Donnie Wahlberg is the first person to tell you that he got no respect as a singer/songwriter for the 1980s pop music phenomenon, New Kids on the Block, nor as a record producer for his younger brother Mark Wahlberg, who before becoming an actor was known as the leader of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. But don't expect the elder Wahlberg to say the same about his new-found acting career. While he admits that he's still developing his craft, Wahlberg believes he deserves, and has finally earned, some respect.
"I started over with something else in mind, with a different goal for myself-not fame. Maybe it was respect," said Wahlberg of his decision to pursue acting in 1994. "One thing I learned through music was you can't make people respect you. In my music and singing career, I was famous and wealthy, but I had no respect-at least not the type of respect I wanted or felt that I might have deserved. But I learned in the end that while that didn't give me respect, it certainly gave me self-respect. I realized, for myself, that I did have talent and I was worthy of the success that I had as a singer.
"So now in my acting, it's something else that I'm after. It's a desire for a career, for self-respect, to continue to find something that is a challenge to me, to overcome, to work, to focus, and to deliver. That's what I need in my life."
Wahlberg, who can currently be seen in the film The Sixth Sense, began his pursuit of acting by hitting the pavement and facing rejection head on.
"I didn't go for the big agency and try to use whatever I had left over from the music business. I wanted to build, as opposed to trying to come in on the fourth floor and cheat my way in. So I got a small agent and hit the streets of New York and went to audition after audition and didn't get the part and didn't get the part. Finally, I got Ransom," said Wahlberg, who worked opposite Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, Lili Taylor, and Liev Schreiber on the 1996 Ron Howard film.
Added Wahlberg, "After a year of auditioning and getting nothing, to get Ransom was unbelievable. I celebrated for like 10 minutes, and then I thought, OK, now what the hell do I do? I played a kidnapper who was in over his head, and in reality I was an actor who was in over his head. I was in a world that I didn't know quite that much about and it was intimidating. But I just showed up and used that."
With increasing confidence as an actor, Wahlberg continued forward, this time in search of a new challenge. He found it in the independent film Southie, which was shot on location in Boston and starred Wahlberg as a recovering alcoholic who returns home, only to be tempted back into the life of crime he had escaped from. While the film, which costars Rose McGowan, Anne Meara, and Lawrence Tierney, has yet to find distribution, Southie won the prestigious American Independent Filmmaker Award at last year's Seattle International Film Festival.
"When I finished Southie, I realized, OK, you can do more than just character work. You can carry a film if you're allowed the opportunity. So keep going. I did some other work that I was happy with and then came The Sixth Sense, and that presented a new challenge," recalled Wahlberg, whose other credits include the television movies Purgatory for TNT and ABC's The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and the upcoming films The Altoona Riding Club with Robert Forster and Bullfighter.
Although his role in The Sixth Sense is small-only about two minutes of screen time-it presented the greatest challenge of Wahlberg's budding acting career. For the first time, Wahlberg truly transformed himself into another person. In fact, it's nearly impossible to recognize the actor, who shed 30 pounds for the part of Vincent, a deeply disturbed ex-patient of Bruce Willis' character, a gifted child psychologist. It is a wrenching performance, one that required Wahlberg to dig deep within himself. His performance, which happens in the first 10 minutes of the film, is so startling and devastating that it leaves the audience haunted-just as it does Bruce Willis' character-for the remainder of the movie.
"The problem was that it really couldn't be done by just losing weight," Wahlberg explained of his approach to the role. "I lost 20 pounds quicker than I thought I could, in two and a half weeks. At that point, I had three weeks to go before shooting. So I thought, I might as well keep going. I kept starving and kept suffering. But that's where it really started to turn a corner for me.
"The more I suffered, the closer I got to the character. This character had suffered his whole life. He had nowhere to hide. You can't just show up and pretend that. You have to have endured some type of pain, and that's what I did. I gave up everything."
Holing himself up in a New York apartment with no money, no credit cards, no food, and no one to talk to, Wahlberg spent three weeks starving his body and soul.
"Eventually it got so bad that I didn't have to act when I showed up," shared the actor. "I was so raw and so hurt and so disgusting-looking that it became true for me. And that's what it had to be. I know it wasn't a huge role, but it afforded me the opportunity to challenge myself in a way that I had never been able to do. Now I know simply that I can transform fully into another character, and I have the discipline that it takes. That's one of the reasons I had to jump on the role. I had to prove to myself, and to others that I'm worth being hired and that I can deliver."
While people may have been been skeptical, at first, of Wahlberg's abilities, in just a couple minutes of screen time, this actor has proven that he is, indeed, worthy of the respect he's wanted for so long.