Only in Hollywood

[Only IN Hollywood] Mark Wahlberg opens up about his faith, journey as a Catholic star in Hollywood

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] Mark Wahlberg opens up about his faith, journey as a Catholic star in Hollywood

KEEPING FAITH. Mark Wahlberg, a devout Catholic says 'I have always been a person of faith but I knew that, especially now, there’s so much emphasis on negativity and not enough on positivity that I really wanted to start to promote that kind of message.'

Courtesy of HFPA

Mark stars as a boxer turned priest in his recent film 'Father Stu'

LOS ANGELES, USA – Faith is the constant theme in our interviews with Mark Wahlberg over the years.

Since Mark’s recent film, Father Stu, is about the true story of a boxer turned Catholic priest, our latest chat was devoted mostly to his faith which seems to have even intensified in recent years.

Mark showed up for an in-person interview at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) office in West LA while we were attending the Cannes Film Festival so we joined via Zoom.

The actor produced and starred as Father Stuart Long, a boxer in Montana who moves to Los Angeles, becoming one of countless men and women who dream of making it as an actor. When Stu meets Carmen (Teresa Ruiz, wonderful), a Sunday school volunteer teacher, she impacts his life in an unexpected way.

When the former boxer becomes a seminarian, hoping to become a priest instead, he is diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a debilitating inflammatory muscle disease.

One of the film’s treats is seeing two brilliant Australian actors, Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver, as Stu’s estranged parents. Filipino-American actor Alain Uy makes a welcome cameo as Tim in the feature film directing debut of Rosalind Ross, whom Mark calls Rosie.

DEVOUT CATHOLIC. Mark Wahlberg finds the perfect project that aligns with his faith – the biographical drama, ‘Father Stu.’ Courtesy of Sony Pictures

While Father Stu received mixed reviews, moviegoers loved the biographical drama. The real-life story of Stu himself continues to inspire many.

Mark, a two-time Golden Globe nominee for David O. Russell’s The Fighter and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, is always a reliable actor and his performance here is solid, as usual.

“Forgive me, I am very tired,” Mark said when he walked in at the HFPA office. “I came from London, and we are shooting there (Our Man from Jersey, with Halle Berry). I got in last night at 6:30 and I have been up all night.”

“I took my sons to play golf at seven this morning. They wanted to play golf – they are golfers now.  And yeah, I am going to go home right now and sleep for a little while.”

“Then I go back to London Saturday morning to work at 5 am.  So yeah, I needed to get home to see my family. I haven’t seen them since, God, April. A long time, too long.”

The following are excerpts of our interview.

Father Stu’s character is fascinating because, like many of us, we have to decide at one point – what are we going to do with our life? He starts doing one thing but he pivots. His mother does not agree with him all the time. How much did that resonate with you when you were growing up?

Oh gosh, I am still trying to figure it out.  My mom (Alma, who died last year) was amazing in that as long as we were doing something positive and productive, she was happy.

Both she and my dad (Donald) were always proud of my success in business but most importantly, they were really proud of my growth as a person. They just wanted their kids to do well and to be good siblings and parents.  So that’s what made her most proud.

It’s amazing because I searched long and hard to find what my calling was and I really felt like I found that in film.  But now after getting to know Stu’s story, his journey and because of my faith, I also know that I am tasked and challenged to now utilize this platform that I have to continue to do God’s work.

So, Stu has now basically tasked me to continue with his message and to do my part. I just think the movie does such a great job of inspiring everybody to figure out what their part is to bring people closer together and to do that.

Not everybody is meant for discipleship but everybody can contribute in some way. It challenges people to do more, to be better and that’s a wonderful thing.

So, I am very excited about it. I have since gotten involved with the Hallow app, which is an amazing platform that has prayer and meditation and is really helpful for people.

So, starting a faith-based component in film and television and I want to do lots of cool things that are going to bring people closer to God, their faith and also challenge people to do more.

You have always been fit. But your character in this film loses his ability to move and his control over his body and muscles. How did that impact you personally while you were inhabiting this character?

I want to say, instead of talking about myself and my performance, I am always amazed and in awe of the level of emotion that Teresa Ruiz brought to her performance. I always really felt like it was a love story and she introduced him to the real love of his life, who is God.

But that being said, I didn’t ever want to ask her anything too personal while we were making the movie. But every time, oh my God, one take, another take, another take, the tears, and the tears.

