Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Donnie Walhberg Talks About Charity, Family, and Reality TV

We all got to know Donnie Walhberg as the bad boy of New Kids on the Block. But after the band faded Donnie took it "step by step" and became a big time actor. He broke onto the scene with the brief, but very memorable role of Vincent in The Sixth Sense. From there he did a few TV shows including Band of Brothers and, our favorite, Boomtown.

It's been a while since Donnie graced the small screen but he's back tonight doing a guest spot on USA Networks' In Plain Sight at 10:00 PM. We took part in a conference call interview with Donnie and asked him about his charity work, his favorite TV shows, his family's support, and his upcoming projects.

 Q: Can you talk about the Send a Kid to Camp charity event that you recently held with your brothers.

DONNIE: That was actually an event that I had planned or wanted to do for a while. Mark and I do different events with the Mark Wahlberg Foundation. He does a couple different events a year. I tend to pick specific things that I want to do and I will do it in conjunction with my brother, Jim, who runs the Mark Wahlberg Foundation. As an example a couple of years ago, I did a fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina and I put it together and was the host and the force behind it. But Mark lent his time and energy to it as well and we ended up raising with the week of preparation, $750,000 for Hurricane Katrina.

I know that poker has become a very popular game. I know there are tons and tons of poker players in Massachusetts, so I have tons of relationships. But I just thought it would be a very successful way for us to raise money. What we were raising it for is to send inner city kids from the neighborhoods that we grew up in to go to summer camp and to be able to do something that we never could do. We didn’t go to summer camps. We hung out on the street corners and either got in trouble or not, depending on what the day was and what we got into.

So this is something that was really important to us was to give inner city kids something constructive to do and something that may steer them in a different direction than the options and opportunities that we had ourselves. We raised $300,000 incidentally. And we’re going to be sending, I think, 200 kids to camp this summer and next summer off of the success of that, so it was a pretty amazing night.

Q: What do you watch on TV? What do you like? What characters do you like to see every week?

DONNIE: If I tell the truth right now, it’s probably going to make no sense. I’m kind of a big reality TV guy. I don’t know why. I like a lot of train wreck television or something. I like Bad Girls Club. I like Tool Academy. I like Jersey Shore, but I also like Dog Whisperer. I watch a lot of Food Network. I like Iron Chef and Chopped.

But in terms of characters on television, I’m really big into the timeless characters. Colombo is one of my favorites. Rockford Files, Streets of San Francisco, M*A*S*H, I love a lot of series from the ‘70s. I don’t think there are many shows nowadays that are similar to those kinds of shows, but the shows that are built around really fascinating characters. I think The Shield is one and The Sopranos is another one, shows that have a really, really an amazing central character and an amazing cast around it. The characters that aren’t necessarily like the movie star type or just that sort of typical Hollywood leading man. Those two examples, The Shield and The Sopranos have very, very different sort of guys, very regular guys in very amazing circumstances at the center of them. And those kinds of shows really appeal to me.

But I grew up watching classic movies with my dad and classic television with him as well. I tend to gravitate to that type of stuff. That has no connection to any of these reality shows that I mentioned. I think that those reality shows are just fun. They’re a way for me to turn off my brain a little bit. I work a lot, sometimes 22, 23 hours a day. Just being able to tune out and watch silliness like Tool Academy on VH1 is pretty funny at times.

Q: Who are the actors that you most appreciate in terms of presence and acting skills, and have any of them influenced you?

DONNIE: I look at actors like Gene Hackman and he does the kinds of roles that I aspire to. He’s the kind of actor I hope to be like one day. He’s very much a character actor, but he’s also capable of being a leading man at times as he did in The French Connection and being incredibly good at it. James Gandolfini is another example. And then there are actors like Michael Parks, who a lot of people don’t even know who he is, but every time I see a… movie and he pops up in a totally unrecognizable role, I’m just amazed by him and I love to do those kinds of things myself.

I think had I jumped into acting just because the opportunity was there because I was very famous in the musical group, I’m not sure I might have taken the time to A, put in the work that was necessary to be the best actor I could be, but also B, to identify what I really wanted to do and the kind of roles I wanted to play. When The Sixth Sense came along, for example, that’s a role that I jumped all over it. My manager at the time told me to pass on it. 'It’s like a day of work, what good is that going to do. It’s blah, blah, blah.' I said this is the best script I ever read and this is a character that could be very memorable if I could commit myself to play it. I would have done that part for free.

Sometimes people will say do you want, do you ever compete with Mark for roles or stuff like that. We never do. He’s a movie star. He’s a leading man and I’ve always thought of myself as a character and I take great pride in that. It’s really all I could ever hope for is to be having a good reputation as a really solid character actor. That’s really a great place for me to be in my opinion.

