Directors of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” on How Star Zachary Gottsagen Spoke of God and Showed Wisdom and Purity of Heart on Set to Cast and Crew

From left: Shia LaBeouf, Mike Schwartz, Zachary Gottsagen, and Tyler Nilson

Shia LaBeouf’s new film, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” is now showing in theaters nationwide and in an interview with The Christian Post, directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz laud actor Zachary Gottsagen for his wisdom and purity of heart exhibited on the set.

The Mark Twain-inspired film tells the story of two friends who embark on an unlikely journey together. “After running away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler, a man who has Down syndrome befriends an outlaw who becomes his coach and ally,” the film’s synopsis reads.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” features LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson, along with Jon Bernthal, Thomas Hayden Church, Bruce Dern and John Hawkes. The movie was created specifically for Gottsagen after writer-director duo Tyler Nilson and Michael Shwartz met him at a camp for actors with disabilities.

Below is an edited transcript of The Christian Post’s interview with Nilson and Schwartz, who recount the challenges they faced while making the movie and laud Gottsagen for had on the crew and his co-stars because of how purely he channeled God when people needed it the most.

Christian Post: What inspired the story?

Schwartz: Our friend, Zack Gottsagen, who stars in the movie, the guy with Down syndrome, has been a friend of ours for a long time and we were drawn toward his energy. [He had been wanting to act but couldn’t find anyone to take a chance on him], so we decided to make the movie with him.

The storyline, when you write something, it’s where you get to live emotionally, these things take years. So we wanted to live in a place that was filled with love, good feelings and connection, and rope swings and summer days, and people being good to each other.

I think the simplest message that I would want to put out into the world is: “Let’s be good to each other.” On some level, I think that’s what the movie’s trying to say.

CP: During the filming of the movie, Shia LaBeouf ran into some trouble and was arrested. As previously reported by CP, Shia said Zack spoke to him about God during that time and it impacted him greatly. Did Zack frequently talk about God on the set? 

Schwartz: Zack channels really deep stuff. There was a time where I was fighting with my dad, and he came up to me and he was just like, “Hey, you know your dad loves you. Family is the most important thing, and bringing anger is not going to help anything.” He looks at you with such a purity of heart.

I think in that moment, too, when stuff had gone down with Shia, first, Zack got frustrated. And he said, “Shia, you’re messing this up for me. You’ve got to be in movies before and this is my first movie, and you’re really messing up.”

I think with that purity of heart, me as a director, I was afraid of what Shia was going to say or what anybody was going to say. I was afraid to make people uncomfortable or really dial into the most truthful conversation that can be had, because that takes a lot of work and that’s a practice.

[But] I think Zack lives in that place where he says exactly what’s on his mind and he says exactly what he channels to the purest place. So I think that inspired Shia to say to Zack, he just looked him in the face and said, “Are you God?” and Zack said, “I think so.” Shia said, “I’ve been looking for you for a long time,” and Zack said, “I know, I’m right here.”

That was just a really special moment.

CP: You initially faced some challenges in getting people to share your vision to even make the film. What enabled you to not lose hope during those times?

Schwartz: Teamwork. Tyler and I being a team. It’s really nice that sometimes I can do the heavy lifting and he can rest. And then sometimes he can do the heavy lifting and I can rest. We made a promise to Zack and we take that really seriously.

We knew that we would complete the film; we knew we had the ability to make the movie, even if we got nothing but no’s. So if I had to run the camera and Tyler had to do the Shia LaBeouf role, and Zack can be Zack, we were going to make that movie.

The way that it grew to include all the Oscar nominees, that’s a bonus. The rejection that we were getting, the hardest thing early on was just that no one would read the script. It’s really hard to get people to read the script.

Also, working with a guy that has Down syndrome, I think scared a lot of people. We did get people to read the script once we made a video. That started getting some traction. People were like, “Cool, so who do you want to play the Zack character, a movie star? Because if you’re going to get money, you got to have a movie star in that role?”

[But] we were like, Zack is the best person for the job. He really is better than anybody else, so it should be his role. Luckily, we ended up ultimately with producers that got that and it worked out so well. It took us five years. There were a lot of years of rejection, but look at where we are now. I’m so grateful for all the people that did end up helping us and all the miracles, because nothing is for sure.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jeannie Law