PASADENA, Calif. — When he was younger, actor Donnie Wahlberg often was on the wrong side of the law. Now he’s not only on the right side, he’s leading a cheering section for the boys in blue.
Wahlberg, one of nine kids from a blue-collar suburb of Boston, not only has played a policeman on two impressive TV series: “Boomtown” and CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” but he’s producing his own reality show about Beantown’s cops, “Boston’s Finest,” airing on TNT.
“It’s a big risk for any police department to do something like this, and I think, for them, they would only entrust it to a local boy,” he says in a noisy lounge of a hotel here.
“I speak the same language as the people that the show is about, and I come from the streets that they patrol and that they grew up on themselves.”
Wahlberg’s own problems with the police happened when he was a kid scaling the charts with his band, New Kids on the Block. “My troubles were not in Boston, thank goodness. I didn’t get into trouble back home,” he says.
Indulging in tattoos, piercings and belligerent behavior, Wahlberg was charged with arson for setting fire in the hall of a Kentucky hotel. Charges were later dropped.
“I think my intentions when I started my band in 1984 or ‘5 were to be a straight-ahead guy, to take the right path,” he says, the afternoon sun backlighting his round face.
“When I became famous at such a young age and got in the spotlight, I really didn’t expect the negative part that came with it. I didn’t understand that; I wasn’t prepared for that. I thought maybe I’d walk down the street and the pizza guy would go, ‘Hey, Donnie, proud of you, come in and have a slice.’
“Instead I took up the local newspapers and read my band stinks, and we were phonies, and we were this and that — personal attacks on my family. I didn’t understand that and didn’t know how to deal with it. I became angry, bitter and wanted to prove myself and went about it the wrong ways.”
Eventually he caught on. “At the end of the day what I really had to learn was that I really wanted to prove myself to myself,” he says.
“To be 16, 17 years old and the biggest band in the world, how can you ever really feel worthy of that? I don’t think deep inside we felt worthy of that. I think now, looking back, the career that my band members have and I’ve had and the career I had on my own, I can look back and say, ‘I worked hard. And I’ve earned the things that have come my way because I didn’t quit and I kept working hard.’ But back then how can you know that? It was just a struggle for respect, and it was misguided. I’ve made a lot of bad choices because I didn’t know any better.”
Donnie, whose younger brother, Mark, has gone on to even greater fame, says it runs in the family. His brother, Bob, is also involved in “Boston’s Finest.” “I think we learned about hard work and drive from our parents,” says Wahlberg, 43.
“My mother raised nine kids, my dad had to feed nine kids and they were, I think, determined not to fail. And I think in some ways we have that same determination that they sort of instilled in us.
“But none of us has nine kids, we’re not faced with the same economic burdens that they had. But we sort of still have that drive. I think we’ve done a good job of nurturing the desire to not fail and turning it into a desire to succeed. A lot of people say they’re afraid of failure, but they’re really not. They’re just afraid to do their best. Because if your best isn’t good enough, what do you have left?”
He realizes he can’t always be perfect. “I think one of the big turning points for me was coming to the awareness that I’m not really afraid to fail. I’m afraid to be my best. ... In an audition you do your very best and don’t get the part, what do you have left? But the truth is if you do your very best you’ll be at peace with what you put out there. And if you’re the right person for the job you will be (cast) or not, and there’s nothing you can do about that. I think that’s one of the things that’s been helpful for me, and I think it’s one of the things my family — we sort of all seem to be on the same page — let’s not be afraid to be our best.”
Divorced from his wife, Kimberly Fey, Wahlberg has two sons, 20 and 11. He says the birth of his first son helped set him on the straight-and-narrow. “It sounds cliche, but I stopped living for me and started living for him. It stopped being about my legacy and became about my ability to provide for him. I was 23. I was terrified.”