LOS ANGELES (AP) — For Zack Gottsagen, being named as one of The Associated Press’ Breakthrough Entertainers of 2019 is a confirmation of his success.

“It means some people believe in me …(and) a lot of people love my talent,” he said.

Gottsagen’s appeal is one of the reasons why “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has become one of the year’s most successful independent films and was an unexpected summer hit. The movie, which marks his professional acting debut, follows a wrestling-obsessed fan named Zack with Down Syndrome who leaves his assisted living facility for an adventure, and ends up forging an unlikely friendship with a fisherman, played by Shia LaBeouf, also on the run.

The fact that both the main character and Zack share the same name is no accident. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” was inspired by Gottsagen and specifically written for him by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz after the pair met Gottsagen at an acting camp for people with disabilities.

Gottsagen was determined to be an actor, and pleaded with Nilson and Schwartz to make his dream come true. The 34-year-old recalls growing up and watching Chris Burke, who also has Down Syndrome, star in the 1980s TV series “Life Goes On.”

“He is a really good actor. I always watched his show for like thousands and thousands of times,” he said about Burke.


Watching someone on TV who looked like him encouraged Gottsagen. Burke’s role was groundbreaking at the time, and it’s still a challenge for actors with disabilities to be cast in Hollywood projects.

Now, Gottsagen s providing that inspiration for others. He’s become a bonafide celebrity since the movie’s release, with appearances on shows like “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,”and will be honored at the Palm Springs International Festival with the Rising Star Award. It’s been a nonstop ride.

“Everything is going on right now,” he said.

Gottsagen plans to continue acting and said he prefers to focus on drama because it shows “feelings … most people would probably love to see that.”

But his dream would be to star with John Travolta, or at least play Travolta’s role in a reboot of his favorite film, “Grease,” which he has watched “many, many times.”

Gottsagen calls Travolta a triple threat because he can “dance, act and sing.” Gottsagen would love to follow in his footsteps, though he says he is likely more of a double threat.

“My mom has said I am not a regular singer,” he said. “I’m more of a dancer and an actor, so that’s the only two I am very good at.”

So far, it’s been more than enough.