The Sixth Sense: How Donnie Wahlberg physically transformed himself

Donnie Wahlberg - Courtesy Getty Images
Donnie Wahlberg - Courtesy Getty Images /

As most die-hard horror movie fans know, this week marks the 20-year anniversary for M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. Main stars Bruce Willis, Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment received many accolades for their performances, with people often forgetting that Donnie Wahlberg played a small but important role as well.

Donnie had started venturing into acting a few years prior to the release of The Sixth Sense, partly to break away from his status as an original member of boy band New Kids on the Block. The Sixth Sense was not his first role in a movie, but it would turn out to be what he termed “a game changer” in his acting career.

The then 28-year-old Wahlberg was cast as the sad, doomed Vincent Gray, a former patient of Malcolm’s, who suffered from the same condition as Cole. Basically, he saw dead people. Malcolm dismissed Vincent’s visions as hallucinations, so Vincent’s mental health deteriorated over time, and he never got the catharsis that Cole receives.

When we see the adult Vincent at the beginning of The Sixth Sense, he is clearly not well, clothed only in a pair of dirty underwear. His body is shockingly gaunt. In fact, Wahlberg was so passionate about playing the role, he lost 43 pounds so he would look the part.

In an extreme version of method acting, Wahlberg went on a harsh diet consisting of cabbage, beet juice and chewing gum. He says that he stopped bathing, began walking the streets constantly, and started to suffer from depression. In most cases, this would be a bad thing, but it definitely got him in character.

Donnie Wahlberg - The Sixth Sense - Courtesy Hollywood Pictures
The Sixth Sense – Courtesy Hollywood Pictures /

His one and only scene in the movie is intense and shocking. Vincent Gray, malnourished and covered in scars and marks, has broken into the home owned by Malcolm and his wife. When they go into their bedroom, he is in the bathroom, and begins to speak to Malcolm.

Tearfully, he asks Malcolm if he recognizes him, and Malcolm does not at first. Vincent tells him that he has spent his entire life lonely and afraid, and that his doctor let him down. It finally dawns on Malcolm who this man is, and he attempts to talk to him. Shockingly, Vincent shoots Malcolm, then puts the gun to his own head and fires.

Again, it’s a fairly brief scene, but it is an incredibly important one that sets the stage for the movie to come. And it has to be said, Wahlberg gives a fantastic, very real performance. He described his experience performing the scene (which took about 8 hours to film) as incredibly intense, and maintains that being a part of The Sixth Sense is something he has always been very proud of.

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Since filming The Sixth Sense, Wahlberg has been in several other horror movies, including three films in the Saw franchise, and Dead Silence. But it seems that his experience as Vincent Gray left a lasting impression, in spite of the physical difficulties he went through to get in character.

Did Donnie Wahlberg’s performance in The Sixth Sense leave a lasting impression on you? Let us know what you think in the comments section.