Mark Wahlberg has lived many lives, from young crook to Hollywood legend. Each prepared him to become a better man

Of course we don’t. Change is an admission of error. Hell with that. We evolve. Over time, we apply bled-from-life wisdom, tools and ambition to make ourselves into what we wish to be. To our impatient ladies: sorry that it takes a while, but this is the best way. It skips fads and other “changes” that simply will not stick. The X factor is how well we evolve. Some men have a skill for it, a drive for it. “open arms,” say sMark Wahlberg, who is indisputably one of those men. That’s his secret. “My life has evolved so drastically over the years in every aspect. I embrace it.”

From teenage criminal to Marky Mark to cinematic bad guy to Oscar nominee to something different entirely: that’s Wahlberg. When I first visited him at his Beverly Hills home two years ago, he had just locked down some terrific roles and become a father. That could have been plenty. But he was already looking forwards, obsessed with transformation. He’d built a dream gym, boxing ring and all, where he’d been training for almost two years to play “Irish” Micky Ward, a Massachusetts boxer who fought three legendary bouts against Arturo Gatti. Wahlberg had been trying to line up interest in a movie about Ward for years, and although he had some big names on board – Brad Pitt and Darren Aronofsky – it hadn’t been given the green light.

Still, Wahlberg trained

Now, finally, nearly five years after he began his quest, The Fighter is out in cinemas, this time with Christian Bale playing Ward’s half brother and David O Russell at the helm. “I was so desperate to make it that I would’ve made any version of the movie,” Wahlberg says.

But you can’t look at a project like this from beginning to end and understand how a man turns nothing into something. The movie wouldn’t have happened had he remained any version of the man he was, even one of the more successful versions. Because as Wahlberg knows – and the rest of us need to learn – the root of any success backtracks in a jagged, criss-crossed line. No success is self-generated; no failure is self-contained. The things you do now, and the man you will become, determine what you’re capable of. Or look at it this way: Wahlberg couldn’t have been a boxer without first becoming a porn star.

1997: Choosing the hard road

Well, it’s not as if he was looking to play a porn star – but after The Basketball Diaries and Fear, he was typecast as a bad guy. And he knew what every successful man has figured out: while it’s easy to repeat old successes, you’ll only grow stagnant. “I don’t want to do the same thing every time out, and I sure don’t want to be told that there’s only a certain kind of thing I can do,” Wahlberg says. So he used tools he hadn’t bothered with yet: proximity and networking. Wahlberg and director Paul Thomas Anderson used the same agency, so with that connection Wahlberg scored a meeting with the director and then an “informal” sit-down with Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C Reilly and Thomas Jane. That became an “informal” audition to play the well-endowed Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. By the end, Wahlberg had the gig. “And then that became the thing that I was best suited to do. So I had to break that mould. It’s always been about going out there and having to prove myself.” It goes to show: every meeting is an opportunity and every introduction a potential relationship. You must pack your A-game at all times.

2004 – 2006: Planning for success

Wahlberg went on to star in plenty of movies, but then decided that, too, was limiting. “A career is nice,” he says, “but I want to build a business.” That’s why he started the production company Leverage, whose first series, Entourage, debuted in 2004. Vindication came quickly: in 2005, the show received three Emmy nominations.

Wahlberg responded by working harder. “We were already talking about In Treatment. We were talking about Boardwalk Empire. Shortly after that, How To Make It In America,” he says. And now was the time to capitalise, to put already formed plans into action. Many men miss this step. After every success, even small ones, huddle with those you work with and ask, “What’s next?” And don’t wait for the answer – have five answers ready. It’s no coincidence that Wahlberg began developing The Fighter as a producer, and training for it as an actor, right around this time. He was combining strengths. When you evolve, you don’t forfeit old skills. You just add new ones and form a potent mix.

2007: Working overtime

Now he had to become a boxer. The mere possibility of The Fighter being made was enough to keep him training hard through all the movies he’d shoot in the interim. “It was tough. Going out and making another movie and still continuing to train for something that may not happen is not an easy thing to do. We’re shooting 12 to 14 hours a day on one movie and I’m getting up two hours earlier to train.” “To look like Micky Ward inside the ring, outside the ring and in the gym, I needed to do it right,” he says. “We hired real boxers and really went in there and hit each other. I was in better shape than the fighters I was shooting with.”

2007 – 2009: Putting the plan together

Wahlberg’s role in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed could go down as his most memorable (and quotable). Still, by some accounts Wahlberg and Scorsese didn’t get along too well. But Wahlberg is too smart to toss a relationship with such a man based on one experience; a good rapport requires care and conversation. And Wahlberg had a plan: to bring Scorsese aboard Leverage’s new show Boardwalk Empire. Persuading Scorsese to work in TV is kind of like asking Victor Matfield to the Varsity Cup. But Wahlberg made it happen by knowing that small victories are invisible. You can’t expect to see a pay-off every time you push for something; you have to trust that progress was made. “Our working relationship allowed me to continue to communicate with him and convince him Boardwalk Empire was a good thing,” Wahlberg says. “Talking about our television business while we were working together, and then seeing him during Oscar and awards season, then going to visit him on the set for Shutter Island – that’s how I convinced him.” Convinced him indeed: Scorsese became an executive producer and directed the first episode.

Today: Why you do it all in the first place The Fighter stands as a milestone because it represents a pay-off: never be so consumed in what you’re doing that you lose sight of what you’re becoming. Today, Wahlberg is 39. He has four kids, and they’ve given him a big-picture reason for why he’s evolving, and a clear vision of where he needs to go. “I think about 40 every once in a while,” he says. “I am working like a psychopath right now. It’s one thing to have a career, waking up every day thinking, Okay, what’s the next job? But I want to build something that can last forever, something that my kids could venture into if they were interested. I’m in a unique position of doing things that I can be very proud of and excited about. I might as well take advantage of that n now because it definitely might not exist later.”

Micky Ward Trains You For the Ring

You need a h4 core to be a h4 boxer, says Ward, the pugilist Mark Wahlberg plays in The Fighter. “That’s where all your power comes from. When you twist to throw a punch, you throw your hips and entire core into it.” follow his routine.

1 Push-up
15 reps

2 McGill curl-up
15 reps each leg
Lie face up – right leg straight, left leg bent so your foot is flat on the floor.With palms under your lower-back arch, lift your head and shoulders (don’t bend your lower back). Pause, then lower.

3 Side crunch
15 reps each side
Lie straight on your left side and brace your feet against a wall or a heavy object. Rest your left hand on your chest, and place your right hand behind your head. Crunch your torso towards your hip. Pause, then return to the starting position.

4 Hip-up
10 reps each side
Lie on your left side, propping your upper body up with your left elbow and forearm and keeping your knees straight. Raise your hips so that your torso is beyond parallel to the floor and your body forms a straight line from your head to ankles. Pause, then lower.

5 Medicine-ball twist
15 reps
Hold a medicine ball at chest level, arms straight out. Without moving your torso, rotate your arms far to the left, then far to the right. That’s one rep. Continue back and forth as fast as you can. Do 2 – 3 circuits total.

By Bryan Payton