The actor and pop star talks about celebrity, Tom Selleck’s mustache and getting cast as a cop.
Multi-hyphenate Donnie Wahlberg, 41, was born and raised in Dorchester and rocketed to superstardom as the bad-boy member of the band New Kids on the Block. After launching his brother Mark’s career as a rapper and then an actor, Donnie went on to distinguish himself as an actor and producer. He has appeared on the big screen in the Saw films, Righteous Kill, The Sixth Sense, Southie and Ransom, and on TV in the critically lauded Boomtown and Band of Brothers. He’s currently starring in the CBS police drama Blue Bloods and was instrumental in reforming NKOTB, which will tour this summer. He lives in New York.
So is your costar Tom Selleck keeping his ’stache?
My only answer to that is that I’m trying to develop an iconic feature of my own. I’m working on it.
Yeah, but so does Michael Chiklis. I’m thinking about maybe one sideburn. Or a unibrow. Or a Friar Tuck haircut.
I brought my older brother Jim on tour right after he quit smoking and drinking. He had to be the most angry, obnoxious person I’d been around in my life, and I realized I sounded like that sometimes. So I had to change it. I realized that if I sounded anything like my brother, I was screwed.
I miss the air. There’s a certain energy there that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I can feel it the second the plane touches down and they open the door. I can smell it.
You’re an asshole. [Laughs.] That’s just wrong. I guess I’ll go with the New England Revolution, because if you think you’re going to get me to choose between the Celtics, the Red Sox, the Patriots and the Bruins, you’re absolutely out of your mind.
I don’t remember the biggest paycheck I ever got, but I do remember the biggest tax check I ever had to deliver. It was seven figures. It was mind-boggling. I’d probably never seen a check for more than a few thousand and, all of a sudden, I was giving one away with seven figures on it. Probably one of the most painful days of my life.
The Sixth Sense
I’m not really doing this to win awards. I get stopped on the street every single day by people who say they were amazed that was me in that scene. That’s reward enough.
I’ve never gone. I’d only go if I was nominated or Mark was and he took me with him. He’s been nominated for playing a tough guy from Boston before, so maybe he needs to play a tough guy from somewhere else.
Every actor plays a cop at least 25 times in their career if they have a long career.
The last two times I’ve played one, the technical advisors, who were two of the best cops in their respective cities, both told me I’d make a great cop. I consider that high praise. So it’s pretty cool, and it’s become a thing for me on set to try and figure out what they’re going to tell me before they do—like leaving a weapon outside of an interrogation room, or how to stand when someone may be threatening. It’s interesting as an actor how much of that is instinctive, and I love when the technical advisor says, “How’d you know to do it that way?”
I just remember this one fan who always used to show up and give us these clearly poisonous cupcakes. It was pretty scary.
They’re actually working together in Boston, working on some new stuff, recording.
Helping launch my brother Mark’s career. When I think about the alternatives… I actually get chills thinking about what might’ve been if I hadn’t put him in a recording studio all those years ago. I can’t help but imagine I’d be visiting him in prison somewhere.
I guess Jamie Kelly, the kid who quit New Kids. [Laughs.] Seriously? No. I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve ever worked with, even if it was learning what not to do.
Sure. My oldest son has the poster in his bedroom. When Saw II came out, he was the most popular kid in high school because of that.
No idea. But maybe someday, I hope.
There’s always that point when you’re feeling at your lowest, most vulnerable or grumpiest, and it never fails that at that exact moment someone recognizes me.
That I almost died in a car wreck. The headline was this sensational “Donnie Wahlberg Nearly Dies in a Car Crash!” The article said I almost fell asleep at the wheel. I guess the reasoning was that because something almost happened, a whole chain reaction of almost disasters almost took place. The best part was that some reality show about celebrity near-misses or near-death experiences wanted me to do an episode about this non-incident.
They know everything about me. But if I had to guess, I’d say they probably don’t know how shy I am deep down inside.
If any of that happened, I’d be very, very proud, but I don’t think about that stuff. If I spent my time thinking about things that might happen in the future, I’m missing out on what’s happening right now. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned getting a second chance in the music business. I’m enjoying it all too much to focus on the maybes.
I would have told you you were out of your mind. The irony of that is that I was one of the ring-leaders in making it happen. If you’d told me that I’d be the one who was corralling everybody and putting the tour together, I would have said you were on crack. And if you’d told me we’d be playing Fenway, I would have said, “Where? Outside on Yawkey Way by the Sausage Guy?”
I can’t explain it, but I can say that it’s different. It’s better. For us, and for the fans, and for everyone involved, it’s like being able to go back to your high school days with what we know now. We get to experience things that we haven’t in years, but with the perspective of adults. It’s beyond description. It’s a very profound, powerful experience. I think the fans are having the time of their lives and so are we. I mean, listen: I’m finishing up eight months of doing Blue Bloods, and anyone in the acting field can tell you there’s no tougher grind. So to be looking forward to a break when I’ll be playing 50 cities in two months, it has to be the most incredible experience in the world.
Two things: Not having any privacy at all, and my run-ins with the media. I didn’t get it. Which is one of the nice things about getting to do it over again. There were times when I was 19 years old when I thought everybody outside my front door either wanted to rip my clothes off or kill me, and it takes some growing up to realize that’s not the case.
A friend of mine gave me a whole box of New Kids trading cards. They’re sitting on my desk. I find it kind of mind-boggling. I can’t really wrap my head around anyone wanting New Kids trading cards. When I was a kid, we got in trouble for stealing Wacky Pack cards, and when I look over at that box, I think, “I wouldn’t buy those. I wouldn’t even steal those.” They just make me scratch my head.
It’s not a life or death situation. It’s a lot of fun. When the rollercoaster hits the bottom of the hill you have to find something else to keep you occupied. I think the problem for teen idols is when the ride ends and you’re 18 or 20 years old, you still have 60 years ahead of you, and you’re thinking, “What the hell am I going to do to match that rush?” You have to reinvent yourself. And I like being able to walk out my front door in peace or go to the supermarket with my son and not have people taking my picture.