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Local actor with Down syndrome goes from watching movies to starring in them

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This is only the beginning for Boynton Beach actor, Zack Gottsagen (WPEC)

Zack Gottsagen is a Boynton Beach man with Down Syndrome who always wanted to be an actor.

For years, he has been taking classes at “Arts 4 All” in Lake Worth Beach and working at “Alco’s Boynton Cinema” in his free time. But now, he’s finally getting his big break. Gottsagen is starring in a movie called “The Peanut Butter Falcon” with A-List actors Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson.

The film opens nationwide next Friday, but it’s been years in the making.

Filmmakers Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson say they saw something special in Gottsagen when they met him years ago at a camp for actors with disabilities.

“He’s impossible to look away from,” Schwartz said. “I wanted to be around him, Tyler wanted to be around him, and when he’s in front of the camera, everybody wants to be around him.”

And Gottsagen inspired the entire “Peanut Butter Falcon” project.

The adventure film features a young man named “Zak” with Down syndrome who runs away from a nursing home to follow his dream of studying professional wrestling.


“A lot of the character of ‘Zak’ is based on Zack Gottsagen,” Schwartz said. “He really loves wrestling. A lot of the dialogue that we wrote for the film is stuff that Zack had said to us over the years.”

Gottsagen even chose the name of the movie. When asked how he thought of it, he said: “It just came to my head.”

Gottsagen says the best part of filming was bonding with Shia LaBeouf – an actor he remembers watching on the big screen during his days working at “Alco’s Boynton Cinema.”


“Shia always has been kind of a great friend and kind of more like a brother to me,” Gottsagen said.

Nilson agrees that their chemistry is undeniable.

“Watching them was like watching two old brother puppies play imaginary it was beautiful,” he told CBS12 News.

And though this was Gottsagen’s first big role, he says he never got nervous on set – something that truly impressed the filmmakers.

“Most people would be nervous in front of a 70 person crew,” Schwartz said. “Not only Shia but three Oscar nominees.”

The filmmakers say that Gottsagen is an obvious scene-stealer – and they’re excited to introduce the world to the next breakout star when the film premieres nationwide next Friday, August 23rd.

”I think it’s his big break for sure,” Nilson said. “I think Zack has been a phenomenal actor since I’ve met him. So I think it’s just the first time the world is going ooh!”

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