Mark Wahlberg suits up as real life sports hero Vince Papale in Invincible.
Mark Wahlberg, in his new film Invincible (opening Friday), plays Vince Papale, a 30-year-old laid-off teacher and part-time bartender who made it onto the roster of the Eagles NFL football team. In Philadelphia, where the movie was filmed, folks consider Papale their real-life Rocky Balboa – and in fact, the story takes place in 1976, the same year Rocky hit theaters. At a recent Los Angeles press day, Wahlberg took time to chat about the challenges of portraying a local hero.
Q: How did you prepare physically for this role?
A: Actually, days before, I’d finished another movie [Martin Scorsese’s The Departed] where I was asked to gain a lot of weight. So I came into [training] camp overweight and they were a little worried. But I just started running. I didn’t really lift weights. It was more about trimming down and looking like a wide receiver.
Q: Did you spend a lot of time with the real Vince Papale?
A: Yes, he likes to hang out and he’s a really great guy. He is the best salesman for his own story, because he is just so enthusiastic, so energetic and passionate. He’s a heroic guy in what he accomplished on the field. But what I’m really impressed with is who he is away from the field.
Q: What impressed you most about his personality?
A: Well, they did a good job of capturing him in the script. He’s a guy from South Philly and he’s got all these things that aren’t going his way - losing his job, his wife leaving him. But he just takes things as they come. The only thing he can control in his life is how much he gave to the Eagles, and that’s were he poured it all out.
Q: You are a Patriots fan. Did you have any issues playing an Eagle?
A: We had just beaten them in the Super Bowl the year before. But I did become an Eagles fan too, because they are so loyal and so passionate about their team. And that’s who Vince Papale was. He was a fan of the Eagles, so when he went out there, he played so hard because he was trying to help the Eagles win. He wasn’t trying to make the team for his own gain; he was trying to make the Eagles a better team - which was in fact the idea behind coach Dick Vermeil holding an open call tryout in the first place. He didn’t understand why the other guys in camp weren’t working as hard. And eventually it rubbed off - which was why he was named captain of special teams, something that had never happened before.
Q: Did you feel a great responsibility in playing a role based on a real person?
A: It’s a big deal. The only other time I had experienced that was in The Perfect Storm, and obviously it was an extremely sensitive subject because of the tragic loss of all those guys. But with Vince, he was just so happy to get the movie made. I mean, I swear to God, it didn’t matter if Jackie Chan was playing Vince. He would have been happy.
Q: How did you find out about the project?
A: Actually David Frankel, who directed the pilot of Entourage [the hit HBO series executive produced by Wahlberg and loosely based on his life], told me there was this great script and I think at one point he was interested in directing it and said, ‘Only you can play this part. You’ve got to see this.’ Then like a year later it turned around. And then I saw a 90-second piece from NFL Films and I was just blown away by it. That was more than enough to convince me to campaign to get the role.
Q: Coach Dick Vermeil (played in the film by Greg Kinnear) is obviously a big part of this story as well. Did you contact him about it?
A: I didn’t talk to Dick much about it, although Greg went to see him. I wanted it to be kind of fresh. We had a little bit of room to play with the beginning of the relationship. Greg had some interesting things to say. They [Papale, Vermeil] were both so young, both kind of in it for the first time. I think they got really close, really quick.
Q: What was it like to shoot in Philadelphia?
A: It was cool. I couldn’t imagine shooting it in New York or Toronto. You can’t fake Philly. But I got more pressure from people in Philly than I did from Vince. Everywhere I went, people reminded me how important the story was to them and if I screwed it up I was not welcome back in Philadelphia. It was one of those things. Being at Franklin Field and a huge event and having thousands and thousands of Philly fans out there, you had to just do it. And they’re not shy. These are fans who have thrown snowballs at Santa Claus. They are as hardcore as any sporting fans I’ve ever seen.
Q: Why do you think Hollywood is so fond of inspirational sports movies?
A: I imagine that Hollywood only makes movies if they think they will work, or they have worked in the past. I know why I like [sports movies]-- I like to see people succeed. I like to see people win. Certainly makes me happy.
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