Then the director is like, oh, do it on the left side first and when he (Mark as Stu) says this, make it come down the right.  And so, she is doing this and we are making a movie in 30 days.

CO-STARS. Mark Wahlberg on co-star Teresa Ruiz: “I am always amazed and in awe of the level of emotion that Teresa Ruiz brought to her performance.” Courtesy of Sony Pictures

We shot this movie – it’s pretty ambitious in its size and scope, we don’t have time to go off in the corner and go off for 30 minutes thinking about something terrible that happened or do these acting exercises or blow menthol in your eyes for the fake tears. But it was all real.

So, when we finally watched the movie together at my house, I was like, can I ask you a question, and she’s like, yeah. I was like, you must have been through a lot because I had never been to acting school so I always just draw on my real-life experiences in playing these parts.

I lost my mom through the movie and I have been through a lot of emotional things and knowing Stu’s journey and seeing my dad (Donald, who died in 2008) lose his physicality the way that Stu did, I was doing as much of an imitation of my dad with the hands and everything as I was with Stu.

So, I said to her finally, you must have been through so much in your life. She goes, no, I have had a very simple, easy life.  I said, how did you get to that place so easily?

She said, I really just prayed for God’s intercession in the beginning and here it was all the time.  I said, but you don’t understand, take after take, you are always bringing it.  Then you make me cry in scenes where I am not supposed to be crying. I just start crying, too.

This is not the first time you played a boxer. In The Fighter, Manny Pacquiao inspired you in your portrayal of Micky Ward. How did you train to play a boxer this time around?

The boxing stuff was easy because I had done it for so long. It was really second nature to me.  So we just worked on the choreography a little bit and then we just threw it out the window.

My best friend Ace (Anthony H. Thomas) is one of the fighters.  My chef Lawrence (Duran) plays the other fighter. He looks like Jesus with the beard and the tattoos. He’s a great boxer. He works out at Wildcard and stuff.  So we just boxed.

Then we brought in Brian Ortega from the UFC who is a great fighter.  We shot all the fights in one day, on the first day. So I was trying to be as lean and in shape as possible up until the first day.

Then after that, I was so excited about how I can eat whatever I want.  I said, okay, I have a plan to have 7,000 calories a day for the first two weeks and then 11,000 calories a day for the final four weeks.

And one was a lot of high protein and then starch and then sodium to get bloated.  But the first meal was the only good meal.

We were boxing all day and my guy was grilling up these porterhouse steaks outside the trailer. We brought this little barbecue grill.

We worked all day and then we were able to sit there and have this big, beautiful meal. I had a steak, baked potato and everything.  I was so stuffed.

When I went home, I laid down and there was a knock on my door. I was like, what the heck is going on.  I get up and it’s like, meal number two is ready.

I was like, what, I am still full from the last one. It was just depressing after that and then the whole thing was downhill.

NEW FILM. Mark Wahlberg on movies like ‘Father Stu:’ ‘If these films can touch somebody or point somebody in the right direction, help somebody who is going through difficult times, that is a beautiful thing.’ Courtesy of Sony Pictures

How does your faith inspire you in your career?

It was one of those things where I was always kind of working on myself.  I was like, okay, I got this idea, this ambition, I want to build this company, this brand.

Then it was like, okay, what am I going to do with it?  I know God didn’t bless me in this way to forget about where I came from, even with all the stuff I do with the foundation.

It was like, the clock is ticking now, it’s time to utilize the gifts that I have given you in the reasons and ways in which I want you to use them. It’s funny because that’s how life is. God is not going to give you something you can’t handle. He will always put you in the right position at the right time.

So I have always been a person of faith but I knew that, especially now, there’s so much emphasis on negativity and not enough on positivity, that I really wanted to start to promote that kind of message.

I wanted to get that out there because I know what it’s like for people who feel they have been written off and they don’t have an opportunity or a second chance at life, in real life, not in entertainment or things of that nature, but real life, those prisoners.

One of the movie’s themes is how providence is in charge of everything, where you are in your life and where you have been. In that regard, you were supposed to be on one of those planes that figured in 9/11.

I had booked flights on one of those planes but then a week later, we decided to go instead to the film festival in Toronto. I went to your HFPA party and then of course, like everybody else, I woke up the next morning and realized that planes were crashing into the towers.

Then we realized after that we had had the tickets but it was just one of those things where I didn’t really think about it that much.

But does that play into your faith at all?

