Flickreel got to take part in a roundtable interview with Mark Wahlberg, who spoke with us and two other outlets about his long-time passion project, Father Stu. Stuart Long might not be to a household name, but Wahlberg strived to change that throughout the several years he spent trying to bring this true story to the screen. The film chronicles Stu’s inspirational journey from boxer, to aspiring actor, to unconventional priest.
Q: You went through a great physical transformation throughout the film, starting with a 7,000-calorie-a-day diet and then going up 11,000 calories. What was your biggest challenge in evolving from Stuart Long the boxer to the Stuart Long we see in the final act?
A: The self-inflicted torture of having to eat a gigantic meal two hours after you ate a gigantic meal, and then to continue to do that throughout the day. It just takes a different kind of, I wouldn’t even say discipline. It’s just a different kind of suffering because you’re already full and no matter what, you have to stuff it down. Losing the weight, so much more easy. I can just say, “Okay, I’m not going to eat. I’ll just drink lots of water. I’ll fill myself up with water. That’ll kind of suppress my appetite a little bit.” Not fun, and not really healthy at my age. But a huge part of Stu’s story and his journey, to see here was a guy who everything was predicated in his physicality. And then when he was losing that, it was his spirituality that was his real strength.
Q: How did the movie change between its conception and the final product?
A: I don’t think anything changed. It just kind of reaffirmed why I wanted to make it. I think I was surprised by how much the powers that be are at work. Everything that we needed to have come together, came together in the kind of most beautiful and organic way possible. We always knew that there was a potential for a great movie there.
Q: What do you think was most important part of making the film?
A: I think, just getting it right, you know? Staying true to who Stu was. All the difficulties. That’s why the R rating was so important. You know? Stu had a very rough and difficult upbringing. Very difficult time even trying to make it in the business in Hollywood. And, just wanted to be honest and raw. I think that’s the thing that people appreciate the most about the film. They can see themselves in some sort of way because we’re all struggling, we’ve all dealt with things that we never would’ve suspected we’d have to, especially now with COVID and everything. So, to have a movie that’s really touching people in a very personal, intimate way, it’s a very powering thing.
Q: You were drawn to Stu’s life story because it shared a few parallels to your own. I can see what you mean, as Stu went from boxer to priest while you went from rapper to Oscar-nominated actor. In what other ways do you think Stu’s journey mirrors yours?
A: Constantly now, trying to say, “How do I utilize all of the things that God has put in my life for his greater good, and what’s the big picture plan for me?” It’s not to just keep making movies that make people laugh or escape for a little while. That’s all fine and dandy, but there is definitely more important work to be done. Recognizing what that is, going and making that happen… And I have to really go back to crediting everything to do with my personal and professional success to my faith. So, I was able to find it earlier on, and get a taste of that. And I said, “Okay, this is going to be at the center of how I approach everything in life.” Stu found that later on, but the power that Stu has still inspires me to seek out and have more of that.
Q: Was the plan always to mix comedy and drama?
A: We always thought that the best comparison tonally would be like The Fighter. You know, where it’s kind of this family, there’s lots of disfunction, but ultimately, it’s this really inspiring story. I just wanted to push the envelope, constantly. We were paying for ourselves… when it came to studios, people with notes, other producers, things of that nature, I was always just like, “No, let’s just push the edge.” I think the edgier it is, the more impactful when he dedicates and commits to serving God it will be. And then you really see the change, and you know that he has changed even when facing with this adversity and this terrible diagnosis. We just wanted to try to keep it real. It was that simple. And, then of course, [Rosalind Ross] was always trying to say, “Tone it down a little bit. You don’t need that much edge when you’re talking to the 90-year-old gentleman in church.”
Q: Which of your other characters would learn the most from Father Stu?
A: John from Ted or Terry Hoitz from The Other Guys… You’d love to hang out with them, but you definitely don’t want to be taking life advice or career advice from those guys.
Q: You learned about Stu from two of the priests from your parish while out to dinner. How did they know about Stu?
A: Father O’Ryan didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know why Father Ed was pitching me. Both of us were just kind of sitting there like, “Can we just order our pasta and salad and get out of here?” Ed was friendly with Stu. They were going to seminary around the same time. They were kind of buddies getting into trouble and fights in L.A. And they both gravitated towards the priesthood. So, he really felt like this was a movie that I should be making. He told me about his trips to the theater to see The Fighter with Stu and his dad, and what a profound effect that movie had on them. So, he knew Stu’s story very well, but not a lot of other people did. But the people that he touched in his short amount of time as a priest, it’s remarkable.
Q: There’s only so much that can be covered in a 2-hour movie. Was there a particular chapter in Stu’s life that you wanted to include, but just didn’t have room for?
A: Once he committed to going to the seminary after the accident, he knew what his calling was, that was all pretty much there. There’s little bits and beats that might’ve come out. But there was so much fun stuff with him kind of pursuing his career in Hollywood. There were some great moments in there that I think will either be on the DVD extras or deleted scenes of him trying to figure out who he reminds himself more of: Charles Bronson or Burt Reynolds? For the first time, he’s got makeup on, and he’s sitting in a mirror, and he’s doing this whole bit. The makeup people are all like, “What the heck is wrong with this guy?” Lots of funny moments like that.
Father Stu hits theaters on April 13, 2022.