Mark Wahlberg on faith and “Father Stu”
The actor talks about his new, true-story movie and the impact of his Catholic beliefs
Actor, producer, and entrepreneur Mark Wahlberg was addicted to cocaine at age 13. At 16, after assaulting a man, he became a convicted felon, serving 45 days of a two-year sentence. He credits a parish priest, Father Flavin, for helping him leave a life of drugs and violence and embrace the Catholicism of his childhood. Today, Wahlberg is a devoted Catholic and family man with four children. He regularly attends Mass and prays the rosary, and says, “It’s not about the Church. It’s about the Man who built it.”
Wahlberg’s views are complicated: Despite his Catholic beliefs, he has also starred in raunchy films such as 2012’s Ted, along with last year’s gay-affirmation film Joe Bell. But he says his faith motivates him to try to be a better person and produce movies like the new one he stars in, Father Stu, opening in theaters April 13. The film gives the true account of how a foul-mouthed, agnostic boxer from a broken, bereaved family embraces Catholicism, becomes a priest, and shares the gospel. Wahlberg spoke with me recently about the film and about his faith. His mother died during the filming of Father Stu, and he reflects on how faith sustains us during times of suffering. Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
I’ve heard you say this is the most important film you’ve ever done. Why is that?
Because Stu is challenging me now not only to push and spread the word of his message, but also to continue to do more meaningful and fulfilling work myself that’s going to be able to affect people in a positive way. God is always bringing these different challenges to me, and I’m embracing those things and looking forward to doing more. Even if I can just get the ball rolling, I’m committed to finding other interesting, important stories to tell that I know will inspire and encourage people to also do their best and be a little bit better each day.
Father Stu tells the true story of a man who embraced faith in the midst of great suffering. What would you tell someone who is suffering deeply right now?
God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. All these things that you’re faced with can only make you stronger. And Father Stu handled everything, especially being diagnosed with an incurable disease, with such dignity and grace. I’ve dealt with a lot of loss during a short amount of time, and getting to know Stu, preparing to make this movie, and dealing with loss — it’s really helped me in significant ways to celebrate all the wonderful times and the good things. Him saying that his suffering brought him closer to Christ is really special.
Did you worry that the amount of bad language in the movie might turn off some of your target audience?
Well, I think there are a lot of faith-based movies that are pretty down the middle, that preach to the choir. This is a movie that I wanted to speak to everybody. This is a movie about a guy who really had to achieve tough mercy and tough grace. To do that in a very authentic, real way, we needed to speak the language that Stu spoke and that I hear every day. We want to convert new people. We certainly didn’t want to offend anybody.
I can tell you this: The archdiocese frowned upon the language and did not give me their full support until I made the movie and showed it to them. Then they gave me the most glowing reviews and their unconditional support. Some of the best reviews and reactions to the movie came from the people who were most concerned about the language.
Stu only could go into a prison ministry situation and speak the language because he was one of those guys. You want to hear the Word from people who speak your language and who understand and have credibility. It’s one thing to hear from somebody who’s read it in books. It’s another thing for people to have experienced it in real life. You see the change Stu made — the conversion. When he committed to God, that commitment was unwavering. Nothing could deter him from serving his God.
Regarding your own faith commitment, how do you personally keep growing in Biblical understanding?
Through prayer. It just starts with me getting on my hands and knees and expressing gratitude. And then asking for guidance to navigate in the world that I’m in and with the expectations that have been set for me, with God and with what’s been given to me. I have a picture of Father Stu in the middle of my desk that I look to every day and pray for his intercession. Then daily devotions every single day. That’s how I start every single day. Then I go downstairs and if it’s a workout day, I do that, and then I feel better. So I feel physically strong. I feel spiritually strong.
Then I’ve gotta go wake up the kids. We’ve got three teenagers. Who knows, that could turn the day upside down within minutes. Whatever you thought was going to be this beautiful, blessed day could quickly derail, and you’re putting out fires, and dealing with lots of crazy stuff.
It’s a routine — a disciplined approach to making sure it’s there every day. Because if not, you’ll start to crack.
You’re going against the grain in Hollywood with a movie like this, right?
Well, yeah. But I’ve always been judged on the work that I do, and so I take a lot of pride when someone is going to take a risk and give me a job. I make sure that I overdeliver in every respect. I don’t jam my faith down anybody’s throat, but I also don’t deny it.
I just kinda do my job and am super appreciative to have the opportunities. What am I going to do with all these beautiful blessings that have been bestowed upon me? I know what to attribute my success to. And even the work ethic comes from my faith, and that work ethic has been instilled by the work that I do with becoming a better person. I try to use that approach in everything I do. If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, it’s also given me the strength to accept the outcome.
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