From “Ray” to “Hotel Rwanda,” from “Monster” to “Milk,” the Hollywood biopic has proved to be a rich source of both storytelling and awards-season recognition. Often, though, it is the legacies of the real-life people who the likes of Charlize Theron and Sean Penn portray — rather than their accents, their mannerisms, their quirks — that have stayed in the public consciousness.
Not so in the case of “Invictus,” the true story of Nelson Mandela and the South African national rugby squad’s World Cup journey in 1995. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela and Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the team’s captain and a hero in his native land.
“He’s Michael Jordan in South Africa,” Damon told MTV News in a recent interview.
Damon hit the gym to bulk up to the size of a professional athlete and admitted to feeling a bit of pressure in becoming Pienaar. Yet his challenge paled in comparison to Freeman’s.
“I had the advantage of every time I got nervous about it, I looked over at Morgan and he is playing Mandela,” he said. “He’s definitely got a bit more of a burden.”
It was a burden of which Freeman was well aware. “This may be one of the most challenging I’ve ever attempted simply because you’re playing an extant, living person — one who lives now — and who all of the world knows, is very familiar with, the way he walks, him,” he told MTV News. “The challenge is to get that nailed in such a way you’re not laughable — you’re not caricaturing in an attempt to get it.”
“The danger, particularly with Morgan because Mandela’s so recognizable and so unique, the way he talks and the way he is — to not fall in imitation,” Damon explained. “Morgan can do an imitation of Mandela that is just literally perfect. But that’s not what this is about. It has to come through him.”
Added Freeman, “You have to sustain it.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Invictus.”
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