Mark Wahlberg has lived multiple lives in Hollywood. He’s been known as a hip-hop artist, a model, an actor, and now a successful producer as well. And despite having a reputation for bad behavior, he managed to straighten his life up and built a successful career as a performer and entrepreneur.
Not many people took “Marky Mark” Wahlberg seriously when he first pursued an acting career. But over the last 20 odd years, he’s appeared in close to 40 films — many of which have gone on to earn big bucks. Now, he’s more or less silenced his critics — at least those who doubted his talent. The 44-year-old Boston native has also proven himself to be a magnetic actor who excels across genres. Here are five of his most outstanding performances.
1. Dirk Diggler — Boogie Nights
Eddie Adams is an earnest young man who gets caught up in the lights and glamor of 1970s Hollywood. The Hollywood porn industry, that is. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg plays Eddie, who transforms himself into adult superstar Dirk Diggler once he breaks into the movie business. He soon finds fame and fortune, due mostly to the fact that a crucial piece of his anatomy is, well, huge. And for better and for worse, he gets sucked into a life of glamor he never dreamed of.
For Dirk Diggler’s story to work, he needs to feel like a real person — someone who is so amazed by the limelight, he can easily lose himself in it. Wahlberg plays the young man with a wide-eyed, often childlike wonder that makes his chosen profession seem all the more surreal — and makes his downfall into the darker side of Hollywood feel all the more tragic.
2. Troy Barlow — Three Kings
When you think of U.S. conflicts in Iraq, comedy doesn’t generally come to mind. But this David O. Russell film, about a team of U.S. Army soldiers who pull off a gold heist during the midst of Operation Desert Storm is very much both a satire and a comedy. In Three Kings, Mark Wahlberg plays U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow, a family man biding his time until our nation’s first war in Iraq winds down. While Troy finds himself in some exceedingly surreal situations, Wahlberg never plays to the craziness of the moment, but rather roots his performance in reality — which really only makes everything weirder, and funnier, in the end.
3. Sean Dignam — The Departed
This Martin Scorsese crime drama became an instant classic when it was released almost a decade ago. And with good reason — it features a tightly knit plot and a handful of incredible performances from icons like Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson. But the surprising standout in The Departed was Mark Wahlberg, who routinely steals scenes from these A-listers as the foul-mouthed, surly and highly suspicious Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam. As strange as it seems, given how cantankerous he is, in many ways Dignam becomes the film’s moral compass. And that’s thanks, in no small part, to Wahlberg’s superb performance. He received his first Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, for his work in The Departed.
4. Micky Ward — The Fighter
In his third collaboration with David O. Russell, Mark Wahlberg took on the role of real-life boxer Micky Ward. The Fighter sounds like it would be a story of victory. But there is a lot of tragedy in Ward’s life, and sometimes even his winning moments portrayed in the film feel a little bit like losses from time to time. Wahlberg gives a decidedly understated performance in The Fighter, and more eccentric characters like his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) and brother Dicky (Christian Bale) often dominate scenes. But his portrayal is no less powerful, and he was commended for his acting choices by reviewers like A.O. Scott from The New York Times, who called his performance “brilliant.”
5. Marcus Luttrell — Lone Survivor
It’s not his first time playing either a military man or a real-life hero. But Mark Wahlberg brought a particularly fierce humanity to his performance in Peter Berg’s military action drama Lone Survivor. The film tells the heroic and tragic story of Operation Red Wings, a mission during the War in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of three members of SEAL Team 10. As Marcus Luttrell, Wahlberg shows bravery — but he also shows fear and vulnerability, both of which are key to making Luttrell feel like a real person in the midst of a brutally terrifying situation.