Our time is our time and God knows when our time is and we don’t, unfortunately.  But that’s why I try to live every moment to the fullest and certainly, I go through life with that attitude and gratitude.

I have been very fortunate and blessed and I know God is very real, certainly very real to me. I have had so many other things too that have happened in my life that I got to thank God for on a daily basis.

What does producing give you that acting does not?

Creative control.  If we are going to go down, I would like to be in the driver’s seat.  If we are bombing down the highway at 200 miles an hour, I don’t want to be in the passenger seat. I want to be in control.

Sometimes I appreciate the fact that when I am just an actor for hire, I am just sitting there, I see these problems occurring and I am like, I could raise my head and tell you how we can save ourselves a lot of time and money.

But you don’t seem to want to listen to anybody so I will be in my trailer.  But with movies like this, I have always had aspirations to produce.

That started from a position of not getting the first look, the second look, third look (at projects). I was always kind of waiting for Brad Pitt or somebody else to pass on a movie.

So I just wanted to be in control of my own destiny. I started to seek out material that I thought was worthy of making and things that could be right for me.

I started to develop those things, whether I was buying a book or with The Fighter, I had been trying to figure out my own path since day one.

So, producing and especially now even with financing, I would definitely be willing to go down that road because I just like the idea of doing my own thing, as well as working with hopefully some really talented young filmmakers.

We will see how far I am willing to go, even as an actor and an artist, maybe this will bring the next great role or the next great relationship with a filmmaker to me, even though I plan on doing at least two other films with Rosie.  Yeah, I like to be in control.

Was the family of Father Stu involved in the making of the film? And if they have seen the film, how did they react?

Yes, they were very supportive of us making the movie.  We had a very short window to make the film and we were making it during the pandemic so they weren’t really involved in the actual physical principal photography.

But I spent quite a bit of time with Bill’s (Stu’s father) family and friends in preparing for the role and then of course after, we actually did the premiere of the film in Helena, Montana at Carroll College with Bill and all of Stu’s congregation.

That was a bit nerve-wracking. But they absolutely were laughing, cheering and crying. It was a special experience.  Nothing worse than if they don’t like it. I have seen that happen before.

ON SUCCESS. Mark Wahlberg says ‘I have had many struggles and ups and downs as I continue to grow but I really credit all of my success, both professionally and especially personally, to my faith.’ Courtesy of HFPA

Mel Gibson had his own spiritual journey. Did you and Mel have a chance to talk about your shared faith?

When we were making the movie, we really didn’t have much time.  If we were doing a scene together, we would have a little bit of time to chat but we were moving so fast.

At lightning speed to be able to make this movie with this kind of size and scope, we shot it in 30 days. That’s all we could afford.  But for me, all the good things in my life I credit to my faith.

From having a difficult childhood, being born into an area that was plagued with violence, gangs, drugs and all that stuff. I was right there in the thick of it.

But once I really started focusing on my faith, good things started to happen. That was a very simple, obvious and direct thing for me, like okay, this really works, this is what I am going to stick with.

And of course, I have had many struggles and ups and downs as I continue to grow but I really credit all of my success, both professionally and especially personally, to my faith.

What are your future projects?

I want to do long form, short form film, and television. I want to find other great stories, storytellers, young filmmakers.

It was so wonderful to have discovered Rosie, knowing her talent as a writer but to give her an opportunity as a first-time director. I knew she had aspirations to direct and nothing better than discovering new talent and great voices.

And so now that we have put it out there, lots of great stuff is already coming to us, which is nice. I have always felt like my best projects are yet to come.  And I have always joked that I hope that God is a movie fan because I have made some films that are a bit questionable.

But would I change?  I would like to say no because I don’t ever want to compromise my artistic integrity because of my faith but because I am a parent and a husband. Those things definitely come into play anyway.

So I don’t necessarily gravitate towards things that have a lot of sexuality although I just did a movie (Me Time) with Kevin Hart. The first time you see me, I’m stark naked on the dock in the middle of the day with fifty other naked people behind me getting ready to go to my birthday party.

My wife is seeing the movie today so I am going to have to do some explaining. I didn’t tell her that yet but hopefully, she will think it’s funny because the movie is very funny.

I am making another movie now and it’s great. When you make movies that touch people, it’s just very gratifying.  Even making a small film like Joe Bell or even making this movie, they are just much more rewarding.

And if these films can touch somebody or point somebody in the right direction, help somebody who is going through difficult times, that is a beautiful thing. – Rappler.com

Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.