Mark Wahlberg Talks About the Football Movie, 'Invincible'

Wahlberg Plays Vince Papale in This Film Inspired by True Events

Mark Wahlberg stars as Vince Papale in Invincible
Mark Wahlberg stars as Vince Papale in Invincible. © Walt Disney Pictures

It's taken 30 years to make its way to the big screen but finally the Cinderella story of ex-teacher/bartender Vince Papale's triumph in the world of professional football comes to life on the big screen in Invincible. Papale captured the attention of Philadelphia Eagles fans when he made it onto the team after Coach Dick Vermeil held open tryouts. The film version stars Mark Wahlberg as the lifelong football fan who just wanted his hometeam to play with heart - and maybe win a few games.

Getting Physically Prepared for Invincible: “Well, actually I did a movie before that that I finished days before where I was asked to gain a lot of weight for that one," said Wahlberg. "I came into camp a little overweight and they were a little worried, but I just started running. Mostly running…I didn’t really lift weights. I had lifted weights to put on weight for the other film. It was more about trimming down and looking like a wide receiver, and that’s what I look like.”

After spending a lot of time running, Wahlberg significantly decreased his 40 yard dash time. “I started out at a 5.3 overweight and got down to a 4.7, but I haven’t run since. He had me doing so much running and jogging that literally I just went home and sat down. I didn’t go to the gym for like five months. I had to get ready to get back to work for the next movie, the James Gray movie [We Own the Night].”

The football action in Invincible is convincing and Wahlberg says he actually took the hits.

“Yeah, unfortunately. It wasn’t as bad as it looks. Everything was bruised and banged up. The bigger hits in the movie were actually the ones that didn’t hurt as much. A lot of clean hits. There were a couple of days where I wanted to kind of quit or tell them to take it easy. But I came in saying I wanted to be one of the guys trying to make the team like Vince was, so I had to earn the respect of the real football players and just tough it out.”

Hanging Out with the Real Vince Papale: “We spent a lot of time together. He likes to hang out. He likes to talk. [He’s a] great guy, really great guy. And it’s so hard because he is the best salesman for Vince Papale’s story, because he is just so enthusiastic, so energetic and passionate. He’s a great guy. He’s a heroic guy in what he accomplished on the field, but who he is away from the field is what I’m really impressed with.”

Wahlberg was surrounded by other real football players on the set of Invincible and had to earn their respect. “When a guy says, ‘Look, I’m here to make it as real as possible and once you cross into the lines it’s fair game…’ They might apologize to the coach afterwards for taking your head off, but they aren’t really going to apologize to you. But it was cool because it’s not like Vince is Rudy and goes out there and gets killed all the time. He was a very well-respected guy and feared by many coaches. He didn’t care. He would do everything he could to prevent the other team from beating the Eagles. And a guy with that much will and heart and determination, that is something to be leery of.”

The actor quickly figured out what it took to become friends with his football co-stars.

“A couple of days into shooting, I started having my buddy barbeque and have beer and s**t for everyone after the practice. We all had to sit around after getting iced up. There are only so many trainers [and] everybody has to get their ice and pop a bunch of ibuprofen before you get home, so you can at least get to sleep. It’s harder getting up the next day that’s for sure, when that stuff wears off. But yeah, those guys are out there risking their career to try and make some extra cash and be part of a movie. This is what they do for a living. They have to be on the field 12 hours a day no matter what. So I just wanted to make sure I was one of the guys out there with them.”

Mark Wahlberg’s Prior Football Experience: “I told them I played in college and all this other bulls**t - I obviously never went to college or high school (laughing).

But I grew up playing pretty much every sport. Football is like hockey in that it’s an expensive sport to play. You have to have the proper equipment and finding a place to practice and have games. So, if we had a football, we just played tackle on the streets, very similar to the sandlot games. But Vince was there every step of the way and one of the few times I got to have some fun with him was the first time I went to football camp. I acted like I couldn’t catch or run and he was a little freaked out.”

