Mark Wahlberg Hits The Gridiron For Role In True-Life Tale ‘Invincible’

Actor had to get in shape after packing on pounds for Scorsese's upcoming 'The Departed.'

LOS ANGELES — After noteworthy stints as a druggie porn star in “Boogie Nights,” a psychotic beau in “Fear” and a master heist man in “The Italian Job,” Mark Wahlberg isn’t exactly known for churning out family-friendly fare. But that didn’t stop Disney from calling the 34-year-old actor to star in its new underdog biopic “Invincible,” slated for release next year.

The film, powered by the same production team that did two other Disney feel-good sports hits, “The Rookie” and “Miracle,” tracks the real-life story of Vince Papale (Wahlberg), a Philadelphia Eagles fan who beats the odds by living out every fan’s fantasy and earning a walk-on spot on his NFL hometown team in 1976.

“This guy is a hero,” Wahlberg said of his character at the “Four Brothers” DVD release party, thrown in conjunction with a charity basketball event benefiting his Youth Foundation. “He’s what every person who ever aspired to play in the NFL or professional sports wants to be.”

Papale was a down-on-his-luck 30-year-old substitute teacher and part-time bartender when he made the Eagles roster, after first-year head coach Dick Vermeil, played by Greg Kinnear (“As Good as It Gets”), invited fans to battle it out for an open spot. He became the oldest NFL rookie to play without any prior college football experience. He ended up playing on the team for three seasons.

“The guy became the heart and soul of the team and uplifted the whole city,” Wahlberg said. “[Papale] is the real Rocky Balboa of Philadelphia, and he’s an amazing guy, an amazing father and an amazing son. He has all the heart in the world.”

To get into gridiron shape for the part, the actor was pushed into an extensive training regime to slim down after packing on the pounds for his last role, as a cop in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “The Departed.” That film, slated to hit theaters in August, boasts an all-star cast including Leonardo DiCaprio as a young undercover officer, managed by Wahlberg, who’s assigned to gain access to a Boston mob ring run by Jack Nicholson’s gangland chief. Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen round out the ensemble.

Meanwhile, filming for “Invincible,” which will be the directorial debut of “The Fast and the Furious” cinematographer Ericson Core, has wrapped in Philadelphia. It is expected to hit theaters in the fall.

“I am not wanting to play any other sports right now,” Wahlberg joked. “Just a little bit of golf, but that’s it.”

The actor should have some time to practice his golf swing, since he plans to keep his schedule fairly light this year. That is, until summer rolls around, when production is anticipated to begin on “The Brazilian Job,” the sequel to the 2003 blockbuster hit “The Italian Job.” Wahlberg is expected to reprise his role as mastermind Charlie Croker, and his crew of thieves — including Charlize Theron, Mos Def, Seth Green and Jason Statham — is also expected to return. F. Gary Gray, who directed the first installment, has been approached to helm the sequel, and all the cast is waiting on right now is the script, Wahlberg says.

“A lot of movie sequels don’t live up to the original, so we want to make it as good, or better, and we’re all patient,” he said.

Wahlberg added that he is looking to spend more time with his daughter, Ella Rae, and isn’t opposed to taking more calculated risks about the projects he takes on.

“I’m only making movies now that I would want to see or that I think people would want to see me in,” he said. “I’ve done the work with great directors, so now I want to do what the people want to see.”

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