The true and inspirational story of Vince Papale
He's a national hero in Philadelphia - Vince Papale - the 30-year-old bartender, who made it to the NFL and played with his hometown Philadelphia Eagles for three seasons.
It's what Hollywood movies are all about; and that's exactly what happened. Mark Wahlberg takes on the role of Vince in the new film, Invincible. We go along with Vince as his wife leaves him, as he loses his job as a part-time teacher, and his triumph at making onto the field of Veterans Stadium in Philly.
One man is basically responsible for all that happening, Dick Vermeil; in 1976, he was introduced as the new coach of the Eagles. Fresh off his stint as the head coach of the UCLA Bruins, Dick instituted an open try-out for anyone and everyone to play for the Eagles. Vince took a chance, and that chance paid off.
Greg Kinnear plays Dick Vermeil with the heart and compassion that is with the real man still to this day. We sat down with Greg and Mark to talk about what it was like to play two real people, still alive today.
Mark's first meeting with Vince was in New York; he hadn't done much research on him at all. He says he wanted mostly everything to be about the person Vince was, not what he saw on TV or read in the paper. "I had gotten the script, and then I saw this 90-second piece that they did on NFL Films about him, but that's pretty much about it. There were clips of him playing on the field and him talking about his accomplishment and his experience, but that was all I had. I really thought, after meeting with him, that the script captured his personality. I come from a blue-collar background, and most guys I know, he's too sweet, he doesn't - there was something, I didn't think rains through. I don't know too many guys who would take all that sh*t, and not explode. But he took all his frustrations out on the football field."
Greg knew he had to dig deep to find what made Dick choose Vince, a 30-year-old guy with no college football experience, over some of the veterans of the team. "He told me he would have dropped him in a second if he didn't see what he needed. He said he liked the idea of mixing it up a little, and thought it might be interesting for the players. He inherited a terrible team; it was a hail mary pass for him, and he needed some speed, and Vince really had great wheels. I think the fact that he had a great spirit resonated with Vermeil; he is that guy, he's a really spirited guy."
Mark made it known that he was ready for the big hits. "The big hits weren't as bad as they look in the movie; everybody's 'oh'ing. It's the little ones, like when someone steps on your hand with their cleat, or when you get your fingers tangled in someone's mask and they're running the other way; that's the stuff that really hurts. But they did a really good job; they had teams of guys to ice you up and do whatever they had to do to get you back on the field the next day. I did it all, I did it all; and if they had to do it from other angles where they didn't see my face, they would throw in a stunt guy. But every time there was a chance of seeing my face, I was in there."
As far as his helmet being a buffer, Mark says, "It protects you at times, but unfortunately, CGI isn't enhanced to the point where they can put your face in the helmet."
Greg had the chance to spend time with Dick during his last season of being a head coach in Kansas City; he realized what kind of person he wanted to portray on screen. "He let me stalk him for a few days; I was just so mesmerized about how much goes into creating one of these teams, and the energy that goes into every single moment. When I went to training camp, I went into his room, and he's in there with seven grandkids crawling all over the couches, and throwing spitballs at each other, and he's still watching film. I loved hanging with him, and I got to ask a lot of questions that I wouldn't have. I was always worried we were telling the wrong story here; but, he was an open book. I think the movie is fortunate that it's coming out at this time; this is 30 years after that time, and both Vince and Vermeil, they got a lot of distance between this and enough to be articulate about what was really happening. When you're too close to it, you've got all sorts of agenda's and it's hard to reflect in an honest way and say, 'This is what was happening back then.' They're both at a point in their lives that they know and they're very clear about it."
After accepting the role, Mark knew Vince was happy with his choice; it was the people of Philly that had Mark worried. "I was excited about the opportunity, I just thought it was a great character and a great opportunity for me, for everybody. I don't know how many times I've had to explain to my nieces and nephews why they can't see something that I did or they'll be no covering the eyes or blocking the ears on this one. I was more excited than worried; and I felt more pressure from the fans of Philadelphia than Vince. He was thrilled that we were making the movie and I was playing the part, but in Philadelphia, he is a hero. And they didn't want me or the production coming in and messing up their idea of Vince Papale. Philadelphia fans threw snowballs at Santa Clause; they're not quiet, they're not shy. They basically said, 'If you f*ck it up, don't come back to Philadelphia.' It was one of those deals. And we're going back there for the premiere, hopefully - hopefully, it'll be cool cause I have to go back there in two weeks to shoot another movie."
And that other movie, "Shooter with Antoine Fuqua right now; we're shooting in Vancouver right now. Then we move to Philly, then Baltimore, then DC."
Over the years, Greg has become a huge college football fan; he blames not having a team in LA as his reasons - and plus, his movie personality was the former UCLA coach. But Mark is a die hard New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox fan. I had to know if he would give up his career to play for the Sox. And after this past weekend series against the New York Yankees, GM Theo Epstein may institute a fan try-out. "It's so frustrating, cause I said I wouldn't care once they won it, that's it, I'm not going to pay attention anymore. I was the happiest guy in the world; and I was talking to my friend, and he's a big, big Yankees fan, and I just want to make him suffer. Now they're in second, and a risk of not even making the wild card; you get sucked in every year. I tell myself that I'm not going to care, because we got it once, but I'd like to see the Yankees fail miserably."
No need to be failing miserably on Invincible - it's a fantastic, wonderful, and inspirational film. It opens in theaters August 25th; it's rated PG.
He's not a big guy, but he is stocky and he's a strong guy. He's not very big and he's not very imposing; what's imposing about him is if this guy comes at you, he can just transform. One of his gifts as a coach, I think, is it's about tough love with him; he can turn it on, and all the guys can tell you he can turn it off like that. He plays his cards pretty close to his vest.