From director Clint Eastwood, "Invictus" tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa's rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to help unite their country.
Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa's underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.
The film is produced by Eastwood, Lori McCreary, Robert Lorenz and Mace Neufeld. The screenplay is by Anthony Peckham, based upon the book Playing the Enemy, by John Carlin. Freeman, Tim Moore, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum are the executive producers.
Filming on "Invictus" was accomplished entirely on location in and around the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. "Invictus" is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire,
it has the power to unite people, in a way that little else does.
The 1995 World Cup Final was, to most people around the world, little more than a thrilling rugby match. But to the people of South Africa, it was a turning point in their history--a shared experience that helped to heal the wounds of the past even as it gave new hope for the future. The architect of this benchmark event was the nation's president, Nelson Mandela. Its builders were the members of South Africa's rugby team, the Springboks, led by their captain, Francois Pienaar.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, "Invictus" chronicles how President Mandela and Francois Pienaar joined forces to turn their individual hopes--the president, to unite his country; the captain, to lead the nation's team to World Cup glory--into one shared goal with the motto "One team, one country."
In the film, Mandela calls upon Pienaar to lead his team to greatness, citing a poem that was a source of inspiration and strength to him during his years in prison. It is later revealed that the poem is "Invictus," by William Ernest Henley. The title is translated to mean "unconquered," which, Eastwood says, "doesn't represent any one character element of the story. It takes on a broader meaning over the course of the film."
Morgan Freeman stars in the role of Nelson Mandela and also serves as an executive producer on the film. "This is an important story about a world-shaking event that too few people know about," he states. "I cannot think of any moment in history when a nation coalesced so suddenly and so completely. I was proud to have the opportunity to tell this story. And when you have the chance to tell it with Clint Eastwood's abilities…it's something you just have to do."
As "Invictus" opens, Nelson Mandela--a man who had spent 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid--is elected president of a South Africa that is still bitterly divided. Though the unjust system has officially ended, the long-held racial lines between people cannot easily be erased. With his country teetering on the brink of implosion, President Mandela sees hope in an unlikely place: the rugby field. With South Africa poised to host the World Cup Finals, Mandela looks to unite the country behind their national team, the Springboks.
Eastwood notes, "This story takes place at a critical point in Mandela's presidency. I think he demonstrated great wisdom in incorporating sport to reconcile his country. He knows he needs to pull everybody together, to find a way to appeal to their national pride--one thing, perhaps the only thing, they have in common at that time. He knows the white population and the black population will ultimately have to work together as a team or the country will not succeed, so he shows a lot of creativity using a sports team as a means to an end."
That end is Mandela's dream of a "rainbow nation," starting with the Springbok colors of green and gold. The president's plan is not without risk. In the face of daunting social and economic crises, even his closest advisors question why he is focusing on something as seemingly insignificant as rugby. Many also wonder how he can support the Springboks, especially at a time when black South Africans want to permanently eradicate the name and emblem they have long despised as a symbol of apartheid. But Mandela has the foresight to recognize that eliminating the white South Africans' beloved rugby team will only widen the rift between the races to a point where it might never be bridged.
Putting the story in perspective, John Carlin, the author of the book Playing the Enemy, on which the film is based, explains, "What you have to understand is that the green shirt of the Springboks was a powerful reminder to black South Africans of apartheid. They hated that shirt because it symbolized, as much as anything else did, the tremendous indignities to which they were subjected. Mandela's genius was to recognize that this symbol of division and hatred could be transformed into a powerful instrument of national unity."
Screenwriter Anthony Peckham is a native of South Africa, giving him special insight to the story's time and place. He adds, "Mandela realized he had a perfect opportunity to address the part of the electorate that had not voted for him…that, in truth, feared him. White South Africans followed the Springboks religiously, so to use the forum of the World Cup was brilliant. But it wasn't just a game; it was the fact that Mandela embraced a team that black South Africans hated and almost by force of will dragged all of the people into following them."
