Morgan Freeman, who has been a friend of Nelson Mandela for many years, prepared for his role as Mandela by watching some tapes of him to perfect his accent and rhythm of speaking. However, the most difficult part was Mandela's charisma, which could not be duplicated: "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."
Before production began, Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary made a trip to South Africa to get Nelson Mandela's blessing for the film. According to McCreary, Freeman 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..." Before he had finished, Madiba said, "Ah, the World Cup." For McCreary, that was "when I knew we were heading in the right direction."
Morgan Freeman is left-handed, but to play Nelson Mandela as accurately as possible, something which was very important to him, he trained himself to use his right hand when he was seen writing in the film because Mandela is right-handed.
Matt Damon informed Clint Eastwood about Francois Pienaar's distinct physique: "You know, this guy is huge!" Eastwood replied, "Hell, you worry about everything else. Let me worry about that." By structuring set-ups and camera angles, Eastwood was able to make the average-height Damon look about Pienaar's height.
The scene where the airline jet flew over the stadium actually occurred. However, this was a planned event, unlike it was portrayed in the movie. One of the sponsors for the Rugby World Cup, South African Airways, had their jet, which had the message painted on it, fly over the stadium twice, energizing the crowds.
The word "invictus" is Latin for "unbeaten". It is also the name of a short poem written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley, a British poet. The poem was written while Henley was in hospital having a foot amputated. Nelson Mandela is heard saying lines from the poem.
Matt Damon made a visit to Francois Pienaar's home to ask Pienaar for assistance in preparing for his role. When Damon got to his house, Pienaar answered the door and for a few minutes they simply looked up at each other. Then Damon, who cannot boast the size of Pienaar, said, "I look much bigger on camera." This broke the tension, and Pienaar prepared a gourmet dinner for Damon. Pienaar later claims he was impressed by Damon: "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."
During the making of this film, Clint Eastwood became a fan of rugby. While in South Africa, he would watch hours of rugby every night and come in the next morning and talk about the games. Eventually, he began to enjoy the games.
Nelson Mandela's personal assistant, Zelda La Grange, complimented the work of production designer James J. Murakami and his team: "I know the house so well and they recreated it to perfection. The environment even felt the same. And then I heard Morgan Freeman speak - I didn't see who it was at first - and I thought, 'Now how did Mr. Mandela get here?'"
All the rugby games were filmed at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium, where they had actually been played. Much of the stadium has changed since 1995, so James J. Murakami gathered extensive research to take the venue back to the way it looked, including the appropriate signage of the time. Computer graphics were later employed to complete the effect.
Morgan Freeman and his producing partner Lori McCreary had been developing a movie about Nelson Mandela (a.k.a. Madiba) for years. They were originally trying to adapt Mandela's autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom" but since the story spanned many decades it would be impossible to completely translate into a feature film.
The president's office, where Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar first meet, was filmed in the offices of the Union Buildings, the seat of government in the capital city of Pretoria. It marked the first time any movie had been filmed there.
Nelson Mandela gave the welcoming speech of Rugby World Cup 1995 at Newlands and he was wearing a colorful shirt. When he is shot watching the opening game, he is seen wearing a tie. That day, the whole stadium chanted "Nelson, Nelson" setting the tone for the rest of the tournament.
Costume designer Deborah Hopper had to bring back the look of 1995 in regard to the Springbok uniforms, since the current team's outfits are not the same: "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. We had to have the fabric specially knitted for us." Hopper and her team also had to duplicate the uniforms of the other teams, including the logos, many of which have also changed (in fact, the Springbok on the South African rugby team's logo is facing the opposite direction from the logo of 1995).
Nelson Mandela's visit to the Springbok training camp was filmed in an area called Tokai in Cape Town. According to Clint Eastwood, when the crew arrived that morning they discovered some unusual spectators around the site: a group of baboons. "We had to wait until the baboons exited, but as soon as the players got out there, they would stay on the sidelines or up in the trees. They looked at us like they were wondering, 'What kind of crazy people are these?'" the director laughs.
While the film is focussed on the inspiration of Nelson Mandela on the Springbok's and the pathway to unity the world cup win created amongst his people. The film did not enjoy widespread support in New Zealand following its release because it avoided illustrating the food poisoning rampant umong the All Black squad before the final. Most of the All Black players taking part in the final left the field to vomit on the sidelines during the course of the match. Thus undermining the running style of tactical play used by the New Zealand team and favouring the South African game largely focussed around points from forcing penalties (all points in the game were scored by the two respective penalty kickers). Intentional food poisoning on the part of hotel staff hosting the New Zealand team has been investigated and found inconclusive by those conducting the investigation. However the only members of the squad not effected were those that missed a team dinner a few days before the final and purchased takeaway food elsewhere. This issue was raised by journalists following the films release and Clint Eastwood is reported as avoiding questions from New Zealanders at related press conferences.
The filmmakers wanted a well-known British actor to play Francois Pienaar's father and auditions were made from December 2008 to March 2009. It was finally decided to cast a lesser-known South African actor (Patrick Lyster) instead.
McNeil Hendricks: nicknamed "Maccie", as Chester Williams, the Springboks' only black player. Hendricks was capped twice for South Africa in 1998, and has been a professional rugby player with Blue Bulls and Western Provine.