Interview: Mark Wahlberg Wanted To Make A Movie Like ‘Father Stu’ For Years

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“The religious guys were all very nervous, and they all wanted me to make a faith-based movie that was very safe, very average and very, you know, bland,” says Mark Wahlberg. “And we’ve seen these movies, and they don’t really move the needle much.”

Wahlberg – calling from somewhere down the road – wonders if he can be heard clearly as he uses an old hotel phone that “looks like a prop from ‘Get Smart’.” The ’60s spy sitcom reference is about the Hollywood A-lister being on his own mission.

It’s early March and Wahlberg is deep in an intense promotional campaign for his new movie, “Father Stu,” which will take him through its April 13 opening, the middle of Holy Week. Wahlberg had spent the previous night showing the film at Loyola University in Chicago to an audience that included a group of young Jesuits. He hosts screenings all over the United States beating the drum for “Father Stu,” a true story about a failed boxer who became a priest.

Wahlberg recently called the movie “the most important movie I’ve ever done and… the best movie I’ve ever been in.”

Wahlberg recently called the movie “the most important movie I’ve ever done and… the best movie I’ve ever been in.” Considering he’s been nominated for two Oscars (“The Fighter” and “The Departed”) and served as an executive producer on iconic shows like HBO’s “Entourage” and “Boardwalk Empire,” it’s quite a declaration.

The film is clearly important to Wahlberg, a very public and committed Catholic with his own violent past, personally, professionally and spiritually. “I’ve always talked about my faith, which is good and beautiful and dandy and people know that,” he says. “But at the same time, you kind of have to put your money where your mouth is.”

For Wahlberg, who has built a huge career as one of Hollywood’s greatest power actors, “Father Stu” represented a level of commitment around his faith and professional life that he had envisioned for decades. years.

“I’ve always been like, OK, as soon as I get to a certain place, and I have a certain voice, reach and platform, then I’ll start doing more things that will move the needle in terms of my faith, and things that I think could be productive and useful and useful. So when this project came to me, I was like, ‘You know what? I have to go do this.’

For Wahlberg, “Father Stu” represents a level of commitment around his faith and professional life that he had envisioned for years.

Wahlberg first learned of the story in 2016 and had been developing the film with David O. Russell, who directed “The Fighter.” But he felt that the script they had was not going in the right direction. “I just had a sense of urgency that I didn’t really want [Russell] had or someone else had,” he says. Wahlberg wanted complete creative control, so he decided to finance the film largely with his own money, much like his friend and “Father Stu” co-star Mel Gibson did with “The Passion of the Christ.” Screenwriter Rosalind Ross, who is also Gibson’s longtime girlfriend, eventually penned a screenplay that Wahlberg liked so much he asked her to direct as well — his first time leading a movie.

In “Father Stu,” Gibson plays the troubled, alcoholic father of the film’s title character, Stuart Long (Wahlberg), a Golden Gloves-winning boxer who leaves his native Montana after his fighting dreams are shattered. In pursuit of fame, Long moved west to become an actor in Hollywood. While looking for his big chance in Los Angeles, he works as a bouncer and gets his own share of trouble, getting arrested for fighting and drunk driving.

A near-death experience on his motorcycle leads him to explore religion, and he agrees to become a Catholic in order to marry his Mexican-American girlfriend. At his baptism, Long felt a powerful call to ordination. After significant resistance and numerous roadblocks set up by the seminary rector – played by Malcolm McDowell – he is finally admitted to study for the priesthood.

Finally ordained in the diocese of his hometown of Helena, Montana in 2007, Real Father Stu had only a brief career in ministry.

At the seminar, Long is diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, an extremely rare and incurable autoimmune disease that mimics the symptoms of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The disease greatly weakens his once mighty body, creating new obstacles to his ordination.

