Mark Wahlberg on Portraying the True Story of Joe Bell

Mark Wahlberg stars alongsideReid Miller in Joe Bell, which is out July 23 in theaters. Based on the tragic story behind the death of Jadin Bell, Wahlberg puts on an emotional performance as the father of a teenager that was bullied in school for being gay.

MORE: Joe Bell Trailer: Redemption is a Journey You Can’t Take Alone

Joe Bell tells the intimate and emotional true story of an Oregonian father who pays tribute to his gay teenage son Jadin, embarking on a self-reflective walk across America to speak his heart to heartland citizens about the real and terrifying costs of bullying.”

Tyler Treese: This is such a powerful film and it’s anchored by you bringing Joe Bell to life on screen. What type of prep did you do, and did you speak with the family a lot in order to portray him?

Mark Wahlberg: Yeah, I think Larry ’s screenplay, it was all pretty much right there on the page, but to really understand who Joe was and what a complex individual he was, I got most of that information from Lola, Joseph, and also from Dusty, and, of course, other people who had interacted with Joe in various parts of his life and his journey and all of those things, and we wanted to make sure that while handling the film with the sensitivity and respect that it deserved. That I also gave a really honest portrayal of who Joe was. That was a guy who was complicated and had a very difficult and abusive upbringing. He was then trying to navigate waters that he was just not equipped to deal with.

Yeah, he’s a person that had to learn these very important lessons in a very tragic way. And the film has this important message. We’ve made a lot of progress, but still people aren’t always accepting to LGBT+ youth. Can you speak to the personal growth that Joe really goes through on this journey?

He’s devastated by the realization that he was as responsible for this tragedy as the kids bullying his son at school because he felt like the only way to protect his son was to shelter him and not allow him to be who he really was when obviously it’s the complete opposite. You have to really allow them to be seen and heard and completely love them unconditionally and support them. And Joe had to be Jadin’s cheerleader because he was so brave — he was not afraid to be who he was — but if he wasn’t getting that support at home and he was getting treated the way he was at school, then really he felt so lost. We got to continue to spread that message. There is so much divide in our country and all over the world.

The only way they’re going to bring people together is through love and understanding. So we want to continue to push Joe’s message, get him to New York, and get him across the rest of the country and talk to all the other Joe Bells out there, because there’s a lot of people who, if they haven’t dealt with this directly themselves, then they’re unable to really understand it. And that’s a problem. And God forbid anybody else has to deal with this kind of tragedy. It’s so heartbreaking.

Reid Miller has an incredible performance, and there are so many touching scenes, especially in the beginning of the film where we see yourself and Reid walking along and you’d think it was just a father and son on this journey, but there’s so much more to it, emotionally. Can you talk to Reid’s performance and how impactful those scenes on the road were?

I keep telling everybody that I’m speaking to today that at least 20 wonderful, amazing young actors came in to audition for this part. And they were all fantastic. But when Reid walked in the door, I don’t know, a part of my son, Brendan, and a part of my son, Michael, walked in with him. So many things just reminded me of my own sons like the way that he responded to me and some of his mannerisms. So I immediately felt a really personal connection with him. And it was a chemistry there that really just became magic. He was really committed to telling the story for all the right reasons and wanting to show Jadin as the light and the loving person that he was.

What do you really hope that people take away from Joe Bell and from these two tragedies that happened?

Hopefully that we will start coming together and loving and supporting each other unconditionally, and that we can prevent these sorts of things from happening with communication, obviously, being the key. There are so many people dealing with mental health issues and don’t have a voice or don’t have somebody to really listen to them and support them and understand them and encourage them and give them the help that they need. We just want people to start opening their hearts and their minds and start to love a little bit more.

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