Last week’s announcement that Mark Wahlberg is pitching a pilot inspired by the entertaining if shrill sisters from “The Fighter” got us thinking. Why is a millionaire movie star getting mixed up with reality television?
“I’ve always been as focused on being a businessman as I have been on being an actor,” Wahlberg told us, reached while riding a horse on a movie set in New Mexico. “I’m not the kind of actor who likes to look at himself in the mirror. I enjoy producing because it gives me creative control.
“If a movie or TV show that I make doesn’t succeed,” he says, “that’s on me.”
That hasn’t happened much lately. “The Fighter,” in which Wahlberg played Lowell-bred brawler Micky Ward, received multiple Oscar nominations; “Ted” was the surprise hit of last summer; and the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” produced by Wahlberg, is must-see TV for the smart set.
So what’s the pilot—which follows a handful of young Boston women—about? First, Wahlberg doesn’t consider it a reality show, preferring to call it a “docu-series.” And he’s emphatic that it will have little in common with crass reality TV franchises like “Jersey Shore” and “Real Housewives.”
“There are plenty of ways to get a paycheck in this business, but I’m always looking to do something top quality,” says Wahlberg. “This is our first venture with a docu-series and we want to do it right. We’re not going to be encouraging these girls to cause trouble and get into (expletive). We want to give them opportunities to really change their lives.”
The show, which doesn’t have a title yet, will focus on three or four young women who, in Wahlberg’s words, “live in the real world.” That might mean they struggle with money, jobs, boyfriends, family, or drugs and alcohol. The goal of the show, he says, is to give the women a leg up and see if they can take advantage of the help.
What’s interesting is that Wahlberg and his producing patrtners—Stephen Levinson of Leverage, Bill Thompson of Bill Thompson Productions Inc., and Stephanie Drachkovitch of 44 Blue Productions – didn’t assemble the cast in the usual way. Instead of a casting director, they used some of Wahlberg’s friends and connections from the neighborhood to find the prospective stars. (The show starts filming in the next few weeks.)
“We put a lot of people on tape,” he says.
Wahlberg knows something about the sort of characters he’s looking for because he used to be one. As anyone even remotely familiar with his bio knows, before he was a star, Wahlberg was something of a miscreant with a well-deserved rap sheet.
“Look, when I was young, I had people who wanted to help me, but I didn’t realize it. I liked the nice car and the good-looking girl,” he told us. “At some point, I got out of jail and my brother (Donnie) was able to give me an opportunity. It was a pivotal moment for me.
“With these girls on the show,” he says, “we don’t want them to fail, we want them to succeed.”
The pilot is actually one of two shows Wahlberg is doing for A&E. The other, called “Teamsters,” is focused on Boston’s Teamsters Local 25. That’s already been shot and delivered to the network, but it’s not known yet if the show will be picked up.
Asked to explain Boston’s apparent pop-culture appeal – there are two other Southie-based reality shows being developed as well as a spate of recent films, notably “The Town,” “The Departed,” and “Mystic River” – Wahlberg said he’s somewhat bewildered.
“I spent eight years trying to lose my Boston accent because I thought it was nails on a chalkboard to people,” he said.
Before hanging up, we had to ask Wahlberg, who’s shooting a movie called “Lone Survivor,” if he knows how to ride a horse. After all, that’s not something a guy from Dorchester grows up doing.
“I spent a lot of time on a horse when I did ‘Planet of the Apes,’” he says. “But, no, you don’t see too many of these in the neighborhood unless a police officer’s on it.”