Nevertheless, a rugby match cannot be decided in the halls of government, so Mandela reaches out to the one man who can help him accomplish his objective: the captain of the Springbok team, Francois Pienaar. Matt Damon portrays the rugby player who suddenly finds himself in the center of a political arena. "Mandela basically asks him to exceed his country's expectations and his own expectations and win the World Cup," the actor says. "It's an enormous request, but Francois knows that it's actually bigger than any rugby match. And along the way, the entire team realize they have become an important instrument in bringing their country together. It's a beautiful, inspiring story that shines a light on the best of who we are and what human beings are capable of. And what makes it more incredible is that it really happened."
Francois Pienaar agrees with his onscreen counterpart. "I've always maintained that Hollywood could not have imagined a better story than what happened in South Africa in 1995. I was fortunate enough to be the captain of a wonderful group of men who were focused on uniting our country, and we could not have asked for a better leader than Nelson Mandela to help us do that."
As the host country of that year's World Cup, South Africa is automatically qualified to compete. But the Springboks were unarguable underdogs, largely because of their lack of experience on the world stage. Eastwood explains, "Because of apartheid, South Africa had been banned from participating in international sporting events for years. So no one thinks the Springboks have much chance of winning, including them. But they open themselves up to the possibility."
FROM BOOK TO SCREEN
"Invictus" did not have a linear progression from book to screen. Rather, there were several people on similar paths that serendipitously intersected at exactly the right time. Morgan Freeman and his producing partner, Lori McCreary, had been developing a movie about Nelson Mandela for years. They had been trying to adapt Mandela's autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, for the screen, but capturing the entire span of his story in the timeframe of a feature film proved to be impossible.
McCreary says, "I was devastated, but Morgan reassured me, 'Lori, when a door closes, a window opens,' and literally the next week I received a four-page proposal on John Carlin's book about the '95 World Cup, which eventually became Playing the Enemy. We thought it was a great way to get a sense of the soul and character of Mandela in a story that takes place over less than a year's time."
Coincidentally, John Carlin later met Freeman in the city of Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the author--whose "day job" is as a journalist--was researching a story about poverty in the Deep South. His local contact turned out to be a friend of Freeman's, who introduced them. The author recalls, "I said, 'Mr. Freeman, I've got a movie for you.' He asked me what it was about, and I told him, 'It's about an event that distills the essence of Mandela's genius and the essence of the South African miracle.' And he said, 'You mean the rugby game?' I was astonished. That's when I found out that he had already read the book proposal I had written."
Before they proceeded, however, McCreary says that she and Freeman went in person to get the blessing of Mandela, known in South Africa as "Madiba." "Morgan started off by saying, 'Madiba, we've been working a long time on this other project, but we've just read something that we think might get to the core of who you are…' And before he even finished the sentence, Madiba said, 'Ah, the World Cup.' That's when I knew we were heading in the right direction."
About the same time, producer Mace Neufeld was also given Carlin's proposal. He acknowledges, "At that point, I didn't know anything about the '95 Rugby World Cup, but I knew a lot about Mandela as an important world figure. I thought it was an exciting way to tell his story within a thrilling sporting event."
Taking it to the next step, Neufeld approached screenwriter Anthony Peckham, with whom he had worked before, about writing the script. "I jumped into it with both feet," Peckham states. "Part of the reason is that, while South Africans know this story, I don't think the rest of the world does. But it's not just a story for South Africans. To me, this is a story about leadership--not only Mandela's, but also that of the Springboks and others. True leadership is a rare commodity and should be celebrated when we find it."
On a more personal note, Peckham says that growing up in South Africa he knew almost nothing about the man at the center of "Invictus." "In those years, Nelson Mandela was a 'banned person,' so all I knew about him was what the apartheid government told us. It was only after I left that I found out about all the noble things he'd done. So for me, writing this script and learning as much about Mandela as I did was my own journey of liberation and a dream come true."
Unaware that they were already on parallel paths, Neufeld contacted McCreary because, he asserts, "Morgan Freeman was the only person who could play Nelson Mandela."
"Mace called me and said he had this really great project and a great writer," McCreary remembers. "He started to pitch me the story, and I couldn't believe it. We met with him and Tony, and I knew Tony was the right guy to write this script. He had such a passion for this project."
"When we got Tony's script, we all thought he had really hit a home run," Neufeld says. "Now the question was who was going to direct it."
