Behind the Scenes of ‘Father Stu’: An Interview with Rosalind Ross

Commentary“If it could only accomplish one thing, I hope it would be imparting the message to people that it’s never too late to change or to redeem yourself.” So said Rosalind Ross in a recent interview with The Epoch Times about her upcoming film, “Father Stu,” which premieres nationwide on April 13. As the film’s writer, director, and executive producer, she is perhaps best qualified to discuss the intentions behind this true story of a rebellious boxer turned priest. Some might be skeptical of Ross’s statement, coming from a Hollywood person. What would anyone involved in the often corrupt film industry know about changing for the better? If that’s what you’re thinking, I don’t blame you. Hollywood has done very few commendable things in the past several decades. Both on and off the screen, most movie folks seem intent only on glorifying themselves, making money, and gaining attention. I encourage you to give Hollywood one more chance. It may be hard to believe, but “Father Stu” truly is different from most current releases. There is no progressive agenda, communist subtext, or woke message. It isn’t a phony retelling of an overused formula. This is a true story of a real person, Father Stuart Long, brought to the screen as faithfully as possible. The treatment is also shockingly favorable toward Christianity. Nevertheless, this is not a faith-based or independent film but a Sony release starring Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson. Mel Gibson and Mark Wahlberg attend the photo call for Columbia Pictures’ “Father Stu” in West Hollywood, Calif., on April 1, 2022. (Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images) Ross asserts that “Father Stu” “blends drama and humor in a way that I hope is very appealing to movie goers.” In fact, she encourages people to enjoy this film in a theater “because it’s really funny. It’s such a cool experience, especially after so long not enjoying films in theaters, to sit and laugh with other people. There’s something so beautiful and fulfilling about that.” Let me tell you why I agree that her directorial debut “has such an uplifting, inspirational message.” Restoring Faith What makes this story so uplifting and inspiring? Basically, this is a story about the spiritual reformation of a very unlikely person. Rebellious atheist Stuart Long goes from being a washed-up amateur boxer to an obnoxious wannabe actor working as a butcher in a Hollywood supermarket. There, a beautiful woman named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) catches his eye, so he goes to a Catholic church service just to see her again. His pursuit is anything but subtle, so the devout young woman tells him plainly that his amorous desires do not fit her moral code. Stu goes to great lengths to convince Carmen he has become a devout Catholic. No one is fooled by his early attempts at piety, since he remains a blasphemous, selfish heathen. However, a traumatic accident makes him start questioning his life decisions and seriously contemplate the power of faith. Meanwhile, he must examine his relationships with his estranged father (Gibson), Carmen, and God. “What the church needs is someone who’s going to fight for God; that’s me.” This probably sounds like the tagline for a 1940s movie starring Spencer Tracy or Bing Crosby, but it’s actually a line from “Father Stu.” It’s hard to believe that a mainstream movie in 2022 would feature Christian conversion as its main theme. Nevertheless, you do not have to be Christian to enjoy this movie. Rosalind Ross made it very clear that “Father Stu” was not “made specifically for a faith-based audience.” A person of any religious background can enjoy this film because of its numerous “relatable themes,” including “the family dynamic, the broken family, grief, trauma, addiction. There are so many elements of it that many people could relate to, regardless of their belief in a higher power or not.” My one criticism of the film is its pervasive foul language. In her official Director’s Statement, Rosalind Ross declared, “I strove to make a film that felt real—coarse language, shameful behavior, messy relationships and all, and yet also slightly elevated, taking its tonal cue from Stu’s quixotic, irreverent nature.” A general view of the atmosphere during a screening of “Father Stu” in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 8, 2022. (Chris Coduto/Getty Images for Sony Pictures) While Stu’s other sins were handled with impressive discretion, the film’s coarse language earned its R-rating in the first five minutes. Ross’s inclusion of rough talk was probably to distance the project from the “faith-based” label as much as to capture the irreverent man’s spirit. However, bad words never improve a story. It’s a shame that many conservative Christians and younger viewers won’t see this film because of the profanity, the only thing earning it worse than a PG-rating. A True Story? Watching a biopic, one can’t help wondering how much “creative license” was used. When asked how she captured Stuart Long’s personality ons

Behind the Scenes of ‘Father Stu’: An Interview with Rosalind Ross

Commentary

“If it could only accomplish one thing, I hope it would be imparting the message to people that it’s never too late to change or to redeem yourself.”

