Mark Wahlberg Talks Making His Passion Project, “Father Stu”

There’s no doubt when you talk to Mark Wahlberg about “Father Stu” that it’s a passion project for him.

The film, based on the real life of a boxer-turned-actor-turned-priest named Stuart Long, who learns he has a terminal illness, is something Wahlberg tried to make for six years. Wahlberg gained weight to play Stu as his health declined. But Wahlberg seemed less interested in this transformation in a recent interview during a visit to Phoenix than in Stu’s spiritual one.

A quick note: I interviewed Wahlberg for the movie “Patriots Day”. It was an uneventful interview, really, except for the end. Wahlberg was on his way to mass. This seemed like a good place to pick up that conversation.

Question: I interviewed you before and you said you had to leave to go to mass.

To respond: The pandemic was the only thing that kept me from going to Mass for over a decade.

Q: Obviously your faith has become important to you. But it’s also a great role just from an acting standpoint.

A: Absolutely. You don’t find that kind of role difficult, that kind of arc and transformation, yeah.

Q: You basically play three versions of Stu as he transforms.

A: I would say scalable. I don’t know, it was pretty clear to me who he was and the path he was on. Clearly, he was desperate to find his calling. But I could certainly understand that and understand that. I thought that was definitely part of the appeal as well.

Q: I thought the Catholic elements were the most interesting parts of the movie.

A: It’s so fun to see the movie with a Hollywood audience and then see the movie with a Catholic audience. People are still laughing and crying. They just laugh in completely different parts, which is fun to watch.

Q: Are you ok with watching your movies with a crowd?

A: Yeah. I don’t want to do it too many times, but of course it’s my film, so developing it, writing the script, making the film, the editing process, and then of course showing it to the public and starting to screen the film and get the real feedback, which may be useful, and then editing.

But after that, I don’t tend to look too much. I mean, if I change channels and a movie comes up and it’s a movie that I consider good, I might just check it out for a few to see if it holds up.

Q: Priests talk about receiving the call to the priesthood. The film tries to show it.

A: Not everyone has this opportunity. But I also love this movie, because Stu was so committed and handled everything he faced with such grace and dignity, it challenges people to be a little more like Stu, to do some more, or maybe find out what their role is in the big picture. Because everyone has one. I mean, not everyone is called to the priesthood, but someone can be called to watch someone who lives down the street to have someone to look after them, or just to stretch out an olive branch – anything.

Q: Did it challenge you?

A: Yes, of course. Having to feel like I couldn’t overlook anything. I had to make sure it was the best possible version of the movie, just do my job to the best of my abilities. And of course after, yeah, being like, OK, this kind of starts a new chapter. Stu is definitely challenging me in many ways to do more and get more involved in various things that I can be helpful with, and to create more faith-based content and stuff. Yeah, really feel that.

Q: It’s a faith-based movie. But it’s also a movie, period. How do you maintain this balance?

A: Well, we’ve always used “The Fighter” as (comparison), haven’t we? A funny film full of emotion but also very raw and real. We sort of approached it as a biopic that had this religious component. He happened to be a boxer, then he tried to become an actor, then he found his vocation as a priest. It was just the order of events. But certainly not your typical religious films, of course.

Q: This seems like a more efficient approach.

A: For sure. Why do you think we insisted on making it an R movie and financing it myself so that I didn’t have to worry about interference, especially during the creative process? I wanted to be left alone. Between (writer and director Rosalind Ross) and myself, it was just kind of us.

Q: You are a producer on the film. Do you like this role?

A: Yeah. I mean, look, I’ve always tried to control my own destiny and have creative control. You’ll kind of be at the helm that way. Sometimes I also like to be an actor for hire and watch everyone scramble and try to solve all the problems and get things done.

Q: Does producing make acting more difficult?

A: No, whatever role you are in, you are in this mode. And when you’re not, you’re just involved in everything else.

Q: Where does this rank compared to your other films?

A: I’ve always had a much more personal connection with all the true story biographical films I’ve made about real people, real events. That being said, it’s definitely at the top of the list. I’m always trying to find the next thing to push myself and do what I consider to be the best job. But this film, everyone who sees it is touched in one way or another. Everyone has been something they can relate to immediately and it puts them in that place. I would definitely say this one by a long shot.

Q: When playing a real person, do you feel more responsible towards the character?

A: No, no, no, it’s still in my head. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to get it right, and I always handle it with the same white-glove approach, respect, and sensitivity it deserves. You’re talking about real people, and especially in a movie like that, I mean, the real life and the real loss and the terrible, terrible horrible tragedy, you really have to deal with that being very sensitive.

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