Mark Wahlberg is doing something right. Ever since his 1997 breakout role in Boogie Nights, the actor has operated in mainstream blockbuster territory, as an action star, dramatic lead, and even comedic foil.
By returning to the Transformers franchise for a second time with this past summer's The Last Knight – the fifth installment in the Michael Bay-ruled universe based on Hasbro's robots-in-disguise toys – he has cemented a place as the human face in a series that has grossed more than $4 billion. And that no doubt helped him earn top spot as Hollywood's highest-paid actor, according to Forbes.
In Transformers: The Last Knight, available now on digital HD and on DVD/Blu-ray on September 26, Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a single father, inventor, and non-robot BFF to the Autobots. He also becomes a surrogate father to new character Izabella (Isabella Moner), and gets caught up in some action that involves both Arthurian legend and potentially the end of the world at the hands of a planet-sized robot. You know, the usual.
Last week, Mark Wahlberg attended the inaugural HasCon, a fan convention organized by Hasbro in Providence, Rhode Island, to promote The Last Knight. During his appearance, he joined me to discuss The Last Knight, as well as the strength of the Transformers franchise and how he balances his blockbuster flicks with his dramatic turns. (Disclosure: I was hired by Hasbro to moderate the fan panels with Wahlberg.)
We still haven't heard you bring back "You've Got The Touch.” What gives?
Certainly people are always asking, "Are we going to hear the song again?" It's one of those cool coincidences.
You've worked with Michael Bay three times now, and returned to Transformers for a second time. What it is about him that brings you back and contributes to the success of the franchise?
Well, I think Michael Bay manages to turn up the level every time. It is one of those things where people could easily phone it in knowing there is money to be made. But Michael is so committed and intent on making it better for the fans. It is all about the fan experience, and he wants to make it bigger, and give them more. It is incredible to see, because people could get complacent. But no, he says it has to be bigger, better, different – and doesn't care what he has to do to make that happen.
That's a challenge, to always up the ante.
It gets hard as things evolve. With effects, you've seen everything. Now you have to find new ways to excite people, and take things to another level.
We're living in the era of mega-franchises, and shared universes. Is that sustainable? Do you think these franchises will continue to thrive, or will audiences pull back?
I think the machine will continue to grow and create bigger franchises, with more sequels … Obviously there is a huge demand for movies, and these kind of intellectual properties where people know what they're going to get. They want to see that. Then there are also the underdog stories just about people, and that will resonate.
You've done the blockbuster universe stuff, as well as character-driven dramas. What's the balance?
Traditional stories about people doing cool things is always going to be there … And we'll be constantly reminded that interesting stories about people in real life is always going to work, will always be effective. You'll see that every year, come fall and winter. I just did Daddy's Home 2, and worked with Sean Anders and John Morris again. Those guys are committed to making something better. And this new movie -- they just handed me the script -- it's a movie about people, and a couple that did something extraordinary, and took a chance on helping kids. It's beautiful. I don't mind finding that combination.
Finally, what would you want to transform into?
I would be a jet. I could jet home to see my wife and kids. And see the fourth quarter of my son's football game (he's playing right now). But it's awesome to be able to be here, and go to a Pats game, and see my mom. But always, if I'm not working, I'd be rushing home to be with my family.