So said Rosalind Ross in a recent interview with The Epoch Times about her upcoming film, “Father Stu,” which premieres nationwide on April 13. As the film’s writer, director, and executive producer, she is perhaps best qualified to discuss the intentions behind this true story of a rebellious boxer turned priest.

Some might be skeptical of Ross’s statement, coming from a Hollywood person. What would anyone involved in the often corrupt film industry know about changing for the better? If that’s what you’re thinking, I don’t blame you. Hollywood has done very few commendable things in the past several decades. Both on and off the screen, most movie folks seem intent only on glorifying themselves, making money, and gaining attention.

I encourage you to give Hollywood one more chance. It may be hard to believe, but “Father Stu” truly is different from most current releases. There is no progressive agenda, communist subtext, or woke message. It isn’t a phony retelling of an overused formula. This is a true story of a real person, Father Stuart Long, brought to the screen as faithfully as possible.

The treatment is also shockingly favorable toward Christianity. Nevertheless, this is not a faith-based or independent film but a Sony release starring Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson.

Epoch Times Photo
Mel Gibson and Mark Wahlberg attend the photo call for Columbia Pictures’ “Father Stu” in West Hollywood, Calif., on April 1, 2022. (Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

Ross asserts that “Father Stu” “blends drama and humor in a way that I hope is very appealing to movie goers.” In fact, she encourages people to enjoy this film in a theater “because it’s really funny. It’s such a cool experience, especially after so long not enjoying films in theaters, to sit and laugh with other people. There’s something so beautiful and fulfilling about that.”

Let me tell you why I agree that her directorial debut “has such an uplifting, inspirational message.”

Restoring Faith

What makes this story so uplifting and inspiring? Basically, this is a story about the spiritual reformation of a very unlikely person. Rebellious atheist Stuart Long goes from being a washed-up amateur boxer to an obnoxious wannabe actor working as a butcher in a Hollywood supermarket.

There, a beautiful woman named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) catches his eye, so he goes to a Catholic church service just to see her again. His pursuit is anything but subtle, so the devout young woman tells him plainly that his amorous desires do not fit her moral code.

Stu goes to great lengths to convince Carmen he has become a devout Catholic. No one is fooled by his early attempts at piety, since he remains a blasphemous, selfish heathen. However, a traumatic accident makes him start questioning his life decisions and seriously contemplate the power of faith. Meanwhile, he must examine his relationships with his estranged father (Gibson), Carmen, and God.

“What the church needs is someone who’s going to fight for God; that’s me.” This probably sounds like the tagline for a 1940s movie starring Spencer Tracy or Bing Crosby, but it’s actually a line from “Father Stu.”

It’s hard to believe that a mainstream movie in 2022 would feature Christian conversion as its main theme. Nevertheless, you do not have to be Christian to enjoy this movie. Rosalind Ross made it very clear that “Father Stu” was not “made specifically for a faith-based audience.” A person of any religious background can enjoy this film because of its numerous “relatable themes,” including “the family dynamic, the broken family, grief, trauma, addiction. There are so many elements of it that many people could relate to, regardless of their belief in a higher power or not.”

My one criticism of the film is its pervasive foul language. In her official Director’s Statement, Rosalind Ross declared, “I strove to make a film that felt real—coarse language, shameful behavior, messy relationships and all, and yet also slightly elevated, taking its tonal cue from Stu’s quixotic, irreverent nature.”

Epoch Times Photo
A general view of the atmosphere during a screening of “Father Stu” in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 8, 2022. (Chris Coduto/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

While Stu’s other sins were handled with impressive discretion, the film’s coarse language earned its R-rating in the first five minutes. Ross’s inclusion of rough talk was probably to distance the project from the “faith-based” label as much as to capture the irreverent man’s spirit. However, bad words never improve a story. It’s a shame that many conservative Christians and younger viewers won’t see this film because of the profanity, the only thing earning it worse than a PG-rating.

