Mark Wahlberg didn't have to stretch to play Everyman-turned-NFL player Vince Papale in Disney's new sports drama "Invincible."
Before he was a B-list rapper and later an A-list actor, Wahlberg had his own well-documented struggles, dropping out of school, spending time in prison, getting down with the Funky Bunch. Those experiences prepared him to embody Papale, who went from the unemployment line to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 thanks to an open tryout and a lot of determination.
"South Philly and Dorchester are not much different except that maybe except for row houses you have triple-deckers," Wahlberg reflects. "And instead of maybe a Fenway Frank you have a cheesesteak. It's very similar, blue collar, hard-working, regular types of guys."
Since Wahlberg's Patriots don't share an NFL division with Papale's Eagles, the actor didn't have to feel guilty about slipping on the green-and-white football duds. Plus, he had history on his side.
"We had just beaten them in the Super Bowl the year before, so it wasn't a big deal," Wahlberg laughs. "But I did become an Eagles fan and really the reason behind that was because they are so loyal, 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. That's what it was. He wasn't trying to make the team for himself, he was trying to make the Eagles better."
Coming to "Invincible" off of working on Martin Scorsese's upcoming "The Departed," Wahlberg admits that he wasn't in game shape, but he worked hard to keep up with the film's football-playing extras. There's no movie magic used when an opposing blocker blasts Wahlberg clear off the screen in one shot.
"It wasn't as bad as it looks," Wahlberg says. "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."
Wahlberg had the advantage of having Papale on set regularly to give advice, as this marked Wahlberg's second time playing a real person.
"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," he says. "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 him. He would have been happy. I swear to god, he was just so happy the movie was being made."
But impressing Papale wasn't Wahlberg's only responsibility. Papale's story belongs to the fans of Philadelphia as much as to the man himself and those are the same fans who pelted Santa Claus with snowballs and J.D. Drew with batteries, making them high on the list of people you'd rather not disappoint.
"I got more pressure from people in Philly than I did from Vince," Wahlberg acknowledges. "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."
Audiences everywhere can determine if Wahlberg is still welcome in Philadelphia when Invincible opens on Friday, Aug. 25.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times