Mark Wahlberg has reached a point in his career where he wants his films to make a difference in people’s lives.

That is why he believes his latest movie, “Father Stu,” the redemptive true story of a longtime agnostic becoming a Catholic priest, is by far the most important movie that he’s ever made.

“This is me kind of transitioning to doing more meaningful work that serves a purpose in my faith. I’m always looking for new opportunities to do things that have a little bit more substance,” Wahlberg told the Deseret News. “Also, I’m getting older. I’ve been very blessed and fortunate, and so to do things, to utilize the talents and gifts that God has given me in this way is definitely what I’m supposed to be doing.”

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Wahlberg estimates that by the time he is done with “Father Stu,” he will have “definitely” done more interviews and personal promotion of this film than any other movie he has been a part of in his nearly 30-year acting career.

When does ‘Father Stu’ come out?

Father Stu” opens exclusively in theaters on April 13. The film is R-rated for strong language.

Actor Mark Wahlberg stands in a Catholic church in a scene in “Father Stu.”
Actor Mark Wahlberg plays the main character in a new film called “Father Stu,” the real-life story of a man who went from being an agnostic to becoming a Catholic priest. The film opens on April 13. | Karen Ballard, Columbia Pictures

Is ‘Father Stu’ a true story?

“Father Stu” tells the true story of Stuart Long, an amateur boxer from Montana who moved to Los Angeles to work as a supermarket clerk while hoping to launch an acting career in the late 1980s.

While in California, Long met and became fond of a Catholic Sunday school teacher named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). He started going to church to impress her before he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident and had a profound spiritual experience.

He survived his injuries with a new desire to become a Catholic priest.

Long died in 2014 after suffering from inclusion body myositis, a rare muscle disease with symptoms similar to Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS.

Wahlberg plays the role of Long, and his parents are played by Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver.

How Mark Wahlberg found Long’s story

Wahlberg, who also produced the film, was introduced to Long’s story by two priests — one who pitched the movie and the other who just wanted to order his fish and pasta after a long day, he said.

“Something about the story resonated with me,” Wahlberg said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here is another opportunity for me to do more and something with some real substance.’ I decided right then and there that I was going to get the movie made.”

Wahlberg financed the movie himself, according to National Catholic Register.

That was six years ago. Producing the film has been an uphill battle, Wahlberg said, but the movie turned out better than he expected.

“It has resonated with people in more ways than I thought it would,” he said. “People are seeing themselves or in some personal way they are identifying with the movie and it’s touching people. I couldn’t be more happy.”

Parallels between Wahlberg and Long

Long’s story has so many parallels to Wahlberg’s own faith journey that people who know the actor have asked if he wanted audiences to see him in the film?

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“No, it’s about Stu,” Wahlberg said. “But I challenge them — they would be hard-pressed to find somebody in my generation, an actor who would be better suited to play this role because there are so many parallels.”

When he was young, Wahlberg said he looked up to all the wrong people as role models. At one point, he realized there were other people who were doing positive things in the community and the church, and he should be looking to them as role models.

“Once I realized those are the people I should be inspired by, they kind of lit the flame and I started focusing more on my faith. As I did that, all these little wonderful things started to happen,” he said. “That’s why I attribute all of my personal and professional success to my faith in some sort of way.”

Mark Wahlberg stars as the title character in “Father Stu.”
Actor Mark Wahlberg plays the main character in a new film called “Father Stu,” the real-life story of a man who went from being an agnostic to becoming a Catholic priest. The film opens on April 13. | Karen Ballard, Columbia Pictures

How did Wahlberg prepare to play a priest?

One way Wahlberg prepared for the role was by performing masses and the duties of a priest each Saturday in his home.

His own life experiences as a Catholic prepared him for the role.

He placed a photo of Long on his briefcase cover and his scripts.

“He was always kind of watching me with a stern eye, challenging me to be better and do better,” Wahlberg said. “I still have his picture in the center of my desk at home. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. It wasn’t like, ‘OK, the movie is done, I got to put you away, Stu.’ No, we’re in it every day.”

What are ‘Father Stu’s’ main themes?

Wahlberg believes the film’s main themes center around faith, redemption, hope, tough mercy, tough grace, inclusion, acceptance, unconditional love and unconditional support.

“Glowing reviews and support” have allowed Wahlberg to feel validated for how he told the story.

Mark Wahlberg rides a motorcycle in “Father Stu.”
Actor Mark Wahlberg plays the main character in a new film called “Father Stu,” the real-life story of a man who went from being an agnostic to becoming a Catholic priest. The film opens on April 13. | Karen Ballard, Columbia Pictures

“We always had the best intentions to make the most powerful movie that would be most effective in bringing people together and reminding people about the important themes in the movie,” Wahlberg said.

What Mark Wahlberg wants ‘Father Stu’ audiences to know

Perhaps the biggest lesson audiences can learn from “Father Stu” is “nobody is beyond redemption,” Wahlberg said.

“We all deal with very, very difficult things and it’s how you approach those things to find the ultimate outcome,” he said. “Stu dealt with his afflictions and everything that he faced, all the adversity, with dignity and grace. I found it very inspiring. And so I want to continue to encourage people to never give up on people. We’re going to continue to support people and always find the good, see the good, in everybody.”

Learn more about “Father Stu” at fatherstumovie.com.