When Hollywood rejected the idea of another Christian-based film, Mark Wahlberg — with the help of “God” — defied all odds to bring Americans a worthy motion picture.
For six long years, Mark Wahlberg shopped his Christian-based screenplay around to all the major studios. Even with his stellar track record within the Hollywood crowd, every single studio turned him down. They refused to fund his film, Father Stu, which tells the true story of “an incredible journey of faith and redemption of the boxer-turned-priest Father Stuart Long.”
On top of that, the Catholic Church was reluctant to get behind the film because of how vulgar the language in the movie is at times. “I was met with resistance not only from studios to make this movie, but also from the Church, which I was really surprised about,” Wahlberg recalled. “But then I realized, they opened to Page 1, and Bill’s using the F word, and in Page 2, he used it again. Then next thing you know, ‘this is vulgar and this is unacceptable’ without really understanding what the message was.”
“I think if you’d left the Passion of the Christ 20 minutes before the movie was over, you get the wrong message too,” Wahlberg added. “So it was important for us to just say, ‘OK, let’s go make the movie on our own and then bring it to them and then see what their response is.’ Then if it’s not, I will continue to grow to challenge why people are turning away, or why people are not accepting it because of various reasons or why this wouldn’t be accepted because of language?”
Refusing to give up, Wahlberg funded the movie himself because he felt that its powerful message was something the world needed to see. He said that the movie is about “love, hope, and redemption” and shows that “nobody is beyond the love of God and redemption.” Based on the reviews, it looks like the Oscar-nominated actor’s instincts were spot on with this film.
“It’s so nice to hear the kind of reaction that we’re hearing and people all being touched by the film for one reason or another,” Wahlberg said. “Nothing worse than being like, ‘OK, I’m obligated to go out there, promote with you, because I was paid to do the movie. It’s a different thing when you actually paid for the movie yourself.”
Wahlberg doesn’t take all the credit. He claims God intervened to help make this film. “But the movie was so blessed, and really many times there was a real intercession from some sort of higher power, I would have to say it would be God.” That type of intercession isn’t new to Mel Gibson, who also co-stars in Father Stu. The Oscar-winning director also personally funded Passion of Christ to the tune of $45 million. It was a wise decision, as the film grossed $475 million.
During the filming of Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster hit, two cast members had religious conversions. One actor who converted from being a self-proclaimed “angry atheist” was Luca Lionello, the actor who plays Judas. Near the end of production, Lionello accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
“He asked for confession,” explained Father Bartunek, who was the priest on location. “Apparently he had been completely transformed by the experience. He baptized his children, sanctified his marriage, and came back to the Church,” Bartunek added.
Not only did the film have a profound effect on the atheist actor who played Judas, but it also affected a cast member of the Islamic faith. “One of the guys working on the film was a Muslim,” recalled Jim Caviezel, who played Christ in the film. “He was one of the guards who beat me, and he converted. He had a real big experience there, you know?”
Naturally, not everyone who worked on the set of The Passion of the Christ experienced a religious epiphany, but many were affected in one way or another. “All the actors that worked on this film … it will stay with them the rest of their lives,” Caviezel said. “People will always come up to them, people will always ask them about the movie they were in, it will always be with them.” Making a film that glorifies Christ and brings people a message of faith might not be popular amongst many in the Hollywood crowd, but it sure is what most Americans want to see on the silver screen.