of movies I wanted to make or wanted to see.” He’s changed his mind and reports his “creative juices are flowing again.” He hopes to direct someday, but he’d still like to lighten his workload and spend more time with his two children.

In the meantime, he has plenty to keep him busy. He’s an executive producer of HBO’s “Entourage,” which is partly based on his experiences in Hollywood. He’s working on another HBO project, focusing on Atlantic City, with “Departed” director Martin Scorsese.

David O. Russell, who directed him in 2004’s “I Heart Huckabees,” is writing a broad comedy for him and Ben Stiller. He says his “Huckabees” role might be his favorite — he’s rarely been given the chance to do comedy. The idea of working with comedy great Ben Stiller doesn’t scare him, though. “The only time I get nervous is if someone can physically kick my ass,” he says.

Perhaps the acclaimed actor hasn’t strayed too far from his roots, after all.

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