Mark Wahlberg on Starving Himself for 'The Gambler': I Was 'Miserable'

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
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(Left) Wahlberg on the set of ‘Pain and Gain’ in 2012; (right) and on the set of set of ‘The Gambler’ in February

Like the ‘bots he clashed with in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Mark Wahlberg has some serious shape-shifting abilities. The 43-year-old actor shed a startling 60 pounds to play Jim Bennett — a college professor with an all-consuming gambling addiction — in the upcoming film The Gambler, a remake of the 1974 James Caan drama.  

Click here to watch an exclusive — and NFSW — first look at The Gambler 

In an exclusive chat with Yahoo Movies, Wahlberg explained what led to the drastic weight loss, recalling his first meeting with the film’s director, Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). “Rupert was a little bit freaked out when he saw me,” Wahlberg remembered. “He said, ‘I don’t really think this [character] is a guy who focuses too much on fitness or nutrition.’ He wanted to me to get as thin as possible, and once I start doing something, I obsess about it. So I just kept losing more and more weight, and ended up going from 197 [pounds] to 137.”

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Mark Wahlberg in ‘The Gambler’

To drop the pounds, the Boston native went on a liquid diet, and jumped rope every day for two to three hours. It’s the lightest he has ever been, besting the 138 pounds he weighed for his breakout performance in 1997’s Boogie Nights. (It’s not the first time Wahlberg’s undergone a dramatic weight shift, having packed on 40 pounds for 2013’s Pain & Gain.)

A slimmed-down Wahlberg hits the tables with co-star Brie Larson.

"I became a miserable prick," Wahlberg admitted of his time filming The Gambler. “I’m a huge foodie. I’d have a dinner meeting with a group, and just watch them eat. I had a major, major craving for anything and everything. I would go to places and look at the menu. My wife would be like, ‘Why are you torturing yourself?’

"At one point, we went to Montecito [California]. We went to church, and then we went by this little cafe, and I just wanted to sit there and smell the food. And she was like, ‘What are you doing?’ Then I snapped at her. I said, ‘This is all I got. And you know what? I want to do it. I’ll stay here as long as I want. You take the car, go back and come get me.’ And I just stayed there, smelling the food."

Wahlberg describes his character in The Gambler — which was written by Oscar-winning Departed screenwriter William Monahan as a relatively well-off guy who wants to escape the world he’s created for himself. He uses gambling “as a tool to strip himself of all the privilege around him and in his life,” the actor explained. “He basically wants to get to nothing, so he can start over — if it’s worth starting over.” It takes the urging of one of his students (played by Brie Larson, who earned raves for last year’s Short Term 12) to kickstart his redemption. “She inspires him to actually want to make it out, because he’s wrapped himself up in this world of criminals and gangsters, and owes everybody money.”

Wahlberg, who usually wears his hair short, grew it out for the part. “I’m East Coast, I feel like short hair is usually more comfortable for me,” he said. “It was all over my face.” It was another aspect of getting into character to play a man who doesn’t give two licks about his appearance. “I literally wear one suit throughout the whole movie. I clean up in the school bathroom, and take naked baths in the school pool… You know, the guy doesn’t worry about hygiene too much.”

In addition to the physical demands, there was also a lot of mental preparation required for the role of a Shakespeare-reciting college literature professor. “That was more challenging [than the weight loss],” said Wahlberg, who attended lectures and had real-life literary professors read through the script with him before shooting. “Believing and understanding, and knowing those words.”

For research, he sat in on a few university classes, watching as the students fidgeted with their iPads, surfed the Web, and slept behind their sunglasses — all of them thoroughly disengaged. “For me, it was all about finding out why would kids come to his class,” he explained. “The kids find him fascinating because he just doesn’t give a s—-. He’s exciting and dynamic and brutally honest with them.”

Wahlberg studied Shakespeare for his role as a literature professor.

After wrapping The Gambler in June, the shape-shifting Wahlberg had to rush to pack the pounds back on for some additional shooting on Transformers — but not before sending the latter film’s director, Michael Bay, into panic. “He saw me at a house-warming party the last day of shooting for The Gambler, he completely freaked out,” Wahlberg said. “He thought I was dying. [He said], ‘There’s no way we can shoot in six weeks.’”

By the time those reshoots started, Wahlberg was edging closer to his 197-pound starting point. "When I finally was able to eat, I rushed out to have a huge breakfast," he said. "Eggs over easy, corned beef hash, pancakes, toast, home fries, real bacon. The English muffin that came, it was only, like, lightly toasted. I said, ‘Dude, I’ve been waiting for five months for this. You got to take it back, and it’s got to be golden brown.’ But then I ate it, and I ate all that food, I ate every last little crumb. And then I felt like s—-."

Once editing on the film had completed, Wahlberg decided to seek out The Gambler himself, and got in touch with Caan, the 74-year-old veteran of such films as The Godfather and Thief. The two actors have been friends since their time together on the 2000 crime drama The Yards, so Wahlberg invited Caan and his wife to his home to screen the new version, hoping to get his approval.

"He loved it," said Wahlberg."Which was a nice relief, because of course I care about what he thinks. It does help that I also have a picture of him in my hallway, along with Jimmy Cagney and Steve McQueen. Just a coincidence. I told him I didn’t put that up for the occasion." In other words, the next time you’re at Wahlberg’s house, make sure to take a tour of the famous faces on the wall — and don’t mess with the man’s English muffins.

Also co-starring Jessica Lange and a very bald John Goodman, The Gambler opens in select theaters Dec. 19 before going wide on New Year’s Day.

Photo credit: Uri Schanker/FilmMagic, Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

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