American Wrestler: The Wizard (Ranarivelo, 2016): USA

Reviewed by Katrina Storton viewed at one day only theatre event.

May 3rd, 2017, American Wrestler: The Wizard (2016) premiered in theatres across the nation for a one-night event. The film was released on the 23rd of April, 2016 at the Newport Beach International Film Festival but was just released May 3rd, 2017 by Fathom Events.

American Wrestler: The Wizard is based on the true story of Ali Afshar, a teenage boy who escapes the unrest in Iran in 1980. However, he faces more hostility in America due to the hostage crisis. Determined to fit in, he joins the school’s failing wrestling team.

American Wrestler: The Wizard has a great vibe to it. Because the film is based in 1980, the clothing, the mise-en-scene, and soundtrack, made this movie feel like a classic 80’s film. The underdog story of a scrawny kid with an inner fire who defies all odds and becomes a wrestling “wizard,” places itself against other classics such as Karate Kid or even Rocky as the film is also about an immigrant outcast who’s doubted in skills solely due to where he comes from.

American Wrestler: The Wizard is an inspiring film that will make you smile, laugh, and cry. The film’s lead actor George Kosturos did a fantastic job portraying Ali Afshar as he went through the trials and tribulations of being Iranian in America during the 1980 hostage crisis. American Wrestler: The Wizard is George Kosturos’s first leading role in a film, and he had excellent help getting into his role with such experienced actors cast alongside him. Jon Voight’s (Deliverance, Midnight Cowboy) role is that of a principal with zero tolerance but a kind heart deep down. William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Contact) is the coach of the high school’s failing wrestling team who sees the passion in Ali and lets him on the wrestling team. The role of Ali’s uncle, Hafez Tabad, however, was played by Ali Afshar himself, the man the movie is based on. I truly appreciated Ali Afshar’s portrayal of Hafez. The character was rough, selfish, and angry about the way the Iranians were being treated in America at that point in time. The character was not sugar-coated in the least, he was vulgar and crass in his moments of highest frustration, but he later becomes caring and encouraging to his nephew. I am inclined to believe Ali’s performance was extremely accurate as well. The film I about his own life and he would play his own uncle accurately to make the film true to form.

One truly spectacular part of the film was the wrestling. George Kosturos had no experience in wrestling before this film. Yet he learned and performed all his own stunts. The wrestling holds, escapes, and moves were incredible, you couldn’t look away. The wrestling scenes in American Wrestler: The Wizard were so intense that everyone in the audience was squirming in their seats, the cinematography truly puts you in the heat of the moment.

Below is a transcribed interview I had with George Kosturos after the May 3rd premiere of American Wrestler: The Wizard at Century at the River, a movie theatre in Rancho Mirage, California. George Kosturos chose this location for the nationwide theatre premiere of his film because it is his hometown. His family and my family happen to also be parishioners of the Saint George Greek Orthodox Church in Palm Desert California. George is a very happy and upbeat person. He was delighted to give me time for an interview after the film as our families know each other, we’re from the same church, and he used to attend Santa Barbara Community College as well.

I highly suggest seeing American Wrestler: The Wizard, it is a great film with many laughs and an inspiring story. The movie has won 10 awards while traveling the film festival circuit and has high reviews across multiple platforms. You’ll be able to buy American Wrestler: The Wizard on DVD on May 23rd, 2017.


Interview with George Kosturos:


Is this the third time seeing your movie now?

No, this is like the 50th time seeing this movie.


50th? Really?

We filmed it almost two years ago. We did the festival circuit, so I saw it all those times. There was so many prescreening and industry screenings, I’ve honestly seen it over 50 times…and I still love it.


Are you happy with the final cute or do you wish there was a scene that got put in?

I’m so happy with it. They used every scene, because we only shot the movie in 18 days which is shocking.


That’s impressive.

Yeah! It’s a two hour movie and it was shot in 18 days. I think they used every scene, I don’t think they cut even one.


So there’s no deleted scenes to be found on the DVD?

There’s no deleted scenes, not on the DVD. There’s bloopers on the DVD and a couple cool behind the scenes stuff on the DVD but no deleted scenes. I don’t think we deleted any.


How’d you get involved with the movie [American Wrestler: The Wizard]?

