The Story Behind The History And Making Of Invictus

Released in 2009 and directed by Clint Eastwood, Invictus is a biographical sports drama. It follows Nelson Mandela during his first term as President of South Africa and his goal for the national rugby team to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite the nation. Take a look behind the scenes at the making of the movie and how it compares to the actual events.

Matt Damon Wasn’t Close To As Big As Francois Pienaar

Picture of matt Damon and Eastwood
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

After researching Francois Pienaar, Matt Damon came to the realization that he was tiny compared to the real-life rugby player. He then came to Clint Eastwood with his concerns saying, “You know, this guy is huge,” as Pienaar is 6′ 3″ and Damon stands at a mere 5′ 10″, which pales in comparison.

Eastwood was already aware of this and told Damon, “You worry about everything else. Let me worry about that.” Eastwood then relied on specific camera angles and other filming techniques to make Damon appear much bigger than he is.

They Played At The Same Stadium

Picture of the stadium
STF/AFP via Getty Images
STF/AFP via Getty Images

In the film, all of the rugby games were filmed at Johannesburg Ellis Park Stadium, which is the same place where the team played in real life. However, the stadium had changed a lot since 1995, which required production James J. Murakami to do extensive research to make the venue look like it used to.

Although some practical effects were used, such as including old signs and advertisements, ultimately, computer graphics had to be used to make the whole stadium look the same.

Matt Damon Met With Francois Pienaar

Picture of Damon and Pienaar
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

While preparing for the role, Matt Damon visited former Captain Francois Pienaar at his house. Upon meeting Pienaar, Damon explained that he looked much bigger on camera despite their size obvious size difference, and the two shared a meal prepared by Pienaar.

Pienaar later described his interaction with Damn, saying, “He’s a great bloke. I was struck by his humility and his wicked sense of humor. He wanted to learn everything he could about me, my philosophy as a Captain, and what it was like for us in 1995. We also chatted about the game of rugby, what happens in training, and about the technical aspects. We had a lot of fun.”

Morgan Freeman Was The First Actor Cast

Picture of Morgan Freeman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Casting for an actor to play Nelson Mandela proved to not be very difficult at all. This is considering that Nelson Mandela himself said that Morgan Freeman was the only actor that he would allow to portray him.

Although this was an honor to Freeman, it also put a lot of pressure on him to make sure that he did the role justice and made Nelson happy in his decision of giving them his blessing to make the movie.

A Plane Actually Flew Over The Stadium

Picture of airplane
AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

The scene in which the airplane flies over the stadium is based on something that happened during the final of the 1995 Ruby World Cup. Although it was staged for the movie, according to South African Airways, pilot Laurie Kay and his crew spent a week preparing for the stunt.

Des Chetty, a guard on duty at the stadium noted that “It was a surreal feeling […] One felt that if standing on the roof of the grandstands, you could have touched the belly of the plane. That’s how close it felt. It was absolutely loud.”

Morgan Freeman And Lori McCreary Met With Nelson Mandela To Get His Approval

Picture of Freeman and Mandela
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Before production began on the film, Morgan Freeman and producer Lori McCreary felt it was only right to visit Nelson Mandela to receive his blessing to continue forward with the project. So, the two flew to South Africa and met with him.

At their meeting, Freeman started the conversation 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…” Before Freman could continue Mandel said, “Ah, the World Cup.” At that point, they knew they were in the clear.

Mandela Wasn’t The Only Person That Saw Rugby As The Answer

Picture of Nelson Mandela
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Although the movie may make it appear as though Nelson Mandela was the only person asking for the African National Congress to see rugby as a way to make an alliance with white Afrikaners, that wasn’t the case.

In reality, individuals such as Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile and Steve Tshwete were also advocates. Nevertheless, Mandela did have to try and convince Stofile to keep the Springbok as the team’s emblem, when the ANC was strongly against the idea.

Recreating The Uniforms Was Tough

Picture of Matt Damon
Warner Bros
Warner Bros

When it came to the Springbok uniforms, it was up to costume designer Deborah Hopper to bring them back to their former 1995 glory. Since then, rugby uniforms have changed as a whole with Hopper explaining, “There is a lot of difference in the uniforms. In 1995, the shorts were much shorter and the jerseys were cut fuller and boxier, and the fabric they used at that time was cotton; now it’s synthetic.”

This meant that she had to have fabric especially knitted for the film, and they didn’t just have the Springbok uniforms to worry about either.

Something That Was Left Out Of The Movie Angered New Zealanders

Picture of Freeman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Regardless that New Zealand is in love with the sport of rugby, they weren’t exactly thrilled when Invictus came out, considering that it focused on the South African win over New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup.

Furthermore, what angered the players and the people of New Zealand even more, was that the film left out the fact that almost two-thirds of their players were incredibly sick the day of the game. Apparently, “Guys were lying on the floor outside the doctor’s room down the passage, and him (the doctor) and the physio and the medic were administering electrolytes and injections.” To this day, it is still unknown if the team was poisoned on purpose.