Finally ordained in the diocese of his hometown of Helena, Montana in 2007, Real Father Stu had only a brief career in ministry. In the seven years leading up to his death in 2014, his physical condition deteriorated rapidly, although the spiritual impact of his ministry grew exponentially. When he was confined to a motorized wheelchair, people lined up to meet him outside the Big Sky Care Center, a rehabilitation center and retirement home where he lived and worked as a priest, confessor and spiritual advisor. Father Stu came to regard his illness as the best thing that ever happened to him, as it allowed him to shake off an unhealthy sense of pride he had had for most of his life.

Wahlberg was convinced that Long’s redemption story could have a real impact on a wide range of audiences, not just Catholics and Christians. “Tough grace and tough mercy is what Stu has earned through his suffering, and through his hard work and generosity,” he says. Wahlberg hopes the film amplifies “the importance of redemption and grounding for people to change and grow instead of turning their backs on them.” In very troubled and uncertain times, Wahlberg says, his intention is to “give people hope and encourage people to pursue their faith, whatever that may be.”

Wahlberg was convinced that Long’s redemption story could have a real impact on a wide range of audiences.

In order to show the reality of what harsh mercy really is, Wahlberg needed the freedom to tell Father Stu’s story in the most realistic and realistic way possible. The film’s R rating might scare more devout religious audiences, but he firmly believes that the film’s roughness is also the source of its power.

“We wanted to make a movie that was edgy, real, and accessible to everyone,” he says. “And Stu was one of those guys that when he ministered in prisons, that was where he was most effective, because he could talk with [prisoners] at their level and he understood that he was one of them and that he had occupied these seats. And now he was on the other side, and he was reminding them that God isn’t going to leave you and neither is he.

Wahlberg himself also held this seat. After dropping out of high school in the ninth grade, he got involved in drugs and gangs and was arrested multiple times for violent, racially-motivated crimes in his native Boston. At 16, he was tried as an adult and charged with the attempted murder of a Vietnamese trader. he later said he was high on PCP at the time. He only served 45 days for felony assault and decades later met the victim to make amends and received a pardon. He credits his own faith for saving him. “When it was all said and done, and I was alone, and my friends weren’t there for me anymore, I had my faith, and I had people of faith trying to point me in the right direction . I had real success and experience in focusing my faith, and I tried to do the right thing, and then I got good results.

Wahlberg is famous in his lifetime, waking up before dawn to train and then spending time in prayer.

Wahlberg is famous in his lifetime, waking up before dawn to train and then spending time in prayer. (He has a chapel in his home.) He is a creature of habit and discipline and yet doesn’t seem to suffer from the rigidity and judgment often associated with deeply devout people. Journalists asked him to explain his Catholic faith and support for same-sex marriage, to which he replied, “I just think we have much bigger issues to worry about.”

It may have something to do with the true stories that often draw him in, but it would be hard to miss the sense of mercy and abandonment in the films Wahlberg chooses to make. Given his own experiences, it’s no surprise there’s something deeply lived — and flawed — about the characters he’s played recently. In 2020, there wereJoe Bell‘, the story of a disapproving father who embarks on an ill-fated pilgrimage across the country after his gay teenage son, Jadin, commits suicide after repeated bullying.

“I think there’s a big, big issue about what it takes to make a man and what people put on the term or the emphasis on being a man…. All that macho stuff and how it’s defined, to me, it doesn’t matter,” Wahlberg says. “I think Jadin was the epitome of what a man should be. He was loving, kind and caring, and he had so much to offer. He had no one to really accept all the wonderful gifts he had to offer. , which I found really heartbreaking.

Now he brings to the screen the story of hell Stuart Long, who is driven to change his life to see his life transformed in ways he could not have foreseen. These choices of film roles suggest that Wahlberg is compelled to go beyond rhetoric and piety. “Father Stu” will probably appeal to church audiences, but it’s not a story of holiness or triumph; it is a story of struggle and accompaniment. It’s as if Wahlberg wanted to get rid of mere ideas and abstractions and move towards embodiment.

“Stu wasn’t so much interested in the church, he said, as in the man who died to build it. »

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