Mark Wahlberg pushes away a bread bowl and drops his head on folded arms.
He's clearly a little run-down. His 2-year-old son, Michael, isn't adjusting well to the new baby in the family, 1-month-old Brendan. He has four television projects with HBO. He recently wrapped shooting on Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" and has been promoting his latest film, "Max Payne," even stopping by "Saturday Night Live" to spoof himself this past weekend.
Oh, and he has taken up golf.
"I love staying busy, but even for me, this is crazy," he says from the booth of his favorite restaurant, The Polo Lounge. "I'm still a 'grass is always greener' guy. I can't let a good project go. I came from a place where we didn't have much at home, so I tend to put a lot on my plate."
Which may explain how the criminal-turned-rapper-turned-actor, 37, has quietly become one of the more powerful — and unlikely — dealmakers in Hollywood.
The success of his largely autobiographical series "Entourage," for which he is executive producer, has friends and colleagues begging for cameos on the show; he just gave a part to Martin Scorsese. He produces the HBO drama "In Treatment" and has two more series in the works. When he accepts a film role (and secures his typical $10 million salary), a movie is on the fast track to production. If anything, he's living beyond the means of his "Entourage" counterpart, Vincent Chase.
Still, there remains much of the Boston boy in Wahlberg. Though he has shrugged off the thug reputation that made him a successful rapper and Calvin Klein underwear model, he remains proudly rough around the edges. Expletives are his favorite adjectives. When paparazzi try to follow him home, he's not shy about getting out of the car to confront them.
"Where I come from," he says, "people didn't follow you home to take your picture."
And he can't play the introvert for too long. After portraying an introspective math teacher for M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening," Wahlberg needed a role "where I blew (expletive) up," he says, awake now, banging on the table as silverware flies out of place. "I'm older, a parent. I'm trying to do more than just act. But I occasionally still need to raise my voice on screen."
He raises it in "Max Payne," a mayhem-happy video-game adaptation in which he plays a cop hunting down the killers of his wife and baby.
Wahlberg knows it's not Merchant-Ivory stuff. But he also swore to himself that he wouldn't take things too seriously after earning an Oscar nomination for "The Departed."
"Yeah, I'm going to England to do a (expletive) period piece in a (expletive) wig," he says. "I have a chance to do the kinds of movies I want, to produce the kind of shows I want. But I still have to be myself."
That guy nearly derailed as a hoodlum in Boston, where Wahlberg did nearly two months in jail on various theft and assault charges. Brother Donnie Wahlberg gave his younger sibling an out with his band New Kids on the Block, but Mark Wahlberg says he found his true niche when director Penny Marshall approached him for the film Renaissance Man.
"She said, 'You're always playing the tough guy. Why don't you do that (expletive) on film?' " Wahlberg says. "That's when I felt I could really turn a new chapter in my life."
That hasn't meant relinquishing the old chapters. Part of the drive to become a force on the small screen, Wahlberg says, is to give family and friends the same Hollywood breaks Marshall gave him.
"I have a lot of talented friends, and a lot of people in my life who aren't talented but think that because we made Entourage a success, we can make them a success," he says. "That's not how it works, but you have to pass on what you can to your friends and family."
It's hard to get Wahlberg to talk about something that doesn't involve his kids and his fiancée, Rhea Durham.
"He's turned a new leaf from that old image," says "Payne" co-star Mila Kunis. "I was expecting this kind of bad boy from the Calvin Klein ads, but he's all about family now."
Yet he's not above milking the tough-guy persona. This month, he threatened to punch SNL's Andy Samberg over a sketch in which Samberg did an impression of him talking to animals. In Saturday's bit, Wahlberg confronted Samberg, while also aping the impression. Of course, he managed to drop in a mention of "Max Payne" along the way.
Wahlberg's schedule, however, usually doesn't include late nights. He's up by 6 a.m. to get some golf in before Durham takes 4-year-old Ella to school. When he's not filming, he reads scripts and makes calls from his Beverly Hills home. By 7 p.m., he puts the children to bed so he can watch unedited cuts of "Entourage."
Wahlberg concedes that close friends are surprised by the new domestic persona. But it also made him something of a role model.
"He's the guy I look at," says Chris Bridges, aka Ludacris, who also stars in Payne. "That's how you want to transition your career. He's still as competitive and tough as he was when he was making music. But now he's an actor, a producer, a family man.
"He'll probably become a mean golfer, too."