It is not an auspicious start to an interview. Mark Wahlberg is tired and in not particularly good spirits. “I’m glad you enjoyed the movie because you’re not going to enjoy this,” he quips.
He’s just flown in from Australia on his round-the-world trip to promote Contraband, his latest action film.
Its clearly taking its toll, his eyes are red and he has to stifle yawns while he slumps further down into his chair.
But he’s polite and apologetic, although extremely guarded about his answers.
It’s just over a month since he made headlines, and had to apologise, for claiming he would have tackled the terrorists and safely landed a plane – which he was due to be on – that crashed into the Twin Towers on 9/11.
He’s understandably wary that every journalist he meets is going to launch a “character assassination”, as he calls it – and he’s been there before.
When, in 2008, he admitted he’d met Ang Lee about playing one of the gay cowboys in 2005’s Oscar-nominated Brokeback Mountain, the rumour mill labelled him homophobic for turning down the role.
“I was never offered any part in Brokeback Mountain,” he asserts. “I merely met with Ang Lee and I said that in an interview and people kind of assumed I had passed on it, that I was homophobic, you know, all the nonsense. It starts from one thing and leads to a whole bunch of different lies.”
The truth is, the 40-year-old has fought hard to become a Hollywood heavyweight – with an Oscar nomination and a production company behind popular TV shows like Entourage to his name – and he doesn’t want anything to take that away.
The youngest of nine children, he grew up in Boston, watched his parents divorce when he was 11 and dropped out of high school.
“We were all pretty crazy,” he says of his siblings, who include New Kids On The Block singer Donnie, who is now also an actor.
By 13, he was reportedly addicted to cocaine and was jailed at 16 for beating a man with a stick.
Briefly a member of New Kids, Wahlberg became famous as Donnie’s younger brother and launched his own career as rap star Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch.
“I’m glad those days are over,” he says now, with a sigh. “I just kind of stumbled into acting through music. I realised that was all I wanted to do. I really felt like I’d found my niche.”
He had a stint as a Calvin Klein model, of which he says: “When you’re 20-something and single, it didn’t hurt with the ladies.
“We milked everything for what it was worth and then it was time to move on. But when you’re trying to move into a career in acting and want to be taken seriously it’s another obstacle to overcome.”
His acting debut came in 1993 in TV movie The Substitute, followed by his feature film debut as a soldier in the Danny Devito comedy Renaissance Man.
Predictably he was offered parts playing white rappers, thinly veiled versions of his music persona.
“I didn’t want to play those parts, I didn’t think that would help me with my quest to have a serious career.”
His dreams were answered in 1995 with drama The Basketball Diaries, which chronicled poet Jim Carroll’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) descent into drug addiction. Hollywood sat up and listened.
“You’ve got to be a little crafty and find roles that will allow you to continue to showcase other sides of you,” he says.
Strangely, playing well-endowed porn star Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights only served to enhance his credibility, thanks to its disenchanted treatment of the sex industry.
He earned an Oscar nomination for his turn as a cop in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. In 2010 he produced and starred in The Fighter, an Oscar-nominated biopic about boxer Micky Ward and his brother who trained him. Some feel he didn’t really the acclaim he deserved, eclipsed by the showier, award-laden performances of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.
He also produced Contraband, as well as starring. It’s a remake of 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam and is directed by Baltasar Kormakur, who played the Wahlberg character in the original.
As a smuggler turned family man who is dragged back into his old ways when his family is threatened, he says that, as a father of two sons and two daughters aged from two to eight with his model wife Rhea Durham, he could relate to the role.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my family,” he says sternly, before checking the mobile phone he wears in a holster on his trousers.
“I’m expecting my wife to call me when she wakes up to say good morning and make sure everyone’s OK,” he explains.
“My kids would rather I be a construction worker,” he adds, smiling. “They haven’t really seen my movies yet, but they know Daddy has to leave and go away and they don’t like it.”