'This is my mission': Mark Wahlberg talks new movie 'Father Stu,' faith, family and more

·6 min read

BOSTON – Mark Wahlberg walks into the corner suite of the Four Seasons Hotel on Dalton Street and beelines for the floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around the spacious eighth-floor room overlooking the city. He pauses to take in the view, which, fittingly, is of a place of worship: a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling Christian Science Plaza, with its iconic church and 686-foot-long reflecting pool.

Wahlberg, 50, is in Boston hosting a hometown screening of his latest movie, "Father Stu." The occasion has the Dorchester native in a reflective mood, talking to local media gathered to interview the star ahead of the movie’s April 13 release. The Sony Pictures film recounts the inspiring story of the Rev. Stuart Long, a boxer-turned-priest who dies of a degenerative muscle disease at the age of 50. Wahlberg, a devout Catholic, plays Long.

“It’s exactly the kind of movie the world needs right now,” Wahlberg said. “With everything that’s going on, people need to feel hope and joy and they need a reason to believe.”

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in a scene from "Father Stu."
Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in a scene from "Father Stu."

Alma, always

This visit is Wahlberg’s first trip home since his beloved mother, Alma, died a year ago after a battle with dementia. As the end credits scroll, a message reads: “In Loving Memory of Alma Wahlberg.” That the film releases during Holy Week and on the anniversary of her death feels a bit “divine,” Wahlberg said.

“It’s strange to be home,” Wahlberg said, fighting tears. “She was always my first phone call right when I landed, and I didn’t do that this time. It feels … I don’t know … weird.”

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Wahlberg said being on the set of "Father Stu" brought him comfort during his mother’s illness.

“She was in my thoughts every day and she’s still in my thoughts every day,” he said. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my mother. I lean on my faith and family for strength. That helps.”

Donnie, Alma, Paul and Mark Wahlberg at the 2011 opening of Wahlburgers.
Donnie, Alma, Paul and Mark Wahlberg at the 2011 opening of Wahlburgers.

South Shore ties

Wahlberg grew up in Dorchester, but he has deep South Shore connections. He and his brothers, actor and New Kids on the Block singer Donnie Wahlberg (“Blue Bloods”), and chef Paul Wahlberg, own Wahlburgers and Alma Nove, both at the Hingham Shipyard. The restaurant's name is a tribute to Alma and her nine children.

In recent years, Wahlberg has donated $400,000 to renovate the gym and school hall at St. Edward Elementary School in Brockton, in addition to giving $20,000 to restore the basketball courts at West Elementary School in Plymouth through the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation.

The day before stopping in Boston, Wahlberg was in Helena, Montana, visiting Long’s grave and hosting a screening of “Father Stu” in the priest’s hometown.

“It was very emotional. We had a great turnout. Even people who are not Catholic, or religious at all, are finding something to identify with.”

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Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”) co-stars, playing Long's father, Bill. Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”) plays Long’s mother, Kathleen, with Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) as Msgr. Kelly, the seminary rector. Gibson's longtime girlfriend, Rosalind Ross, wrote and directed "Father Stu." She is a graduate of Emerson College, with a degree in writing and literature.

Kathleen Long (Jacki Weaver), Stuart (Mark Wahlberg) and Bill Long (Mel Gibson) in a scene from "Father Stu."
Kathleen Long (Jacki Weaver), Stuart (Mark Wahlberg) and Bill Long (Mel Gibson) in a scene from "Father Stu."

Parallel lives

Wahlberg, who served 45 days in jail for assaulting a Vietnamese man when he was 16, doesn’t deny the parallels between his life and Long’s. Both spent a lot of their youth fighting and drinking. Eventually, Long moved to California to become an actor. He felt the call to the priesthood after nearly dying in a motorcycle crash. Wahlberg said he identified with that need for redemption.

“We both had troubled pasts. He figured it all out, but I’m still working on things,” Wahlberg said.

The drive to make the movie was intense, but an R-rated, faith-based drama laced with F-bombs was a “tough sell,” he said. To facilitate its transition from script to screen, Wahlberg sunk a chunk of his own cash into fulfilling his vision.

“When I first heard about Father Stu, I knew I wanted to make the movie,” he said. “I always look for roles I can personally connect with. It took six years, but I knew I would make it. I want to share Father Stu’s story with the world. This is my mission.”

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in a scene from "Father Stu."
Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in a scene from "Father Stu."

The role required Wahlberg to add 30 pounds to his famously buff physique. He had six weeks to do it, consuming “7,000 calories for the first two weeks and then 11,000 calories for the final four weeks," Wahlberg said. “It wasn’t fun. Eating every three hours took a toll on me.” (On this day, Wahlberg looks closer to when he was a Calvin Klein underwear model.)

In a separate interview, writer-director Ross said “Father Stu” was such a perfect match of actor and material.

“Mark surrendered to the role. It required such humility and grace, and he really embodied all the most beautiful qualities of Stu,” she said. “When I was writing, I envisioned a role for him that was really challenging and would defy everyone’s expectations.”

Mark Wahlberg attends a special screening of his newest movie, "Father Stu," at AMC Boston Common on April 5, 2022, in Boston.
Mark Wahlberg attends a special screening of his newest movie, "Father Stu," at AMC Boston Common on April 5, 2022, in Boston.

Porn star to priest

Wahlberg launched his career as rapper Marky Mark in 1991, enjoying success with his debut album, “Music for the People.” He took up acting in 1994 with a role in “Renaissance Man,” and became a bona fide star going back-to-back playing Reese Witherspoon’s crazed boyfriend in “Fear” and outshining Leonardo DiCaprio as a teen drug addict in “The Basketball Diaries.”

Since then, he has been in more than 50 movies, best known for his critically acclaimed roles, such as a porn star in “Boogie Nights”; a Boston police officer in “The Departed,” for which he earned a best supporting Oscar nod; and Lowell boxer Micky Ward in the Oscar-nominated “The Fighter.”

He also became one of Hollywood’s go-to action stars for his work in the “Transformers” franchise, “Patriots Day,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “The Italian Job,” “Lone Survivor” and the recent blockbuster “Uncharted.” Showing further range, Walhberg also flexed his comic chops in “The Other Guys” opposite Will Ferrell, “Ted” and “Daddy’s Home,” the latter two filmed in Boston.

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in a scene from "Father Stu."
Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in a scene from "Father Stu."

Ross said she is teaming with Wahlberg to make another movie next year, but can’t yet reveal specifics (though it’s rumored to be a biopic about Patriots coach Bill Belichick).

“It’s another true story about a very colorful and complicated man,” Ross said.

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As he steals another gaze out of the big picture windows, Wahlberg takes stock of his own intentions for this Lenten season.

“I used to give things up but now it’s to do more and to be better. It’s not about giving up, it’s about giving more.”

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Reach Dana Barbuto at dbarbuto@patriotledger.com.

This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: In Boston interview, Mark Wahlberg talks 'Father Stu,' faith, family