On the PR trail with 'Broken City' star Mark Wahlberg

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Say hello to ya mutha for me, OK?

Mark Wahlberg gets that a lot.

Five years after Andy Samberg's "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals" skit on "Saturday Night Live" (if you've never seen it, the title says it all), five years after Wahlberg went on Jimmy Kimmel's show and said the next time he runs into the comedian he's going to "crack that big (expletive) nose of his," five years after Wahlberg and Samberg presumably made up when Wahlberg appeared on "SNL" and talked to an animal ("Say hi to ya mutha for me, OK?") — let's put it this way: Google "Mark Wahlberg," and the third auto-fill suggestion, after "Mark Wahlberg" and "Mark Wahlberg movies," will be "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals."

Probably because, despite the left-fieldness of the premise, as with any smart satire, there is truth there.

It's still easy to imagine Mark Wahlberg — so seemingly earnest and unable to suffer fools, but with a quiet-tempered loopiness in his performances that rarely shows itself in his real-life persona — wishing well to a donkey's mother. And so, five years on, we find this: Following along behind Wahlberg recently as he walked through the ShowPlace ICON Theatre on Roosevelt Road, shouted between calls of "Mark, I love you!" and "Mark, can I get a hug, Mark?" were a few shouts of "Mark, say hello to your mother for me, Mark!"

It's hard to say if he heard.

He was in town for a couple of days promoting "Broken City," the new big-city-corruption noir he made with Russell Crowe, and his face retained that gloomy, affectless Wahlberg expression — no one pulls off a blank expression quite the way Mark Wahlberg pulls off a blank expression. At least in public.

The next morning, as he welcomed a reporter at his River North hotel, his face was bright and welcoming — so uncharacteristically chipper that we dared not ask if he talked to animals, risk a punch in the nose and spoil the mood. We did not do our job. We jotted down that black Escalades seem to be parked outside every building he is in. We noted that Wahlberg had fabulous, buoyant TV-news-anchor hair. We noted that his watch appeared expensive and very gold and was likely worth more than our savings account. We noted that the guy is short (5-foot-7), that he plays a tough cop in "Broken City" and that nothing about it surprises.

But the man himself?

Wahlberg sat at the edge of a couch, stood as we approached, smiled wide, shook hands and turned back to his phone call, holding up a finger as he finished. He tugged the microphone on the ear buds closer. He was talking to an assistant to Ari Emanuel, his agent. "I'm doing an interview," he said into the phone. His voice rose. "I'll call after I'm done! Tell him to stop ducking me! Tell him to close on 'Avon Man'! Tell him to send Rahm over for lunch! I'm in Chicago!" He hung up and said, "What's it like the Capone days with this guy?" Meaning, we think: How many hoops you gotta jump through to get a lunch with your agent's brother?

We asked what "Avon Man" was.

"'Avon Man,'" Wahlberg said, turning overly serious, "'Avon Man' is about a mechanic who loses his job. He is forced to sell Avon products for a living. In the process he becomes objectified by all these older women."

You're your own genre, we said.

Yeah, he said, he is.

If Wahlberg is his own genre, let's call it an Eastern: A series of situations in which a squat, scrappy, unassuming city boy soldiers against impossible odds through improbable scenarios only to emerge (here's the twist) unchanged. He overcomes the temptations of a slovenly teddy bear ("Ted"). Overcomes the unlikelihood of a boxing career ("The Fighter"). Overcomes the unlikelihood of an NFL career ("Invincible"). Overcomes the unlikelihood of a heavy metal career ("Rock Star"). Overcomes the long odds of smuggling a bundle of counterfeit currency out of Panama ("Contraband"). Overcomes multiple layers of institutional corruption to emerge the last man standing ("The Departed"). Overcomes being implicated in a governmental conspiracy ("Shooter"). Possibly overcomes being duped by a corrupt mayor ("Broken City").

We didn't say any of this to him, though. Instead we asked if he's a friend of Rahm Emanuel's. He said he only met him a few times. "But I've been working with his brother Ari for I don't know how many years, and Rahm is a good name to drop."

We said that in a way he reminds us of Rahm: watchful, seemingly passive, tightly wound.

He replied: "I don't mind being quiet; that way people see me. Especially in a movie like 'The Fighter,' where everything depends on a quiet guy and a flashy larger-than-life guy. At one point people were telling me, early on, 'Why play that part?' First and foremost, I want that championship belt around my waist. I trained like four and a half years to look like a fighter. Also, I think being quiet is a good challenge for an ..."

Allen Hughes, the director of "Broken City," walked in. Wahlberg brightened, then turned back to us:

"We're having a production meeting on ('Broken City'), and I meet this guy and he's 'Dude, you're fat.'"

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