Boynton Beach Actor With Down Syndrome Stars As 'Wrestling Hero' In New Film

Aug 22, 2019
Originally published on August 21, 2019 6:43 pm

A new independent film called "Peanut Butter Falcon" stars Boynton Beach resident Zack Gottsagen, who plays a wrestling hero. Gottsagen has Down Syndrome, and his character, Zak, dreams of meeting his all-time-favorite wrestling figure, known as the Salt Water Redneck.

Zak, who at the beginning of the movie lives in a nursing home, escapes and accidently meets a man on the run named Tyler, a fish merchant, played by Shia Laboeuf. Tyler lost his brother in a car accident and stole fishing supplies one drunken night. Zak and Tyler join forces and go on the run together.

The directors of the film, Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson, said they made the role of Zak specifically for Gottsagen. “Not many roles are made for people with Down syndrome,” Nilson said on Sundial. "Peanut Butter Falcon" takes viewers through a journey of brotherhood that involves cornfields, camping, eating peanut butter, wrestling and crabbing.

Sundial talked to the film's directors and Gottsagen about the challenges of selling a film that stars a person with Down syndrome, and share some of their fun memories filming the movie. The film will release in theatres in Miami, Broward and Palm Beach counties on Friday, Aug. 23. 

This has been edited lightly for clarity. 

WLRN: When did you meet Zack and how?

SCHWARTZ: We met Zack eight years ago at Zeno Mountain Farms in Venice Beach, California. We were making a short film and Zack was making some really good acting decisions. One night at dinner he said he wanted to be a movie star and make a feature film. And we said, 'That's pretty difficult for anybody but especially for you because there's not a lot of roles written for people with disabilities.' And he said, 'Let's do it together. You guys write and direct and I'll star.'

Zack, tell me what it was like on the set.

GOTTSAGEN: [Actress] Dakota Johnson always helps me on how I could project myself. And to be in that scene with her is great. She is smart and doing pretty well. Dakota knows what she is doing for her job. Everything about it shows her love for me. Plus, with Shia there is more excitement and fun. Sometimes I wish I'd be badass like him. He is always doing all of the fun stuff and having a great time.

Do you think will give more opportunities to characters like Zack's?

NILSON: This is show business. Mike and Zack and I are the show, but we're not the business. I think the business shifts when the marketplace acknowledges there's been a shift. So if this film comes out and people go see it in theaters and it does well of course the business will pay attention. People will start trying to put people with different abilities into things because that's the business. I pray that happens. It feels like in my heart that's happening. But yeah that's the unfortunate side of commerce.

Watch the full trailer of Peanut Butter Falcon: 

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