There was only one answer. Morgan Freeman sent the screenplay to Clint Eastwood, who says he immediately responded to the material. "The story caught my imagination. I thought it was a natural for a movie, and I really liked the way the script was written."
Producer Robert Lorenz adds, "Clint and I read the script and instantly agreed that it was definitely something we wanted to do. It's a very powerful story, and a very human story, too, in terms of the bond that develops between Mandela and Francois Pienaar. It's also a fascinating look at the more personal side of Mandela, as well as illustrating his extraordinary leadership qualities."
Freeman remarks, "The entire project was like magnets coming together--right people, right time, right place, right issue. Everything just clicked into place, which doesn't happen very often. But when it does, it's like destiny."
CASTING: MORGAN FREEMAN PLAYS MANDELA
Long before the production of "Invictus," Morgan Freeman had been chosen for the role of Nelson Mandela by the one person that mattered most. The actor reveals, "Madiba was once asked who he would want to play him in a movie and he said 'Morgan Freeman.' When I first met him years ago, I told him I was honored that he had mentioned me to portray him." "Invictus" marks Freeman's third collaboration with Eastwood, and Lorenz observes, "Morgan and Clint are very familiar with each other's style; they have a real shorthand. It's a very easy, comfortable relationship, which is why they enjoy working together so much. Morgan understands exactly what Clint is looking for, and Clint knows Morgan will give him the absolute best performance." Read more
CASTING: MATT DAMON PLAYS PIENAAR
Like Freeman, Matt Damon had to master a South African accent to play Springbok Captain Francois Pienaar. But the role also presented the actor with more physical challenges, starting with the most obvious. "I immediately went online and started reading about Francois and realized that he's a pretty big guy. I spoke to Clint and said, 'You know, this guy is huge,' and he said, 'Hell, you worry about everything else. Let me worry about that.'" Read more
READ MORE ABOUT CLINT EASTWOOD AND THE WRITERS
READ MORE ABOUT MORGAN FREEMAN AND MATT DAMON
CASTING: THE SECURITY TEAM
There is another team that is very important to Mandela's dream of a rainbow nation. At the start of the film, the new president asks the white staff members who had served President de Klerk to stay on in their jobs. His personal security team, led by Jason Tshabalala and Linga Moonsamy, is unfazed…until they discover that his edict also applies to them. Suddenly they find themselves working side by side with former members of the Special Branch, men who, until very recently, had threatened their freedom and their very lives. Read more
THE MUSIC: SOUTH AFRICA'S NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM
In "Invictus," the lingering shadows of apartheid are clearly seen when Francois Pienaar gives the Springboks the words to South Africa's new national anthem, "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika," which means "God Bless Africa" in Xhosa, the language of black South Africans. The song is not meant to replace the previous anthem, "Die Stem (The Voice of South Africa)" but will stand alongside it. Nevertheless, Francois' efforts are met with strong resistance from his white teammates, who are still having difficulty yielding to the changing times.Read more
SHOOTING THE FILM
Principal photography on "Invictus" was accomplished entirely on location in South Africa. As often as possible, the filmmakers utilized the same locations where the actual events had unfolded. Lorenz states, "For the entire cast and crew, being in South Africa drove home the significance of the story because we were constantly reminded of the effect it had on the people. Everybody we talked to could tell us where they were on the day of that final game and about the excitement they felt. It was just a moment in time that defined them and everyone could recall it vividly." Read more
However, the location that evoked the most emotion for the entire production team and cast was the prison on Robben Island, including the actual cell where Nelson Mandela was held for almost three decades. "We were all moved in different ways, mostly to silence," McCreary remembers. "After that trip, we all connected to the story and to Mandela in a way we wouldn't have been if we hadn't shot those scenes out there."
Eastwood reflects, "When we went to Robben Island, everybody was struck by how tiny the space was. And to spend 27 years there--maybe the best years of your life--and then come out and still not be bitter is quite a feat."
The entire Springbok team travels to Robben Island to experience firsthand, if only for a moment, what it was like to be in that terrible place. It is there that Francois is reminded of the poem Nelson Mandela shared with him as a source of inspiration:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
THE ART OF ADAPTATION