Jeffrey Wahlberg is a chameleon. From morphing into character as he is trapped inside a post-apocalyptic world in Future World (out in 2017, starring James Franco and Snoop Dogg) to playing Carlos, a Latino kid living in Miami in the ’90s at the height of graffiti culture in the indie short film TOYED, there is no denying the fresh faced 20-year-old is busy gearing up to take Hollywood by storm.
It doesn’t hurt that Jeffrey is Hollywood royalty Mark Walhberg’s nephew. “My uncle has the coolest job in the world,” he says over the phone. “But on my own I’ve always been deeply in love with making movies. Even if I couldn’t understand the concept of movies, I would watch them over and over again. I think that just happened on its own.”
His infatuation with film is heightened, recalling childhood experiences. He remembers the time when he got to go on the set of 2006’s The Departed, and got to meet Jack Nicholson. The movie went on to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. Six years later, in 2012, he got one of his first roles in A Feeling From Within, as James Scully. Next came other scripts on TV movies, and series like Ballers (starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and Instant Gratification.
In his latest project, TOYED, a 22-minute short film based on the street art scene in Miami, Wahlberg travels in a time capsule, which transports him from the social media-infested world that is 2016 into the gritty more modest ’90s. Throughout his journey, his character Carlos is coming to terms with adolescent rebellion, and trying to satisfy his appetite for artistic expression. He also fights for his legacy as a graffiti artist, while trying to survive the dangerous streets he creates in.
For Wahlberg, this role introduced him to another side of the 305, which was highly influenced by the grimy streets that made up New York City. “The director always told me that they were very influenced by New York, and that if you lived in Miami and were from New York you were considered the cool kid,” he notes. “People wanted to talk like they were from New York, so the Miami in the film isn’t really the Miami that I know. It’s very different.”
Amid the differences of generation and environment, culturally, Wahlberg was also introduced to the ’90s hip-hop scene. He says he’s “infatuated” with the ’90s, but takes more of an affinity for the decade’s grunge era, citing favorites like Nirvana and late actor River Phoenix.
Despite the dichotomy of a grunge-loving kid, and another who is enthralled by street art coupled with the real life tales encapsulated into rhythmic sound bites by Biggie and Tupac—on screen, Wahlberg masters the transformation seamlessly.
His delivery was brash and on point. To help him get into the role he says Yanes showed him old scrapbooks and photos from the era. Also, he instructed him on how to carry himself on set in regards to the role.
“Art is not a crime,” reads a brick wall covered in spray paint at the end of TOYED. The statement is revolutionary, and unapologetic. Most of all, it’s accurate. But where there is a call for change, there is scrutiny concerning freedom. In the film, the art of graffiti is a source of backlash. In real life, the current millennial generation seems to be getting the bad end of the stick.
It’s a product of scarce jobs, violence against people of color from law enforcement, the economy and, sometimes, social media. Like Carlos, who rebels against his dad in efforts to pursue his art, Jeffrey claims he “rebels against everything.” He is very much an advocate for his generation, and believes in the power of the Internet, even if it’s filled with narcissistic selfies. “I love my generation and everything we’re about. I love the fact that we are all about love and positivity,” he affirms. “I’m pro do whatever you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone around you.”
“These are our kids out here getting shot. So I think that is a huge problem for sure,” he continues when asked about the vast extrajudicial murders of people of color. Born to a Dominican mother and an Irish-American father, Jeffrey grew up in Miami and remembers always getting in trouble in school for having a slick mouth. While he doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish, he says if he were to make it big in Hollywood, he would be putting on for Dominicans everywhere; advocating for equal representation and opportunity for all.
Catch more of Jeffrey this Sunday (Oct. 30) at NALIP‘s (National Association of Latino Independent Producers), 2nd Annual Latino Lens Festival & Showcase in Los Angeles, where a screening of TOYED will be hosted at the Avalon Hollywood.