- Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting, 1997.
Paramount loved the script by Damon and Ben Affleck, just didn’t want them as Will and Chuckie - written, Rocky-style for themselves. The way Affleck heard it from Wahlberg, a top Paramount exec had told him: “We got a great movie for you. We’re just gonna buy their script, ice them, and put you in it."
- Stephen Baldwin, One Tough Cop, 1998. Finally losing his Marky Mark rapper-model monicker, little Wahlberg proved his acting ability - and agility - in Boogie Nights. Wearing a fake giant penis was one thing... but putting on 35 lbs to be New York's most decorated cop, Bo Dietl, was going too far.
- Joaquin Phoenix, 8mm, 1998. Last minute casting switch by director Joel Schumacher as he began another grim tale (snuff-movies!) by the Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker. Wahlberg and Phoenix co-starred in their next assignment that year, The Yards - and in another James Gray movie, We Own The Night, 2006.
- Ethan Hawke, Training Day, 2000. When rapper Eminem, had to pass on the rookie undercover cop, Jack Hoyt, director Antoine Fuqua thought about Wahlberg - and then voted for Hawke. (He got him and co-star Denzel Washington again for the 2015 Magnificent Seven re-make).
- Matt Damon, Ocean's Eleven, 2001. Forced to quit his third project with pal George Clooney when a threatened actors’ strike moved up the start date of Planet of the Apes.
- Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, 2001. Mark was too busy beefing-up (not enough) for Tim Burton’s new look Apes.
- Mark Ruffalo, The Last Castle, 2001. Well, of course, Wahlberg didn’t go to jail with Robert Redford and James Gandolfini - it wasn’t a re-make!
- Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, 2001. Quite keen on writer-director Richard Kelly’s script but only... if Donnie had a lisp. As if he didn’t have enough oddities about him.
- Colin Farrell, SWAT, 2002. Wahlberg was first choice for Jim Street of the LAPD’s Special Weapons and Tactics team.Then, Paul Walker was training to succeed him - until his 2 Fast 2 Furious over-ran.Enter: the Irishman! As things turned ouit, Wahlberg’s Italian Job re-tread was filming in downtown LA at the same time.
- Adrien Brody, The Jacket, 2004. Directors changed from George Clooney to John Maybury - who decided an actor was best for the lead role.
Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, 2001.
After about 30 years of B-pix, directing 18 of them, Larry Cohen moved from B to A List scripter at 58. “I wrote the character of a small-time hustling publicist and patterned him on Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success and even had Tony ready to star but… It took 40 years to get his suspenser made. Alfred Hitchcock wanted it in the ’60s, but neither man could work out why the hero stayed trapped in the titular box. By the ’90s, Cohen found the (all-American) idea of a sniper - threatening to shoot the hero if he left the booth. Director Joel Schumacher talked to Jim Carrey when they made Batman Forever, 1994, then Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Will Smith, and, finally, the young Irish lad he’d made into a sudden star with Tigerland, 1999. And Schumacher shot it all in nine days! “It was a blast,” said Farrell, “the most intense experience of my life.” But young fans with their cell phones, didn’t know from … whaddyer call ’em again… phone booths. Cohen heard them, and brought his tale up to date as Cellular for Kim Basinger and Chris Evans in 2003.
Daniel Craig, Infamous, 2004. In a second film about Truman Capote in the same year, Wahlberg suddenly dropped out of playing the In Cold Blood killer, Perry Smith. Of course, he did - the role it required an actor. He was replaced by in October, 2004 by Mark Ruffalo until he quit as well. to allow another rough trade role for Craig, the new 007.
- Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain, 2004. Passed on gay shepherd Ennis opposite Jake Gyllenhaal’s gay shepherd Jack. Both roles – and the film - won Oscar nominations.
- Ethan Hawk, Assault on Precinct 13, 2005. He turned down a re-tread?! But they were his stock in trade. “Some don't know when to walk away, but the smart ones do.” D’oh!
- Russell Crowe, The Cinderella Man, 2005. An early favourite to play 1930s boxer Jimmy Braddock. Wahlberg says he looks at his career, the way an athlete would. “I won’t play forever.” Hopefully true.
- Eric Dane, Feast, 2005. “These things are comin’, they’re hungry and we’re next...” Passed on (short-lived) Hero in nifty horror-movie from debuting director John Gulager, son of Clu.
- Colin Farrell, Pride and Glory, 2006. 9/ll changed the movie... Original co-stars Wahlberg and Hugh Jackman agreed that after the Twin Tower heroics was not the time for an NYPD corruption exposé. Wahlberg (and his future Ted writer and co-star Seth MacFarlane) were originally booked on American Airlines planes flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Wahlberg decided to leave later, MacFarlane simply missed his plane… and saw it all on the airport TV. (Once made, the film was shelved for two years… when Wahlberg took over Jackman’s role in The Lovely Bones, 2008).
