Catching Up with Jeffrey Wahlberg, the Hollywood Scion Set to Play Diego the Explorer

Sunglasses, pants, and jacket by Celine by Hedi Slimane.

Extra Credits is series of portraits taken with people we like wearing clothes we like. Today: Jeffrey Wahlberg, the 22-year actor and model — who we coincidentally met while producing our March issue with a bromantic interview by his uncle MarkThe Cancer with a Leo moon is on a journey to superstardom. After acting in two films alongside James Franco, he is set to play Diego, Dora’s right hand man, in the upcoming live-action film Dora The Explorer. “I had the absolute time of my life making it,” he says about the adaptation of the beloved cartoon. “I can’t stress that enough.” We caught up with Wahlberg to discuss the film, his obsession with Donald Glover — “he’s a genius”— and following Marky Mark’s footsteps.


WAHLBERG:  What do you want to know? 

MACIAS: Do you follow astrology?

WAHLBERG: I was born on July 17th. I’m a Cancer.

MACIAS: How much of a Cancer are you? Give me the full chart.

WAHLBERG: I have a Cancer sun and a Leo moon. Oh, wow, I shouldn’t be putting all this information out there, but whatever. The people have a right to know.

MACIAS: I know you’ve dabbled in some modeling.

WAHLBERG: I started acting first. Actually, I just started modeling. I love fashion. I have tremendous respect for models and what they do. It’s not an easy job. That shit is scary. I think I’m a much better actor than I am a model, because modeling is very scary. I got discovered on Instagram. I needed money, so I was like, “Absolutely. I’d love to try it.” Plus, it was just something I was into. You get to travel. You get to meet all these other really interesting people.

MACIAS: Right. What was the first job you did, after being discovered on Instagram?

WAHLBERG: I’ve only done one modeling job. I did the Calvin Klein Jeans campaign.

MACIAS: Impossible not to bring up the obvious, right?

WAHLBERG: No, totally, absolutely. When they came to me, I was like, “Oh, that’s tight. I’d love to do that. That’s cool.” Plus, Calvin Klein and Raf [Simons]. That shit was tight.

MACIAS: Iconic.

WAHLBERG: It was my first modeling job ever, and I think I was a little nervous, because, like I said, modeling is very scary. All the other kids were super nice. I still talk to some of them today. 

MACIAS: Since you already did something for Calvin Klein, would you ever follow your uncle’s footsteps?

WAHLBERG: I don’t think I ever could. We’re very different, me and my uncle Mark. I would definitely think about it, if offered the opportunity.

MACIAS: I think that would be super cool.

WAHLBERG: You know what? I might leave that alone. I don’t want to recreate that. That’s iconic in itself and it shouldn’t be tampered with, so I don’t think I would. 

MACIAS: I get that. Let’s talk about your acting career. You went from acting to modeling —

WAHLBERG: It would make sense for it to be the other way, but that wasn’t the case. I’ve been acting for much longer, but I’m just now starting to really get paid for it. I didn’t chase it professionally until after I graduated high school, because it was either college, or move to LA and do my thing. I chose the latter, obviously.

MACIAS: Very typical to start young, right? You worked with James Franco in Future World, and with a bunch of other badass people like Lucy Liu and Rashida Jones.

WAHLBERG: I’ve worked with James twice, actually. Don’t Come Back from the Moon, which I’m very fond of. It’s actually the first movie I ever did. We shot Future World after, but it’s just now coming out because — I don’t know, it’s an indie. Don’t Come Back from the Moon is James Franco, Rashida Jones, myself, and a couple other young, great actors.

MACIAS: What’s it like to work with James Franco on two, almost opposite, projects?

WALHBERG: Moon is actually based off a novel by the same name, by Dean Bakopoulos. It’s just basically about kids with Daddy issues trying to find love and dealing with massive resentment. Future World is a sci-fi—totally, completely different. I definitely spent way more time with James on Future World, because he co-directed it. He was just there every day. I would work with him much more directly, as supposed to Moon, where it was our first time meeting. James is still a mystery to me. I still feel like there’s a lot I don’t know about him.

MACIAS: Did you grow up watching Dora the Explorer?

WALHBERG:  Of course, did you watch it? Dude, how old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?

MACIAS: I’m 26.

WAHLBERG: Do you know Spanish?

MACIAS: Yes, I’m Mexican.

WAHLBERG: Latino. You know what’s up. I’m so excited that I got that movie, and I had the absolute time of my life making it. I cannot stress that enough. It’s going to be a great. 

MACIAS: When you found out you got the role of Diego, what went through your mind?

WAHLBERG: It happened so quickly. I found out I got it, and then within the next two days I was on a plane going halfway across the world. There was really no time to even think. I just had to go. We shot in Australia — they took me right to dance practice. Oh, shit. I shouldn’t say that. I don’t want to give away too much. 

MACIAS: Dora is such a big part of everyone’s childhood.

WAHLBERG: I can’t even tell you. Dora and Diego are such iconic characters. 

MACIAS: What shows are you obsessed with right now?

WAHLBERG: My favorite show is probably Atlanta. I think the reason I love it so much is that I grew up in Miami, and I feel like Atlanta and Miami share a lot of similarities. They’re both in the South. They’re both mostly people of color. I just relate to Donald Glover’s character so much, and I know my two best friends definitely do. I have one best friend, and Atlanta is his life story — just a young black kick trying to make it and survive what is already an uphill battle. The show is hilarious and extremely entertaining. Donald Glover is a genius.

MACIAS: What’s next on your agenda?

WAHLBERG: Happiness is definitely in my future. It’s in my present right now, too. I’m very happy right now. My next project is a true story about an 18-year-old Colombian street artist from Miami named Israel Hernandez. He’s a real person but he passed away, unfortunately. He was beaten and tased to death by the Miami Beach Police Department. It’s a story that I hold really close to home because I grew up in Miami. I met his family not too long ago. It’s gonna be a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to it.