Movies

Mark Wahlberg drew on his own fatherhood experience for Instant Family

Actor Mark Wahlberg says movie's themes of inclusivity and togetherness is particularly important in dark times now

As a dedicated dad to four children aged eight to 15, Mark Wahlberg has no trouble playing father figures on the big screen, from Transformers to Daddy's Home.

In the new comedy-drama Instant Family, which opens here tomorrow, the 47-year-old US actor goes on his biggest rollercoaster parental journey to date.

Wahlberg and Rose Byrne play a married couple who, on a whim, adopt a trio of siblings (Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz and Julianna Gamiz). The film is directed and written by Sean Anders (Daddy's Home, Daddy's Home 2) and based in part on his own experience of adopting three children.

How much of your experience as a father did you bring to it?

I'm in the thick of it all so it's like, you know, never a dull moment. But it's nice because every day when Isabela was playing the part of Lizzy, and throwing attitude, especially towards her mum, I was actually dealing with all that on the phone and FaceTime in real life because (my wife and 15-year-old daughter) were both calling me.

They'd call me, ask me to referee the fight, but then never allow me to talk. That was something that I've experienced on a number of occasions - just trying to get a word in.

So Lizzy reminded me so much of my daughter, and my daughter is starting to come out the other side.

Was the family aspect something that drew you to the script?

I had talked to Sean about it briefly. I committed before I had seen the script.

I'd had an experience at a kind of adoption-type of fair in Boston, at Fenway Park. I was supposed to be there to give words of encouragement, to give the kids a boost.

And here, these kids were inspiring me. I spoke with a 14-year-old boy who had a couple of siblings, who was in the system, and he was just like, 'Dude, nobody's going to adopt me, but I'm good. I'm getting a great education, I'm gonna go and do this and that and accomplish all these things with my life. I'm excited about my future.'

I was like, 'Woah!' And then when Sean told me about it, being a dad I can't help but get a little emotional, but it was something that I wanted to be a part of right away. It was pretty much a no-brainer for me.

You've worked with Anders before, on the two Daddy's Home movies. How was your third time out together?

It was great. Instant Family was such a well-written script, and he's pretty clear on what he wants, and how he wants it.

But he's also interested in your interpretation of the material as well. Really, you have to just put your trust in him, because tonally, you want to make sure that when there are difficult scenes, people will understand the emotions in them.

The child actors in the movie are extraordinary. How did that all come together so well?

Isabela and I had worked together on (2017's) Transformers: The Last Knight, so we were very familiar with one another.

I definitely recommended her. She had another big movie ( offered to her) that was in the same vein as Transformers, and I was like, 'You've kind of done that...'

I was speaking to her and her mum, and I was saying to do something that was going to show another side of her, something that's funny and emotional and all that stuff.

They recognised that, and they saw that. So I think the sky's the limit. She's shooting a movie now in Australia (Dora The Explorer), and she's got her career ahead of her.

As for the other kids - it's great casting. (Casting director) Sheila Jaffe has done almost everything with us. Also, she was adopted.

She worked with The Felix Organisation, and knows a lot of people who are in and around the foster world. So I knew that she and Sean would hit it off. He met with her, and they found the perfect kids and the perfect cast.

Could you have had the great rapport with the kids that you did on the set of Instant Family, say, 20 years ago, before you were a dad?

Oh, no, I wouldn't have had any patience for any of them!

We're living in pretty dark times at the moment. Is this movie, with its themes of inclusivity and bringing people together, important right now?

It couldn't be a more important time - when there's so much division, with families being torn apart - to bring people together.

I hope that this movie is going to make everybody happy and smile and get away for a couple of hours - and also be reminded of what's important in life.

What was your goal with Instant Family, when it came to the subject of adoption and fostering?

Sean and I always talked about wanting to change the narrative and the perception of who foster kids are. But I figure we rose above and beyond that. When we first tested the movie, 90 per cent of the audience were ready to go run out of the theatre and look into adoption.

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