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Leader of the pack

Mark Wahlberg may like to hang with his posse, but he's not just chillin'.

September 01, 2006|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

Vancouver, Canada — THERE'S the chef, the trainer, the assistant who some call "E" and someone known as "Rasta Phil," whose exact job isn't precisely clear. Meet Mark Wahlberg's posse, a tight band that is almost impossible to crack, as a visit to the set of the actor's forthcoming movie "Shooter" illustrated.

It's the real version of "Entourage," the Emmy-winning HBO hit series inspired by Wahlberg, who also serves as the series' executive producer.

The plan wasn't that unusual: Send a reporter to visit Wahlberg in British Columbia during production of the film about an ex-CIA agent hired to kill and hang out with the actor for a day or so. Disney, the studio that released Wahlberg's No. 1 box-office opener "Invincible" last weekend, took the proposal to Wahlberg's managers, who approved the idea.

Or did they?

Wahlberg is an avid golfer, playing to a 7 handicap at Wilshire Country Club and smacking out drives in any number of prominent pro-am tournaments. Wahlberg wasn't scheduled to work on a recent Monday, so one of Wahlberg's managers and the "Shooter" production team were asked: Would the actor be up for an interview over 18 holes?

Sounds like a great idea, was the answer.

Monday morning came and went, with no word from Wahlberg's camp. Apparently, his personal assistant, Eric Weinstein, hadn't responded to the request. Now, lunchtime was approaching. Weinstein was called again. This time, he answered.

What does Mark think of the idea?

I don't think he'd be into that.

Did you actually ask him?

No.

Where are you now?

Well, we're out here now. Playing golf.

Wahlberg did in fact show up alone, in a T-shirt and jeans, for a long dinner interview that evening and could not have been more engaging and interesting. Over several glasses of wine and a big steak, he talked about his career, his family, the mistakes he's made, the opportunities that lie ahead.

Wahlberg seemed only vaguely aware of the golf tribulations, the way most people might know there's been trouble in East Timor but with few specifics.

At the end of the meal, he suggested joining him for the 90-minute drive to a "Shooter" location in Mission, British Columbia, early Tuesday morning. But then came a late-night voicemail from one of Mark's managers.

Mark is probably going to sleep on the drive out to the set, so we'll just meet you out there.

At 7:15 the next morning, when Wahlberg was scheduled to depart the hotel, the manager called again.

Where are you?

Pardon me?

We're downstairs, waiting.

Didn't you say last night that Mark wanted to sleep in the car and drive out alone?

Well, yes. But there's another car that's following Mark ....

Wahlberg's managers also promised that the actor would break for five minutes at the end of shooting Tuesday for a photograph. But he had to dash to grab the Disney jet back to New York for "Invincible's" premiere. The photo never happened.

Currently 'Invincible'

It was never clear whether Wahlberg did in fact sleep all the way to the set, but he couldn't be blamed if he did. He's never been busier.

"Invincible," based on the true 1976 story of Philadelphia Eagles walk-on player Vince Papale, was the nation's top film last weekend, grossing $17 million. What's more, it's attracting praise for Wahlberg, who's in nearly every frame and took a physical beating playing the part.

Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips wrote of Wahlberg: "He has been reliably strong for several movies now. While he's not the only thing right with this better-than-average inspirational sports movie, as Papale he sets a tone of hard-won confidence."

"Hard-won" also can describe Wahlberg's credits, which began with his stint as rapper Marky Mark of the Funky Bunch, evolved into a turn as a Calvin Klein underwear model, and started to take off when Wahlberg played porn star Dirk Diggler in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 movie "Boogie Nights" and followed that seven years later by playing against type as a troubled firefighter when he re-teamed with "Three Kings" director David O. Russell in "I (Heart) Huckabees."

In "Shooter," due out next spring, Wahlberg was cast by filmmaker Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") as a sniper in a long-in-development thriller that had attracted the interest of any number of A-listers, including Robert Redford and Nicolas Cage.

In addition to "Entourage," Wahlberg is executive producing another HBO series, "In Treatment," adapted from an Israeli series about a therapist.

He produced and helped secure the financing for "We Own the Night," a mob drama starring himself and Joaquin Phoenix that was directed by James Gray, who also made one of Wahlberg's finest movies, 2000's little-seen "The Yards."

Wahlberg produced and narrated the documentary "Juvies," about teenagers serving long sentences in adult prisons. He has a costarring role in October's Martin Scorsese-directed "The Departed," appearing opposite Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson.

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