- Aaron Eckhart, The Black Dahlia, 2005. Wahlberg wanted a (credible) boxing movie. He thought of a Vinnie Curto biopic (with De Niro as Angelo Dundee) - and even this thriller by Brian De Palma because both of his cops were boxers. “I’d already built a ring in my backyard by then.” And used it, secretly, three hours every morning (while making six other movies) as he also fought to get The Fighter off the canvas in 2009.
- Channing Tatum, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, 2008. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura saw Wahlberg as Duke - of the Brussels-based GIJOE - Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. Director Stephen Summers did not - picking the ho-hum Tatum from Chris Evans, Matthew Fox and Sam Worthington the crazy toys-as-source-material movie. (Bonaventura alsp produced Transformers, two of which would star Wahlberg). Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers skewered GI: “I don't know what to say about the acting, writing and directing… because I couldn't find any.”
- Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island, 2009. When UK director David Fincher was due to direct Brad Pitt in the main role, Wahlberg was due to be Pitt’s cop partner, Chuck Aule. The two actors were later booked, also by Paramount, for The Fighter, 2010. This time, Wahlberg remained when Pitt quit.
- Josh Brolin, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 2009. Among six possible replacements for the over-fatigued Spanish star Javier Bardem. Director Oliver Stone decided upon his W from his 2008 study of George W Bush. The sub-title stems from a Michael Douglas-as-Gordon-Gekko line in the first, 1987 film.
- Nicolas Cage, Kick-Ass, 2009. Mark and Daniel Craig were also up for Big Daddy.
Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet, 2010. Directors changed from Frenchman Michel Gondry to New Jersey auteur Kevin Smith. So did our green hero... Mark was to be green in the late 90s, opposite Jason Scott Lee as Kato (Bruce Lee’s old TV role and Lee had played his life story in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, 1992). Other notions included George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Jake Gyllenhaal, Vince Vaughn... Corey Reynolds or Eddie Murphy for the black Hornet, John Stewart! And, finally, the drastically slimmed down Rogen.
- Joel Edgerton, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, 2011. Mark and Joaquin Phoenix were short-listed for Timothy’s father before Iowa auteur Peter Hedges met the Australian star of The Thing prequel.
- Bradley Cooper, The Silver Linings Playbook, 2012. “You’re never their first choice,” said Cooper. Or second… “If you really want to go back and do an archeological dig,” laughed director David O Russell, “I wrote it for Vince Vaughn. And Zooey Deschanel.” As per usual, Russell then wanted Mark Wahlberg - they made The Fighter, instead. And after? “For whatever reason, things didn’t line up.”
- Hugh Jackman, Prisoners, 2013. Due as a Fighter reunion. With Wahlberg, as the father of an abducted daughter, opposite Christian Bale’s New England cop in a Bryan Singer version during the project’s four year on/off Hollywood shelf life. Jackman had first been due with Antoine Fuqua directing, then quit and ultimately, returned.
- Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey, 2013.
Among the heavy-hitters battling to secure rights to the year’s most scandalous novel - a dullard and impossible to film BDSM piece - was Wahlbergh’s production combine. With, obvously, Wahlberg seeing himself as tycoon Christian Gray ruling his prey Anastasia Steele. That would have been decidedly… creepy! Social networks were full of weird suggestions for the porn novel’s BDSM lover, Christian Grey. From Robert Pattinson, Matt Smith to Henry Cavill (well, S/M also stands for Superman) and Captain America Chris Evans (as if Marvel would allow that). None led to talks, auditions or tests. Because the suits had eyes only for Gosling. No way, said he. Most wise. Next target was Charlie Hunnam. He agreed and then suddenly quit because of his Sons of Anarchy, series (among other issues), and a second batch of front-runners were seen: Luke Bracey (the inevitable Aussie), Canadians Patrick J Adams and François Arnaud (well versed in jiggery-pokery as Cesare in The Borgias series), plus Scott Eastwood, Theo James, Billy Magnussen - and Alexander Skarsgård, playing Tarzan by then with an Anastasia Steele hopeful, Margot Robbie. (Hunnam had also been in the ape-man mix). The first group had been Stephen Amell (he preferred Oliver Queen, aka DC’s Arrow, TV 2012-2016), ex-UK model David Gandy (who simply refused), two other Brits, Christian Cooke (from Love, Rosie with London model Suki Waterhouse up for Anastasia), Dominic Cooper (perfect, surely!), plus Aussie Daniel McPherson - and Santa Monica’s Ryan Paevey actually auditioned. As for the Belgian hunk, Matthias Schoenaerts - he fell asleep reading the scenario. Oh, and author EL James vetoed any idea of of Dornan’s pal, Eddie Redmayne! They were all lucky to escape the turgid, totally un-erotic enterprise. Only 14 minutes and 17 seconds of sex, no orgasms - and pubes added digitally to actors’ genital patches!! And poor Dornan was a zero without his beard.