A True Story?

Watching a biopic, one can’t help wondering how much “creative license” was used. When asked how she captured Stuart Long’s personality onscreen, Rosalind Ross told the Epoch Times, “I did my research in talking to people who knew him, like his father, Bill, and a good friend of his from the seminary. And I was given a pamphlet from his memorial service that had anecdotes in it from people who knew Stu. They painted the picture of a really irreverent, multi-dimensional, kind of mischievous man who had a very unconventional but effective way of ministering to people. … Everything else, I had to draw from personal experience and fill in a lot of blanks, but there was certainly enough out there to get a good sense of who this guy was and to depict him faithfully.”

Just how faithfully did they depict his life story, you might wonder? Miss Ross explained, “It’s all based on fact, meaning the sort of bigger seminal moments of his life. The fact that he was a boxer, that he moved to LA to become an actor, that he met and fell in love with a Hispanic woman who introduced him to Catholicism, the motorcycle accident, deciding to enter the priesthood, the muscular degenerative disease, all those things: true. … The liberties taken were really just to condense the story into under two hours.”

A three-part video interview, which the real Father Stuart Long filmed a few years before his death, gives some insight into how the story was changed. Any plot points that were exaggerated or simplified were altered for the sake of clearly imparting the story’s message.

For instance, the order of events, Stu’s jobs in Los Angeles, the details of his religious conversion, and his relationship with Carmen were changed, albeit not too drastically, to make the story’s arc more powerful. Instead of trying to glamorize or secularize Stuart Long’s story, the changes tightened its focus on the “guy who was searching for purpose in his life and trying to find the hope in a hopeless situation.”

Epoch Times Photo
Mark Wahlberg and director Rosalind Ross visit All Saints Chapel at Carroll College on behalf of the film Father Stu in Helena, Montana on April 4, 2022. (Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

A Film We Need

“Father Stu” is a film we need right now. Mark Wahlberg began this project six years ago after being inspired by Stuart Long’s story, as told to him by a priest friend. Although the Catholic actor/filmmaker knew the uplifting story needed to be told on film, he had no idea how crucial its message would be by the time it reached the screen.

Emerging from a global pandemic, embattled over racial controversy, plagued by political unrest, and terrified by European war, Americans are scared and confused. People have lost faith in everything, so they’re searching desperately for answers and contentment. Maybe this movie offers some answers to troubled viewers, much the way Stu Long inspired every life he touched.

Rosalind Ross described how this project has changed her as follows: “It forced me to grow in so many ways, as a leader, as an artist, but also as a person. It was a very introspective experience, trying to go on the journey with Stu as best I could. It was a real lesson in humility and surrender. I think I owe him a great deal for teaching me a little bit about those things.”

Mainstream Hollywood offers little diversion from today’s harsh realities with its often horrific movies. Then “Father Stu” comes along. Filmed in just one month during 2021, this movie is an uncomplicated, straightforward production. Its lack of special effects, fancy cinematography, and CGI mimics the realistic simplicity of old movies. It features a small cast, who authentically embody real people in real places doing real things.

Far more important is its topic, a man’s painful but redeeming journey to become a priest. Regardless of personal religious beliefs, anyone who values traditional Americanism must admit that America lost its strongest values when it ceased being “one nation under God.”

During 20th century crises, like the Great Depression and World War II, Americans of all creeds found hope in movies like “Boys Town” (1938) and “Going My Way” (1944), which featured famous actors playing priests in Oscar-winning roles. Could Mark Wahlberg’s “Father Stu” be the 21st-century equivalent of these inspiring masterpieces?

I encourage you to see the film, and then ask yourself this question: What if this were the beginning of a new era of movies celebrating truth, tradition, and faith?

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

Tiffany Brannan is a 20-year-old opera singer, Hollywood history/vintage beauty copywriter, film reviewer, fashion historian, travel writer, and ballet writer. In 2016, she and her sister founded the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to reforming the arts by reinstating the Motion Picture Production Code.