Mark Wahlberg doesn’t do things by halves. On the set of Pain & Gain, director Michael Bay shut down a Miami freeway and put his star in a purple Lamborghini.
He asked Wahlberg, who plays Daniel Lugo, to drive fast, expecting him to go up to about 220km/h.
As the 41-year-old stepped into the car, he saw the open road before him and floored it. At 288km/h, the camera attached to the vehicle blew off.
“I didn’t expect that,” Bay laughs. “That’s Mark for you.”
Recalling the day on set, Wahlberg smiles and simply says: “Well, how many times do you get to have the whole highway to yourself in a purple Lamborghini and know that you’re not going to get in trouble? I had fun.”
It sums up Wahlberg perfectly.
“Things don’t always turn out the way you want, but the worst feeling is when you kind of half-ass it at something and then it doesn’t work out. I’m more upset if I didn’t give it my all than if it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to,” he says of his approach to life.
Wahlberg has been giving it his all since he started his acting career in 1993.
He says he doesn’t know how to approach his career any other way.
“When I went to jail, that was a wake-up call for me, certainly. I got there and I knew this is not what I wanted out of my life. I thought ‘Okay, let me start turning this around.’ That’s a difficult thing to do because it wasn’t like I could say ‘I grew up in this bad area, I got in trouble, but now I am just going to leave and go to a place that’s nice and safe and doesn’t have crime and violence and gangs.’ I still had to live right there and I had to now go against the grain,” the Boston native explains.
“That was quite some time ago and I’ve made some poor choices here and there, but I try to do the right thing. Certainly now that I have a beautiful family, I have all the more reason to stay focused and stay on the right path,” he says, speaking of his wife, former model Rhea, and their four children.
Wahlberg says he has known people like the character he plays in Pain & Gain.
In the film, Lugo is the head of the Sun Gym gang and the one who convinces the others there is a short cut to the American dream.
In real life, however, Wahlberg says there is no such thing.
“It’s not wrong to want the good life, not at all,” Wahlberg says.
“If they would have gone about it the right way as opposed to trying to take a short cut to the American dream I think they could have had it. But there is no shortcut to the American dream.
“I think for anybody who wants it, if you work hard you can achieve your goals. When you work hard that’s when it lasts, that’s when the foundation is solid. If something comes quickly and easily, that is when it has a tendency to fall apart and deteriorate.”
Wahlberg says another flaw of his character’s was not knowing when enough was enough.
“You know there is something about certain men – it seems to be a common thing in the world of body building and sports, if they could just have a little bit more, if they could be a little stronger, a little faster, you know. It’s all about wanting just that little bit more and they can’t be satisfied with what they have.”
It’s a world Wahlberg is familiar with.
Back in the early-to-mid-Nineties, Wahlberg, who has always been interested in fitness and keeping in shape, went to Gold’s gym in Venice when he first lived in Los Angeles.
For the role of Lugo, Wahlberg remembered those times and saw the dedication it took to be in the body building world.
“I had plenty of experience to draw on. I started getting into weight-lifting when I was 16 so I had been to some gyms in and around Boston, but Gold’s Gym is the mecca of body building so I’d walk in the door and see Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbo and all of the top body builders in the world at that time.
“It was the most gigantic gym ever. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. That’s where the real die-hard body builders go, the ones that live and breathe it. Their lives revolve around it.”
For his role as Lugo, Wahlberg went on a strict training regime and diet, with co-stars Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie.
“I did a movie right before this where the director wanted me to be as thin as possible so I went down to 165 pounds (75kg) for that and I got up to 212 pounds (96kg) for this. That was the heaviest I got, so there was a lot of heavy weight training, a lot of eating, about eight to 10 meals a day, a lot of protein shakes, those sort of things, and then I had 30 days to lose it all to do another film. But I wanted to do this film so much.”
Pain & Gain follows the true-life story of Daniel Lugo and the Sun Gym gang who committed grisly crimes in Miami in the mid-Nineties. The film is based on a series of articles detailing the case written by Pete Collins for the Miami New Times.
“I read the script before I read the articles and I said ‘There’s no way this can be true.’ But sure enough, most of these things happened. After I read the script, I met with Michael and said I would do anything to be in the movie.”
Recognising his eagerness for the part, Bay says Wahlberg was perfect for Lugo, the charming yet obsessed criminal.
“It’s Mark’s believability which is so evident in this film and he’s brilliant at playing Lugo,” Bay explains.
The respect is mutual.
Wahlberg, who has worked with some of the best known directors in Hollywood including David O Russell and Tim Burton, describes Bay as someone he wants to emulate as he looks into taking a position behind the lens.
“I learned a lot and, as an aspiring filmmaker, who better to watch and learn from than Michael Bay?” he asks.
While watching Pain & Gain, Wahlberg says he hopes audiences have a good time, but also take away the lessons he feels are important in the movie.
“It’s okay if some people are conflicted about how funny and absurd and outrageous some of the movie is and how this stuff happened.
“You’re seeing a true story from the point of view of the criminals. They did bad things and they are paying for those mistakes.”
Wahlberg says ultimately, he believes Lugo and his cohorts could have achieved the good life, if only they had been willing to put in the hard work.
It’s a goal the hard-working actor says he tries to fulfil each day. – Paramount Pictures