I was in LA, acting. I graduated from USC in 2014 and was auditioning. I did a couple of movies right when I graduated. It was just a random audition. It was actually almost the first audition I ever turned down. That was because I didn’t think I could play an Iranian. I’m not Iranian. And you had to be a 126 pound wrestler and I was at 160 at the time. I was thinking to myself “This is just crazy” but a friend of mine told me to go, “Who knows?” So I went.

They told me they loved me and I had to lose a little weight. So for the callback, and this doesn’t normally happen, I lost about 15 pounds. No one really does that for callbacks, they wait until their booked but I really wanted the movie after reading the script. I lost the 15 pounds and they were shocked and then about 7 more callbacks, so many rounds of auditions, and I got the role.


Wow! So how did your Iranian accent?

I have two best friends, Peter and Paul, and they’re from here [Palm Springs area/Coachella California] in the desert. I went to Palm Desert High School with them, and they helped me with all the Farsi lines and helped me with the accent. They taught me the small things that make the Iranian accent a lot different from other accents. I would spend time with their family or with them, and they would show me how it was done. I would follow their dad around and listen to him talk and just kind of mimic him. I basically learned from those two guys.


And you had to have a Farsi accent while speaking French too.

Yeah! It was so weird, I could barely speak the French. So I had to learn the French then use the Farsi accent to say the French. Apparently it sounded real (Laughs) but I don’t even know what I’m saying when I do it.


How did you prepare for the wrestling when you’ve never wrestled before?

Yeah, I had never wrestled before and they brought me up to Petaluma just a month before the movie started. When I booked the role, we were going to be shooting in one month.

I wrestled with local High School kids and basically joined their practices. The real guy the movie is based off of [Ali Afshar] was there teaching me every day. Also a Green Beret wrestling coach was also teaching me every day. So, we trained our butts off and (Laughs) I got my butt kicked by all the local wrestling kids and finally I could keep up by the time we were shooting.


Do you enjoy wrestling? Do you think you’ll continue it?

I like wrestling yeah, but I like Jiu Jitsu, I’ve been getting into that more. I doubt I’ll keep wrestling but I’ll wrestle anyone who wants to wrestle me! Everyone since the movie wants to wrestle me. I’ll take anyone! (Laughs) But I don’t see myself doing any organized wrestling anytime soon.


What was it like working with such prestigious actors?

It was amazing. Jon Voight was the nicest guy to work with. With him being such a professional, and knowing this was my first leading role, he was so nurturing and so helpful along the way. He taught me a lot. Same with Will Fichtner, he’s like a mentor to me now. Both of them are just such fun/silly guys on set. But, as soon as we’re shooting, (Snaps his Fingers) they’re laser focused. That’s something I learned from them, how to go from being yourself on set then snapping back into character once you start filming.


What did you study at Santa Barbara City College? Did you enjoy your time there?

I went to Santa Barbara City College for one year before I transferred to USC. I took acting, my first acting class ever, Acting 101. I forget the teachers name, I apologize. Did you ever take acting?


No, I’ve only done film studies.

I took film studies with Professor Stinson. I also audition for a couple of plays there (SBCC). I got into the play called “Almost, Maine”. It was very random. But truly, SBCC was my first experience with acting, first experience with class, and first with being in a play. After that, when I transferred to USC I decided this is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life.


I heard you went an untraditional route of learning to act?

Yes, as I said, I took that one class at SBCC and it was great, but, I felt I wasn’t getting what the other kids were getting out of it. I went for a different approach, to learning how to act, I read a few influential books, and I then decided to watch my favorite actors. I relentlessly watched every film they’ve ever done from when they first started till now. So I watched Matt Damon, every film he’s ever done, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise. I just studied them. There’s this essence I think actors bring, and THAT’S the magic. So I studied how they do that in each role. That’s something I’m trying to do now. I think that was huge in my own personal training.


What is your favorite thing about acting?

I’m a mellow guy in real life and I think it’s fun to experience different emotions I normally wouldn’t show in my real life. Never would I go up to someone and scream at them or get upset but in movies you can do that. I love to experience the full range of emotions that life offers. In real life, in society, you can’t be crazy, you gotta be normal.


Any advice for aspiring actors?

Don’t give up. There’s times where it seems like you can’t do it, what you’re doing is silly but if you REALLY wanna do it, you won’t give up. That’s the test of time, don’t give up and you’ll find your way.


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