Directed by first-time director Rosalind Ross, Father Stu tells the real-life story of Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg), a former amateur boxer who moves to L.A. to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. While looking for his big break, he falls for a young devoted Catholic woman named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). To win her over, Stuart begins attending church and learning about Christ. After surviving personal and physical trauma, Stuart starts to wonder if his calling might be serving God as a priest. As he follows this path, he faces both skepticism and medical problems. Nevertheless, he continues to pursue his journey while inspiring everyone around him.
Father Stu is Mark Wahlberg’s passion project. In it, he not only takes the lead role but also serves as producer. In a college roundtable interview, he discussed how personal this project is to him and the details regarding his involvement in creating the film.
Regarding what first drew him to Father Stu’s story, Wahlberg explained that he connected with Father Stu personally.
“Well, it’s an amazing, amazing story. There isn’t a single reason that I could find to not want to make the movie. I mean, if you think about selfish reasons, as an actor, what an amazing role to play. I mean, talk about an arc and journey as a storyteller, but most importantly, as a man of faith,” Wahlberg said. “And, you know, the reason for all of my success and all the positive things in my life, both personally and professionally, are because of my faith and my dedication to my faith.”
Speaking of the film’s universality, he believes there is a way for people from all walks of life to feel inspired by Father Stu’s story.
“It’s a human story. This is really about love and inclusion and acceptance. It’s a wonderful redemption story. And yeah, so I wanted to make a movie for everybody,” Wahlberg explained. “It so happens that he became a Catholic priest, but if Stu had met somebody else who was touched in some sort of other way, he might have gone on to pursue some other vocation and faith. But yeah, I’ve made the movie for everybody for sure.”
As an established Hollywood actor, Wahlberg finds a perfect outlet to tell inspiring stories like Father Stu’s in motion pictures.
“It's just for me, it is the ultimate art form, to not only entertain but also to educate and inform and just even to provoke—provoke dialogue [and] conversation,” Wahlberg said.
When talking about his preparation for the role, Wahlberg compared it to a student studying for exams: “You know, I would make the comparison of you guys: you prepare all semester long, you're studying, you're getting ready. By the time you get your finals, you’d better be damn ready to take those finals because all the preparation, all the work was put into the time leading up to that. So, I had a good six months to really prepare. All the time that I took and really trying to grow as a person through my faith was helpful and all the real-life experience that I had to draw on.”
Mark Wahlberg mentioned how he found the strength to overcome personal difficulties in his faith, just like his character.
“You look at how Stu handled his sickness and all the adversity that he faced. He handled it with dignity and grace. He actually embraced it to the point where he felt, ‘This suffering is bringing me closer to God. Give me more of it.’ And I think it's an amazing way to deal with the inevitable, right?”
Discussing how the film came to be, Wahlberg disclosed that Father Stu’s director, Rosalind Ross, wasn’t attached to the project from the beginning. Wahlberg said, “We had one draft of the script that wasn't good. And I was like, I’ve got to kind of figure this out on my own. I went to Mel [Gibson] just to kind of pick his brain about how he made The Passion of the Christ, and what it took for him to get it made. Then, I talked to Rosie [Ross] and I read some of her work.” Wahlberg continued, “And so we had a great conversation. She goes, ‘I'd really like to take a crack at this,’ and I was like, ‘All right, I'm gonna go make a movie, and I'm kind of in a holding pattern.’ She went off and wrote, and she literally came back with a screenplay that I wanted to make.”
The actual filming process was also challenging; Wahlberg said, “We had 30 days to shoot the movie, which is not a lot of time. This movie is pretty big and ambitious in its scope.”
Talking about his co-star, Teresa Ruiz, Wahlberg said he strongly advocated for her to get the role of Carmen. Wahlberg said, “She was absolutely amazing in her audition and [when] we read together. And people [say] like, ‘Oh, it's always better to have a name.’ I said, ‘Everybody’s got to start somewhere. She’s gonna have a name after this movie.’”
Referring to other projects, Wahlberg said that he carefully analyzes the role he considers.
“It's a very selfish process, you know. I’m like, I need the script to be fantastic. I need the part to be fantastic. I need the filmmaker to be fantastic. If it’s not, you know, a proven writer-director, then I want more control. I want to be able to produce,” says Wahlberg, “Sometimes I’ll just go in as an actor for hire. I would love to work with a filmmaker like David Russell, or somebody who is just a writer-director, and you go, and you service their vision. And that’s always fun because, you know, you don’t have the responsibility of having to manage the rest of the movie.”
Father Stu, rated R, was released exclusively in movie theaters Wednesday, April 13.