Francois Pienaar Wasn’t Necessarily Convinced About Mandela’s Vision

Picture of Mandela and Pienaar
JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP via Getty Images
JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP via Getty Images

Although it all worked out in the end, for some time, Francois Pienaar had his reservations about Mandela’s plans to unite the country through rugby. In an interview, Pienaar admitted that he wasn’t confident in Mandela’s leadership since he had grown up seeing him in a different light.

However, he recalls that Mandela somehow made him feel “safe” and had a comforting aura around him. Mandela even kept in touch with Pienaar in the years following the World Cup.

Invictus Wasn’t The First Concept For A Nelson Mandela Film

Picture of Freeman and McCreary
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic

Unsurprisingly, Morgan Freeman and fellow producer Lori McCreary had plans to develop a film about Nelson Mandela for years, since they both considered him to be one of their heroes.

However, prior to Invictus, they had their sights set on another project which was going to be an adaptation of Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. However, since the story takes place over a series of decades, they realized it would be incredibly difficult to do it justice on screen.

Mandela’s Personal Assistant Was Impressed By Morgan Freeman’s Portrayal Of Mandela

Picture of Morgan Freeman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

According to Mandela’s personal assistant, Morgan Freeman was so convincing as Mandela that she had to do a double-take to make sure Mandela wasn’t actually in the building. Supposedly, when preparing for one shot, La Grange couldn’t see who was talking and wondered “How did Mister Mandela get in here?”

Furthermore, she also jokingly asked Freeman to stop walking like him when he wasn’t filming because she couldn’t tell the two apart and was tired of guessing.

Freeman Admitted That Portraying Mandella Was No Easy Task

Picture of Morgan Freeman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In order to accurately portray Nelson Mandela, Morgan Freeman dedicated all of his time and energy to learning his mannerisms to do the character justice. Yet, what he described as being the hardest part about the character was capturing the charisma of Mandela.

Freeman commented, “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.”

The 1995 World Cup Was A Major Event For South Africa

Picture of rugby team
Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images
Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images

The 1995 Rugby World Cup was a historic event in South Africa for a variety of reasons. It was the first major sporting event held in South Africa following apartheid and the first Rugby World Cup in which every match was held in one country.

Furthermore, 1995 was the first year that South Africa was allowed to compete and was the last major event of the rugby union’s amateur period. The International Rugby Football Board opened the sport for professionalism two months after.

The Meaning Behind “Invictus”

Picture of Nelson Mandela
Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images
Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images

The film’s title, Invictus, is taken from the poem “Invictus,” written by the British poet William Ernest Henley. Supposedly, Mandela found the poem to be incredibly inspiring and helped give him a sense of hope during the years he spent in jail when fighting against apartheid.

Nelson Mandela would eventually pass away on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95, although he is remembered for everything he did for his country whether it involved the 1995 Rugby World Cup or not.

The Film Touches On The Controversy Surrounding Chester Williams

Picture of Chester Williams
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Invictus also made sure to include former Springboks player McNeil Hendrix, who plays Chester Williams, the only non-white player on the 1995 South African rugby team. Because he was the only non-white athlete, there were rumors at the time that Williams was only placed on the team to show that they had some diversity.

However, Williams’ talent and skill on the field proved that he was there because he was good and not the color of his skin.

Mandela Made Quite An Appearance At The Match

Picture of Mandela and Freeman
Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS via Getty Images/Warner Bros.
Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS via Getty Images/Warner Bros.

Considered by many to be one of the most iconic moments of all finals in sports history was when Nelson Mandela came onto the field wearing a green and gold Springboks jersey. Not only did it show support for the team, but also his intent to unite the nation through the sport by wearing the colors once despised by many people of the country.

One of the most praised scenes of the film Invictus is Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of this, with people noting Freeman’s success at capturing Mandela’s emotions during that moment.

The Movie Was A Smashing Success

Picture of Matt Damon
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

With little surprise, Invictus turned out to be a major success, receiving two nominations at the 82nd Academy Awards for Best Actor for Morgan Freeman and Best Supporting Actor for Matt Damon.

Not only was it hailed by the Academy and critics, but was a box office success as well. With a budget of $60 million, the movie managed to make almost $9 million on its opening weekend and made $122,233,971 in total, making a significant profit.

The Movie Pays Attention To Small Details

Picture of Morgan Freeman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In the scene when Mandela invites Pienaar to have tea with him, he suggests that Pienaar sits in a particular chair because he says that looking into the light hurts his eyes. While this may not mean much to most viewers, to people that know Mandela’s life, it carries weight.

This is because Mandela was forced to work in a rock quarry for years on Robben Island and was never given any protective eyewear for the sun reflecting off the limestone.

Nelson Mandela Saw Rugby As A Way To Unite South Africa

Picture of Freeman and Damon
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In South Africa, following the end of apartheid, rugby was considered to be a symbol of white superiority, with the majority of the country’s players being white. Therefore, the many non-white people of the country didn’t support the sport or the team. However, Nelson Mandela saw the sport as a way to unite the country under the sport.

So he personally met with the captain of the Springboks rugby team, Francois Pienaar to express how important it was for them to win the World Cup and what it could do for the country. This meeting took place in June 1994 and was excellently depicted in the film.