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For Mel Gibson, feeling passionate about a faith-based project in Hollywood hits close to home.
The actor has teamed up with Mark Wahlberg to star in “Father Stu,” which tells the tale of an amateur boxer-turned priest (Wahlberg) in Montana who suffers from a degenerative and incurable muscular disorder.
The story is based on the real-life Father Stuart Long, who leaned on faith during tough times. Long passed away in 2014 at age 50. Wahlberg, a Catholic devout, also serves as a producer for the biopic.
Gibson, who produced, directed and co-wrote the 2004 biblical film “The Passion of the Christ,” told Fox News Digital that taking on “Father Stu” was a no-brainer.
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“You know, I had a pretty big experience with ‘The Passion,'” the 66-year-old explained. “That was an interesting journey to understand that there’s a real thirst for this kind of content out there. People want it, and they respond well to it. So it’s a privilege to be a part of that delivery.”
“I think ‘Father Stu’ offers that,” the star continued. “It’s a little different. I wouldn’t really call it a faith-based film, but I think it hits all those cravings that the community wants. But at the same time, it’s not preaching to the choir. It’s got F-bombs , so you do have to weather those things to get to the jewel.”
When it came to bringing “Father Stu” to life, there were some challenges along the way. Wahlberg, 50, previously noted he spent six “slow years” trying to get the movie made. And when the time finally came, the project was filmed in 30 days during the coronavirus pandemic in 2021. Like Gibson with “Passion,” Wahlberg self-financed his film with the help of two collaborators.
Wahlberg also described how he faced resistance not only from studios to make “Father Stu,” but also from the church for its usage of the F-word. The actor said he wanted to share an uplifting message while staying faithful to Long’s journey from “self-destruction to redemption.”
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Gibson, who played Wahlberg’s father, said he wasn’t surprised by the opposition his co-star faced over the years.
“I think we’re really fortunate that the material was placed in the hands of a very competent and talented young writer who was able to take the story from the page to the screen,” he said. “I think that’s what makes the difference. It’s about the execution and how it comes to life. You laugh through most of the film until you cry. And the reason you’re laughing and crying is that it’s hitting truth.”
Gibson described how he was impressed by Wahlberg’s physical transformation to play Long. Wahlberg, who is known for chronicling his no-nonsense daily fitness regimen, gained 30 pounds by eating 11,000 calories a day for up to eight months. He packed on the pounds by eating a dozen eggs, a dozen pieces of bacon, two baked potatoes, a Porterhouse steak, two bowls of white rice, as well as drinking a glass of olive oil.
“He hit his mark,” the Academy Award winner chuckled about Wahlberg’s commitment. “He ate everything in sight for like a month. And mind you, it was only a 30-day shoot. He had to start eating peanut butter sandwiches and stuffing himself with spaghetti, steak and cups of lard.”
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“I don’t know how he did it,” Gibson continued. “I don’t have to try to do that. I just have to live normally and I blimp out. But he had to put in some effort. And then he managed to get it all off, which I can’t do no matter what I try. But I’ll ask him for some advice.”
Gibson said he’s grateful Wahlberg was successful in releasing “Father Stu,” a story that offers plenty of life lessons audiences can identify with.
“He looked into himself and who he was as a person,” said Gibson about the real-life Long. “He came to accept his mortality and what he could do. You know, we’re all gonna get hit with something, either an illness or just some horrible, unfortunate mishap. We’re all going to experience something that’s going to affect us emotionally or physically. So how do you deal with those things? How do you heal? That’s the lesson for me.”
Wahlberg explained in February to Fox Nation why “Father Stu” is needed now.
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“People need to have faith and hope,” he said at the time. “I just knew that I needed to make this movie, and this was my calling and this was my mission. And, now, it’s needed more than ever.”
“Hopefully, it will do some really important work and help a lot of people,” he continued. “It’s certainly a turning point for me in my life… I need to stop focusing so much on Mark and start doing much more work for God and for less fortunate people.”
When asked about the film’s message to audiences, Wahlberg said it was simply about “not giving up.”
“God’s not going to give up on you,” encouraged the actor. “Don’t you dare go giving up on yourself.”