Q: How has your family, including your brother Mark, played into your career?

DONNIE: It’s hard to say. I don’t know that I really had anybody looking over me saying, 'Hey, make the right choice.' I think, in fact, it was the opposite. I had a lot of brothers screwing up in front of me. It was up to me to look at them and say I could do that they’re doing or I could make a different choice. That’s what I did. I think my tolerance for danger wasn’t quite as great as some of my other brothers. I might take a ride in a stolen car once in a while, but I wasn’t going to get behind the wheel and hotwire the thing myself. I guess my threshold for pain and trouble and danger was just a little different.

I think I was really lucky also in the school that I went to. I was very fortunate in that I went to a Boston public school. In my first year in that school, the city was experimenting with a new type of high school format. I was able to take theatre class for two periods a day. That was an amazing situation to be in, to be in a school like that where arts was really a prominent part of the curriculum.

I think I was able to find ways to channel a lot of my energy into positive things. I was in New Kids on the Block outside of school and in theatre inside of school. Being committed to doing a play, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of commitment. I didn’t want to get up and embarrass myself in front of the whole school. I wanted to be ready and I wanted to be the best that I could be and I had a commitment to that and to my fellow classmates in theatre.

I think it A, gave me an outlet for my energy and B, gave me something creative to do to take my mind off of the other bad opportunities that were there for me. Again, that’s why something like the camp event I did the other night with my brothers is really important because creating opportunities for kids to find other avenues for their energy is something that I benefited from. I certainly want to give that opportunity to other kids now.

Q: What have you and your brother Mark learned from each other?

DONNIE: Coming from the background that we come from and the life that we had, I think we’re both very cautious. I think we both walk around with a fear of a self fulfilling prophecy that inevitably one day for two street kids coming from such a crazy family with so much chaos going on, eventually somebody is going to come and take this all away from us. I think that fear is in both of us, the result is a great work ethic. I think it’s the only way that we feel safe is to continue to work hard. I think we both have identified that hard work is really the only way to be successful and it’s the only way to protect what we’ve worked so hard for is to continue to work hard.

I think the minute I sit back and think, 'Yes, I am a great character actor and I can do this,' that and the other is the minute some other character actor who’s working much harder than me is going to come in and take my opportunities away from me. I just think that fight or that fear, I think it’s in a lot of people who grow in really tough environments.

I think in Hollywood, it’s even harder. With every role, I’m fighting against hundreds and hundreds and thousands of other actors who want the same thing. On the one hand… we can say, yes, I have a pretty good body of work and I’ve done a lot of things and I continue to get opportunities. But on the other hand, it’s amazingly fortunate because there are so many actors who are out there fighting for the same things. I know the minute I let up and don’t work hard or I take anything for granted, there’s a good chance it is going to go away for me and desirably so. It’s just my responsibility to build on the foundation that I have and to build something solid there. And the only way I can do that is with hard work. I know that Mark, while we don’t really talk about it that much, I know he feels the same way.

Q: What other film or TV projects do you have going on these days?

DONNIE: I just finished shooting a film called Zookeeper with Kevin James and the voice talents of Adam Sandler and Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte, Cher. That was great, great to shoot that film. It’s a comedy role for me. It’s a very big comedic studio film. It’s something that I haven’t gotten a chance to show in my repertoire. It makes me excited. And so to do a film like that was going to be seen by so many people is really, really exciting for me.

I’m currently shooting a pilot for CBS, just at least tentatively titled Reagan’s Law with Tom Selleck and myself. I’m really excited about that as well. I think that this opportunity in some ways is indirectly related to In Plain Sight. I think In Plain Sight, working on a television schedule again, working with a great writer like John McNamara and a great cast, it really invigorated me and reminded me how much I like working on television.

It was amazing to do a film like Zookeeper, but I really have always loved television, just for the work, the amount of hours I put in and the amount of energy it takes and the consistency of it. I love to work really hard. I love to stay close to the character I’m playing. A lot of times it becomes you work two days, you’re off for a week. You work three days, you’re off for a month. Dragging a character out over that much time and not working very often, it can be very challenging.

With television it’s a nine to five. I’ve always loved going to work every day and staying close to a character. So I think In Plain Sight relit that fire for me and indirectly a lot of relationships that I have in the CBS pilot that I’m shooting are sort of somewhat forged from my time on In Plain Sight. It’s about three degrees of separation in a lot of instances. I think those degrees are connected. I think In Plain Sight actually directly led to me finding myself in shooting this pilot.

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