Conshohocken native Aaron Scotti is excited about a lot for his upcoming film – but he’s perhaps most excited to introduce the world to Zack Gottsagen.
Scotti is an executive producer for Peanut Butter Falcon, produced by Armory Films. The project stars Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson and Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome starring in his first role. The film features LaBeouf and Gottsagen’s characters’ unlikely bond as the two strangers sojourn to a wrestling school in Florida via foot and a self-crafted boat.
Scotti spoke about the creating the film, in wide release Aug. 23, including the relationship between the two actors, working with Gottsagen and letting the two improvise their own lines. Read the interview below.
How did you get involved in this project and what were you most excited about?
I teamed up with Armory Films a few years ago, we were in Iceland shooting Arctic (2018) when they got script for Peanut Butter Falcon and it sounded really cool. We finished Arctic, and I was doing another film outside of Armory and got a call on last day of shooting about Peanut Butter Falcon. I changed my flight to go to Savannah, Georgia [where most of the movie was filmed] as soon as I got call and did the movie.
What was it like working with Zack Gottsagen on set?
Zack is one of my favorite people in the world. When you meet Zack, he opens your heart immediately and reminds you who you are. Nothing but fun and laughs and good times. It was a lot of fun.
One of the things that was a testament to how dedicated he is was he was in a lot of pain and didn’t know what it was. He found out he had a hernia but he worked through every day. He ended up getting surgery and he’s fine now, but he pushed through the pain and just wanted to do the movie. He carried the film with a hernia and didn’t miss a beat.
That’s even more impressive when you consider what a physical role it is for Gottsagen.
It was great. Obviously this film built for Zack, so he really got to be himself, and you really got to see the authenticity on screen, so the Zack we see in the movie was the Zack we all know and love.
What part of the movie are you most excited for audiences to see?
I know nobody’s ever had somebody with Down syndrome in the lead in a movie before, but regardless of that, this is just a really good standalone film. We’re in a time where there’s just big budget special effects and explosions in theaters, and I feel like I’ve really been craving a movie like this. These are the movies we liked growing up that tell the stories of humanity, and I hope everyone has that experience when they watch it.
What was the relationship between Gottsagen and Shia LaBeouf like?
That was beautiful, they fell in love immediately. They became best friends and brothers, got to spend a lot of time together in preproduction, and it was like nobody else existed for them. The family you see on screen is the same off screen. They spent a lot of time running lines and watching wrestling together. It was really cool to see how two complete strangers could bond so quickly and tell the story better because of it.
There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Did Gottsagen do any improvisation?
As much as he ended up doing, really great about letting him act. [Directors and writers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz] crafted this story to his strengths, but just like anyone else, if he’s living truthfully in the moment, something’s going to come up. You never see him forcing lines that were on the page just because it was written a certain way. There definitely were a few moments were so organic they stayed in the movie. Rule No. 1 is a standout – in a scene where LaBeouf’s character lays out very tense rules for their companionship traveling down to Florida, Zack says that rule No. 1 is ‘party’ when asked.