Mark Wahlberg interrupted his famously punishing daily workout regimen to hone his heartfelt new anti-bullying movie, its director told AFP as the film premiered in Toronto Monday.
"Good Joe Bell" stars Wahlberg as a father attempting to walk coast-to-coast across the United States to raise awareness about the tragic perils of the homophobic taunting his son has suffered.
Based on a real story, Joe's odyssey through rural America uncovers how prejudices are handed down from generation to generation, and poses the question of what it means to be a man in today's world.
"Does it mean going camping, or fighting? What does toughness mean?" said director Reinaldo Marcus Green, a former athlete himself who tried out for major league baseball.
Wahlberg's own alpha male reputation was burnished in 2018 when his schedule -- including a 2:30 am wake-up, ahead of twice-daily gym sessions and cryotherapy -- became a social media sensation after he shared it on Instagram.
But Wahlberg brought that same regimented focus to his preparation for "Good Joe Bell," a film penned by the writers of "Brokeback Mountain" that preaches a manliness that is about "sensitivity, it's about being open, it's about learning to love," said Green.
"Mark described it to me as it was going to be the most important role of his career," Green told AFP, ahead of its Toronto film festival premiere.
- 'Machismo is prevalent' -
"We FaceTimed pretty much every day, from the moment I met him in December 2018... in the plane, whether he was in a cryo chamber, Mark would answer anywhere."
"He'd be in the dentist's chair and answer and I'd be like 'Mark, you're getting work done on your teeth and you're FaceTiming!' It's unreal."
Wahlberg, the youngest of nine Boston siblings whose parents divorced when he was 11, became embroiled in drugs and street violence as a minor.
He served time for assault before finding fame as a rapper, model, actor and Hollywood producer.
"When I met Mark, we definitely talked about our dads," said Green.
"It was just kind of two guys looking at each other, and knowing that we kind of came from certain communities where a lot of that machismo is prevalent."
Green, whose young sporting ambitions were encouraged by his loving but "tough" father, is now directing a biopic of Richard Williams -- father to tennis legends Serena and Venus -- starring Will Smith.
"It's truly an inspirational story, the Venus, Serena Williams, Richard Williams stories -- it's so incredible," he said.
"I think it can really help. I mean, it can inspire a generation of kids that come from certain areas."
Toronto, North America's biggest film festival, is taking place mainly online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It runs until Sunday.