On the runway and on the big screen, folks with Down’s syndrome are proving they are just as talented and capable as everyone else. Zack Gottsagen, for instance, is best known for starring alongside Shia LaBeouf in the 2017 film Peanut Butter Falcon. In addition to receiving accolades for his acting, Gottsagen has also been credited with helping to save LaBeouf’s life.
During an interview with Channel 4, LaBeouf explained that his relationship with Zack Gottsagen – an actor with Down’s syndrome – helped transform his destructive habits.
“I had never worked with an actor like him,” said LaBeouf. “I’d never been involved in a project like this. It felt like it was going to be a really freeing experience, and to be quite frank, I was terrified. I knew that he’d be playing lead guitar, you know, and I’d be playing bass to him. If he went left, I’d have to go left. I’d never been in a situation where so much is dependent on staying open, and reacting, and listening to another performer. I’ve been quite selfish in my choices and my way of working before.”
“The kid in me died and I just got over all this,” he continued. “This roller coaster wasn’t fun after a while. You ride the same roller coaster, it just loses its appeal. Then you go on it with someone who hasn’t been on it before, and somehow, it sparks back up.”
LaBeouf recalled being arrested during filming for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. The next day, he couldn’t look Gottsagen in the eye. After calling LaBeouf out on his behavior, Gottsagen displayed uncanny compassion that helped shake the child star from his behavior.
“To hear him say that he was disappointed in me probably changed the course of my life,” LaBeouf said. “Cause I was still fighting. … Just on my defense-mechanism-fear garbage. And you can’t do that to him. He keeps it one thousand with you. … Zack can’t not shoot straight, and bless him for it ’cause in that moment, I needed a straight shooter who I couldn’t argue with.”
“The day after I got arrested, we were on a boat. I couldn’t really look at anybody in the eye,” he continued. “I was sitting next to him, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and like, nursed me back on a boat during the scene where we’re talking about the painful past. That stuff hurts; that stuff hurt to go through and to feel.”
Gottsagen recalled crying while resolving the situation with Shia. “I was sad. I cried,” he said. “But I’m still gonna take that chance for myself, to give Shia one chance to prove to himself never, never, never do this kind of stuff again.”
When asked if it was too dramatic to say the film saved him, LaBeouf responded, “No, that’s not too dramatic to say.”
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In past decades, babies born with Down syndrome were institutionalized or hidden away. Today, they’re changing the world. From Gottsagen in Peanut Butter Falcon to the cast of Born This Way to actor Lauren Potter, numerous people are showing that folks with Down syndrome are talented, capable, and lead lives that are successful and fulfilling.
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