Don’t mess with Mark Wahlberg in the run-up to Christmas. Misbehave and coal in your stocking will be the least of your problems.
The Hollywood actor - who stars in Daddy’s Home 2 - is the devoted dad to four children, aged between seven and 14. And he’s not afraid to be a tough disciplinarian to them, even in the run-up to the holidays.
“You have to get old school,” he says. “No is a two-letter word they just don’t understand, it’s terrible. I always tell my son, ‘No means no’. He’s like, ‘No it doesn’t’. That doesn’t even make any sense.”
What’s his go-to line when the festive season is round the corner?
“ ‘I will cancel Christmas’. I haven’t yet, but I’ve tried.”
The pitfalls of parenting were a subject addressed in the 2015 comedy Daddy’s Home, in which he starred opposite Will Ferrell. Ferrell played a stepdad desperate for his wife’s kids to love him, while Wahlberg played their bad-boy biological father, Dusty.
The family comedy struck a nerve and made more than $240m worldwide. Now the duo are back for a sequel and the tensions of parenting are further highlighted when their own fictional fathers arrive, played by Mel Gibson and John Lithgow.
Wahlberg and Ferrell might not seem a natural double act initially - the first is most famous for fighting Transformers, the latter is adored for his goofy humour.
And when I meet them, sitting companionably together in a London hotel room, their outfits contrast starkly too. While Ferrell is bundled up against the autumnal chill with a maroon jumper over his blue shirt and tie, Wahlberg is seemingly immune to the weather in a black T-shirt and baseball cap. But they do have one crucial thing in common - being dads in real life, and they happily swap their fatherhood war stories.
“My kids turn into trial lawyers with the most amazing defences,” Ferrell says. “My son tried to convince us, when he lost a $100 wetsuit we bought him at a resort, that it was our fault for buying it in the first place because then he had to keep track of it. I thought, ‘You’re going to grow up to be a lawyer. You’re wrong but I can really appreciate the argument’.”
Wahlberg, who has two sons and two daughters with wife Rhea Durham, relates. “That sounds very familiar. My son had a major meltdown yesterday. He didn’t finish his work the day before - he had the tutor at the house there to help him and he basically chased her out of the house with [his] bad attitude.
“So then he’s rushing to try to do the work in the morning and finally he misses the ride to school because we won’t have the other kids be late.
“So my wife finally rips the thing out of the book and hands it to him, saying, ‘Just take it to school, figure it out there’. “And he’s like, ‘No, I can’t hand it in now because you ripped it out. It’s all your fault’.”
Ferrell nods. “We are always the problem; parents are the problem.”
He has three young sons with wife Viveca Paulin and says he tries to strike a balance between sensitivity and tough love.
“I fall probably somewhere in the middle because I think there are definitely moments where you have to just go, ‘No, you’re not. You don’t get that’.
“When they say ‘Why?’ it’s just, ‘Because I said so’. You can’t be your child’s friend.”
Gibson, making his return to comedy after a decade away from the genre, agrees. “If your children come back later and tell you where you screwed up, then you’ve done something right.
The fact they can actually broach the subject is a good thing.”
The film also depicts conflicting versions of masculinity - from Lithgow’s character kissing his son on the lips to Gibson’s character’s outdated, alpha-male lessons on seduction for his shy grandson.
“I think [masculinity and how to behave] is something that you consider as a young boy,” Gibson reflects. “You keep going through puberty and then into manhood, you’re sort of wondering about those questions and how does one comport oneself.”
Lithgow is more circumspect. “How much do we all contemplate ourselves really? You are who you are and, bit by bit, you get to know yourself better and better but I find it amazing that you keep on making the same mistakes your entire life, based on the kind of person you are, no matter what you do.”
Gibson agrees: “Even if you guard against them, you end up stepping in the same potholes. It’s like, ‘Ow, how did that happen again?’ “
Twiddling his candy cane between his fingers, the Braveheart star says he still hasn’t mastered the art of Christmas. “Every year, I say I’m going to buy all year for this day and then I always end up rushing. Now I don’t even bother.”
Daddy’s Home 2 is out now.