The Real Vince Papale vs. the Film Version: “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 not going his way. He’s not gonna be so nice about it. But he just takes things as they come and, you know, certainly can’t control other people what they want to do. His wife leaving and him losing his job… The only thing he can control is how much he gave to the Eagles and that’s where he poured it all out.”

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Playing a Philadelphia Eagle: Wahlberg, a New England Patriots fan, didn't have any issues with playing an Eagle. “We had just beaten them in the Super Bowl the year before, so it wasn’t a big deal. But I did become an Eagles fan and really the reason behind that was because they are so loyal, so passionate about their team. 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. That’s what it was. He wasn’t trying to make the team for himself; he was trying to make the Eagles better. He didn’t understand why the other guys in camp weren’t working as hard. Eventually it rubbed off, which was why he was named captain of special teams - which had never happened before.”

The Added Responsibility of Playing a Real Person: Wahlberg readily admits playing a real person was a big deal for him. “The only other time I had experience 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 and I mean, I swear to God, it didn’t matter if Jackie Chan was playing me. (Laughing) He would have been happy. I swear to God, he was just so happy the movie was being made.”

Of course there had to be changes made in order to make the story more accessible onscreen, but Papale was there to make sure the basic story was told.

“He was very involved in every step of the way, as far as the script was concerned.”

Wahlberg explains why the script differed from the true story in some instances: “I don’t think they took any liberties that were part of his life. I just didn’t think they had enough room to put everything in there, in a certain part of his life, before he made the team.

I thought one of the most interesting things that I always used to talk about was after he won the first game for the Eagles. What was his life like? He was the King of Philly for a long time so I wanted to know about all the things he was doing with Denny Franks and how they were treated, and how much advantage he took of that. We’ve had similar experiences. He’s interesting to talk to. He’s a really good guy.”

Coming Soon – The Departed for Director Martin Scorsese: Wahlberg has a role in the Scorsese film, The Departed, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and Matt Damon. Wahlberg, who had to put on weight for the role, says he had a good time working with the acclaimed filmmaker. “It was a great experience. He let me go nuts. He said, ‘Do what you want, say what you want.’”

Is there a chance for anyone to stand out when you’re working on a project with a lot of big name actors? Wahlberg answered, “I don’t know. You’d have to see it. I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve seen some stuff during looping, but you know you got the sense that everybody was trying to do their thing. We’ll see how it turns out. It’s a pretty good ensemble. Everyone has an opportunity to do their thing.”

Wahlberg’s Current Project – Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter: Fuqua’s an interesting man and Wahlberg says he’s impressed with Fuqua’s style.

“He’s impressed me every single day. We are trying to make a really smart movie that has some action, obviously has some action to satisfy the studio people spending $60, 70 million, but it certainly has its own point of view. He’s shooting the s**t out of it and it’s tough because it’s very physically demanding in many ways for me – and certainly a huge mental challenge. It’s much more of a talky instead of a shoot ‘em up action movie.

He’s extremely smart about the material [and] I’m approaching this one like a play. I don’t know how many four or five page monologues. So, I just keep reading the entire script over and over. We’re just jumping back and forth and he’s always on top of it. He has real interesting things and suggestions, and you never really know until it’s done. But we have a great cast: Ned Beatty, Danny Glover, Michael Pena, Elias Koteas.

Levon Helm plays this amazing…I can’t really get into it.”

Working on Shooter is definitely challenging Wahlberg as an actor. “He’s making me work harder. S**t, I’m on this barge and we’re on this river. He’s on this other barge and I can’t even see him. And they are like, ‘All right, jump into the water and hold on to this rope with one hand going backwards against the current, but don’t let go.’ I mean, the water is polluted. And I say, ’Antoine, you know this water is polluted.’ And he’s like, ‘That’s why you get the big bucks.’ (Laughing) He thought I was on a harness and I said, ‘You can’t be in a harness, because if something happens you’ll get ripped under.’ There is all sorts of undertow in the river and when you finally let go you’re fighting the current. You’re about 50 or 60 yards away from the barge and you’ve got to wait for another boat to come in and they are screaming, ‘Don’t let that boat come in! We didn’t cut yet!’ And I’m like, ‘It’s the rescue boat!’”