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Mark the Wahlberg inspired by the sacrifice, heart of 'Arthur the King'

Mark Wahlberg stars in "Arthur the King," a film based on a true story, opening Friday in theaters. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Mark Wahlberg stars in "Arthur the King," a film based on a true story, opening Friday in theaters. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

NEW YORK, March 13 (UPI) -- Mark Wahlberg says his new feel-good film, Arthur the King, is the story of a man who selflessly risked what he thought would be his legacy to save the humblest of creatures.

The flick opens in theaters Friday.

Based on Swedish athlete Mikael Lindnord's book Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home, the film follows married father and adventure racer Michael Light (Wahlberg) and his teammates played by Simu Liu, Nathalie Emmanuel and Ali Suliman on a 10-day, 435-mile trek through the Dominican Republic.

When a mangy, stray dog starts to follow them great distances over rough terrain, they need to decide whether winning is the more important than caring for their canine crew member.

"Obviously, the dog had such a drastic impact on Michael and his life. He was completely obsessed and self-absorbed. His whole goal was to become the world champion at adventure racing," Wahlberg, 52, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview with reporters.

Mark Wahlberg attends the world premiere of the Apple Original Film "The Family Plan" at the Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in 2023. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI
Mark Wahlberg attends the world premiere of the Apple Original Film "The Family Plan" at the Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in 2023. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI

"For him, to be so close and then be willing to give all that up just to save Arthur because of the impact he had on him in a short amount of time was such a beautiful thing," the actor said. "I thought it would make for a wonderfully inspiring film and I'm just glad I was able to be part of telling that story."

Simu Liu attends the People's Choice Awards at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif., on February 18. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Simu Liu attends the People's Choice Awards at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif., on February 18. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

The star of The Italian Job, The Departed, The Other Guys and Uncharted said training for Arthur the King -- in which he spends a lot of time running, biking and rowing -- was grueling, even when compared to his famous daily fitness regimens and performances in action movies.

"With those, you work out and you're ready for the explosions and the fight scenes and all of that stuff," Wahlberg said.

Nathalie Emmanuel arrives for the 26th annual SAG Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 2020. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Nathalie Emmanuel arrives for the 26th annual SAG Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 2020. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

"To look like an endurance racer and to prepare for that training [was challenging]," he added. "I've never really done kayaking and cycling, so you want to look the part.

"These are some of the toughest athletes that I've ever seen. I really wanted to make sure that we did Michael and his team and adventure racers all over the world some justice."

Michelle Monaghan (L) and director Simon Cellan Jones attend the world premiere of the Apple Original film "The Family Plan" at the Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in 2023. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI
Michelle Monaghan (L) and director Simon Cellan Jones attend the world premiere of the Apple Original film "The Family Plan" at the Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in 2023. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI

Another obstacle Michael faces is learning to trust and work with his frenemy Liam (Liu). However, Wahlberg said that screen rivalry did not bleed into his relationship with Liu, a Marvel Cinematic Universe actor who also recently appeared in the Barbie movie and hosted the People's Choice Awards.

"I was really just a big supporter and cheerleader of Simu," Wahlberg said of his 34-year-old co-star.

"I knew the exciting things he had in the pipeline and how drastic his life and career were going to change in a very short amount of time," he said. "I loved that he still had the desire to come in and not be afraid to literally get in the weeds and the mud and make something special."

Wahlberg said he understood the film was different than anything else Liu ever had done before.

"We were telling a true story and there's just more pressure, more responsibility to get it right," Wahlberg said.

"We were definitely more of a team and a unit, which was great. Obviously, the dynamic between the two [characters] we played with quite a bit," he added. "But, look, I'm an older guy and I really like to see people coming up and creating their own lane and changing the game."

Wahlberg also played nicely with Ukai, the dog who played Arthur in the film.

"We were neighbors, so we spent quite a lot of time bonding," the actor said, adding that every time the trainer would let the dog go out in the yard, he would whistle at him, a sound Ukai interpreted as an invitation.

"He knew I'd have steaks and lots of other treats waiting for him and he could just run right into my house and we'd hang out. It was really nice," Wahlberg said.

After his 2014 experience with the real Arthur, athlete-author Lindnord started a foundation in the dog's name that supports animal welfare.

"What Arthur meant to so many people, what he was able to do, and what Michael did for Arthur really inspired so many people," Wahlberg said. "It's an amazing cause."

The movie reunited Wahlberg with Simon Cellan Jones, his director from 2023 comedy, The Family Plan.

"He's the actor's actor in a lot of ways, but he's also a filmmaker, producer and a person who empowers people. He brings the other actors into the fold and he supports them and the other crew members. We were actor-led and very happy about it," Jones told UPI in a separate Zoom chat.

A scene in which Whalberg, Liu, Emmanuel and Suliman had to zip line across a huge jungle gorge with their bikes wasn't all movie magic, Jones said.

"It was kind of fun, kind of frightening," he added.

"We had each one of the actors on that zip line, and ... we were careful about safety. It was a little nerve-wracking when you have your movie star hanging 500 feet above the ground and you go. All it takes is one creaky little cable and we [would be] in a difficult situation."

Lindnord, who said he enjoyed watching the film with his family in a theater, added that he felt it was truthful to the story of how they came to adopt the fearless and loyal dog in real life.

"They got so emotional and also proud to see Arthur on the big screen and also what Arthur stands for," he said.

"As a family, we were super proud and hope it makes a huge difference for all the other Arthurs that are still out there," Lindnord said. "He taught me -- and also hopefully the audience -- that we need to focus on the important stuff in our life, prioritize."

After Arthur came home to Sweden with Lindnord, the family was eager to give him the best life possible.

"We did lots of adventures with Arthur. That's what he loved the most," Lindnord said.

"It didn't matter if it was cold outside, snowy, summer, whatever. He loved it all. That was a huge thing for us as a family because I think it is the best way to grow up as a kid -- have a dog with you. "For us, as a family, it has been an amazing experience."