Nelson Mandela is â€˜Invictusâ€™
by William Ernest Henley
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.
By Niele Anderson
Sentinel Religion Editor
Nelson Mandela had been a free man for only five years and president for one year in 1995, after 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid. 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, designed by the nation’s president, Nelson Mandela, and built by South Africa’s rugby team and their captain, Francois Pienaar.
This remarkable story is chronicled in the film “Invictus,” starring Morgan Freeman as President Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar. Freeman and his producing partner, Lori McCreary, had been developing a movie about Nelson Mandela for years based on his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, 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, author and journalist John Carlin later met Freeman in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the author 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 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.”
Freeman sent the screenplay to his friend Clint Eastwood, who 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,” said Eastwood. 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.”
Long before the production of “Invictus,” 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.” Eastwood affirms. “I could not imagine anyone else in the role of Mandela. They have the same stature and same kind of charismatic nature. Morgan also has a similar vocal quality, and he worked very hard to capture Mandela’s inflections. I think he did it quite well.”
Freeman, who has spent time with Mandela over the years and considers him a friend, points out that the most important part of his performance could not be practiced. “I wanted to avoid acting like him; I needed to be him and that was the biggest challenge. When you meet Mandela, you know you are in the presence of greatness, but it is something that just emanates from him. He moves people for the better; that is his calling in life. Some call it the Madiba magic. I’m not sure that magic can be explained.” “Invictus” opens in a theater near you on December 11, 2009.