Is The Peanut Butter Falcon A True Story? Here’s What’s Real

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The Peanut Butter Falcon, starring Zack Guttsagen, Shia LaBeouf, and Dakota Johnson, seems like it’s based on a true story — but is it?

2019’s The Peanut Butter Falcon is an inspirational film about a man with Down syndrome and the friends who help him actualize his dreams via a road trip from Virginia to North Carolina, but is The Peanut Butter Falcon based on a true story? The Peanut Butter Falcon centers around Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from his old life of constant care to realize his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Although The Peanut Butter Falcon isn’t wholly based on a true story, there is enough truth behind the events in the movie.

The opening of The Peanut Butter Falcon finds Zak escaping from the nursing home he’s been living in for the past two years. He makes his escape proper by getting on a boat owned by Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who agrees to take him from Virginia to North Carolina, where Zak hopes to attend a wrestling school he’s seen on TV. Along the way, Zak and Tyler begin to bond, which is further developed when Dakota Johnson’s Eleanor (who worked at the nursing home) joins them. The feel-good movie received positive reviews when The Peanut Butter Falcon premiered at SXSW 2019 back in March, winning an Audience Award at the festival.

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Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s The Peanut Butter Falcon seems just a little too crazy to not be based on a true story, and one of the best things about The Peanut Butter Falcon is how inspirational and heartwarming the winding tale is. Films like CODA (which is based on a true story)The Theory of Everything, and Breathe are finally bringing some much-needed visibility within the industry towards real-life figures and their livelihoods. Most drama/inspirational films are usually based on events that happened in real life — but is The Peanut Butter Falcon based on a true story?


Is The Peanut Butter Falcon Based On A True Story?

Shia LaBeouf as Tyler and Zack Gottsagen as Zak holding a gun in The Peanut Butter Falcon

While The Peanut Butter Falcon isn’t technically based on a true story, the experiences that Zak goes through are very factual. The story of The Peanut Butter Falcon, which in the movie is the wrestling persona Zak adopts, has been made-up by writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, but it’s rooted in reality thanks to the character of Zak. Not only is he played by newcomer Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome, but it was actually built around him and the character draws heavily upon his own personality and experiences. Actors and actresses with Down syndrome are starting to get more representation within the industry with performers like Kiki May in Ted Lasso, Edward Barbanell, Jamie Brewer, and Zack Gottsagen, who gives an incredible performance as Zak. So while The Peanut Butter Falcon‘s story isn’t based on actual events, the character of Zak is entirely Zack Gottsagen’s creation based upon his own life experiences, interests, and inspirations.


The Story Behind The Peanut Butter Falcon

Zak Gottsagen and Thomas Haden Church in The Peanut Butter Falcon

As detailed in The Peanut Butter Falcon featurette [via YouTube], the directors met Gottsagen at a camp eight years ago, where he told them he dreamed of being an actor. They were initially realistic about his chances, explaining that there aren’t many opportunities for actors with Down syndrome. Gottsagen then asked them to make a film for him, and they agreed, wanting to build a movie around him to provide the same opportunities afforded to other actors. Since success stories like AHS’s Murder House and recurring member Jamie Brewer are few and far between, studios wanted them to cast a bigger name. Instead, The Peanut Butter Falcon creators shot test footage with Zak to prove that he could do it and sent that video out to the people who’d become the fellow cast and crew members, who wanted to work with him. In a big way, The Peanut Butter Falcon is based on a true story, one of Zack Gottsagen’s own.


In order to build Peanut Butter Falcon into a true story, what Nilson and Schwartz decided to do was figure out Gottsagen’s interests. These turned out to include wrestling, swimming and going to parties. They then wrote a film based on those things. His co-stars all discuss how open, honest, and purely good he is (especially Dakota Johnson and Shia LaBeouf). These attributes then make it into the character of Zak in The Peanut Butter Falcon. Likewise, his rebellious spirit shines through, as does his ability to get along with people. Gottsagen first started studying acting when he was just three years old and had always dreamed of being a movie star, even working in a local cinema. The camp the directors met him at was Zeno Mountain Farm, a Los Angeles-based organization that hosts camps for artists and adventurers, and Gottsagen was attending an acting workshop there.


Whether or not The Peanut Butter Falcon is based on a true story is somewhat up in the air. Even though The Peanut Butter Falcon story isn’t based on true events, it’s quite clear that Nilson and Schwartz took a lot of inspiration from Gottsagen’s life. Though Zack didn’t dream of becoming a WWE-style wrestler, he is someone who had a dream his whole life and managed to realize it despite the odds, thanks to his own talent and help from friends made along the way. The Peanut Butter Falcon might switch acting for wrestling and add in Shia LaBeouf, but that central idea remains true to Gottsagen’s life.

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  • The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)Release date: Aug 09, 2019

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