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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Actor George Kosturos for 'American Wrestler: The Wizard' (2016)

Palm Springs native George Kosturos is a talented acting force in the indie film world making a splash success as 'Ali' in the award-winning film 'American Wrestler: The Wizard' (2016) where he co-stars with legendary actors Jon Voight and William Fichtner. The film recounts the true story of wrestler Ali Afshar who escaped from Iran in the 1980's and moved to the US for a better life, only to be met with hostility by Americans due to the concurrent Iran hostage crises. The film has received multiple awards at international film festivals; the most recent including the Audience Award, Favorite Actor and Jury Award at 2016 Napa Valley Film Festival. Radiant Films International is handling worldwide sales.
I recently interviewed George about his experience making 'American Wrestler: The Wizard' . Here is what he had to say:


Can you tell us about your character Ali in American Wrestler? Did you immediately identify with him?

GEORGE: Ali Jahani is a 17 year old boy who escapes the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and is thrown into high school in northern California. Due to the hostage crisis in Iran, Ali is met with hostility and prejudice, as many Iranian-Americans were blamed for the situation happening abroad. Ali can’t help feeling like an outsider, being not welcome in his home country or in his new surroundings in America. Something we all probably have felt at time to time, but maybe to a lesser degree. I immediately identified with his willingness to never give up, regardless of the negativity of others around him telling him that he can’t succeed. 


Do you see parallels in the situation taking place in the film with what's happening with US/Middle East relations today?

GEORGE: It’s beyond shocking how similar our current situation is to our film, something we never could have foreseen. Something one critic said was, “this film is 1979 meets 2016”. So much time has passed, yet sadly, not much has changed. We see the backlash in Europe and America that the refugees are facing, as millions are trying to escape war, just like my character. While there are some positive steps being made, mostly the public sentiment is that the refugees will bring more problems, and are also potential terrorists.. Very similar to when in the beginning of the movie, Ali’s uncle says while holding up the newspaper, “This is what think of us. They think we are terrorists….Ali you are bad luck and have brought more bad luck with you from Iran." 


You play a wrestler. How hard was it to train for the film?

GEORGE: Wrestling was the hardest sport I have ever encountered. Training was just about as challenging as it was booking the role. After my first callback, I was told I was perfect but a little too big to play a 126 lb wrestler, as I was 150lbs at the time. So I decided to lose as much weight as I could before the callback. I only had 12 days and but managed to drop 15 lbs! This must have helped cause after 7 more rounds of callbacks later I found out I got the job. Literally the next day, I was asked to come up to Petaluma where we would be shooting to train in wrestling, and we began shooting the following week so there wasn’t much time. Having never wrestled before, I wasn’t sure how it would go. Luckily I had a Green Beret wrestling coach, Jimmy Pera, and also Ali Afshar (the actual person who film is based on) there to show me the way. They taught me all the moves and the mentality of a wrestler. I definitely have a new respect for all wrestlers after doing this film. 


What was it like working with legend actors John Voight and William Fichtner as your coaches? Also, what was it like working with the Ali Afshar as your uncle?

GEORGE: Working with each of them was amazing in it’s own way. I remember day 1, scene 1, shot 1, I had my first scene with William Fichtner and I hadn’t even met him yet. I can still see myself standing behind the door to the gym, waiting for them to call action. It was a sink or swim moment for me and I remember taking a deep breath and telling myself “We got this”. William was such a leader for the entire team on set and working with him was a blast. His focus was admirable. He would tell me how he reads and re-reads the script throughout production. His attention to every detail and every moment helped me shape my performance. He is someone I look up to very much as an actor and person.

Jon also has such this natural leading presence on set. As nerve racking as it may have felt to be performing across “Jon Voight” (or as I would say, Mr. Sir from Holes), something about his presence is so calming and trusting. He has the experience to make everyone around him feel like the scene is going to be great. I guess its something that must come with being a legend.  Also, I was surprised to see how silly he was when the cameras weren’t rolling. He was always making me laugh between takes.

Working with Ali was one of the best and most challenging things about the shoot for me. I was taking on a new character, an accent, in a period piece and if that wasn’t enough, the guy who I was playing was sitting across from me AND in the scene as well! At times it was intimidating, but Ali is such a great actor and a great guy that it made the experience that much better.  To this day. he and I have developed an off screen Uncle/Nephew relationship which I am very thankful for.


The film was made for quite a modest budget, considering it's a period piece and a Bio. Do you think most movies these days unnecessarily inflate their budgets?

GEORGE: Films can be made for a lot less money than they used to be. I don’t think the budgets are inflated unnecessarily but after seeing the excellence our Director, Alex Ranarivelo, was able to achieve with the money we had, I can say that any good director with a slice of creativity should be able to make something great without 10 million dollars. 


You originally went to film school for producing. How did you make the switch to acting?

GEORGE: Well the plan was to always pursue acting as my main focus but a via a deal with my mother, I promised to finish school before I started acting. Luckily for her, everything went as planned and I booked my first job only a couple months after graduation. 


Do you think you will be wearing the producer hat in the future?

GEORGE: Yes. Definitely. I have a couple projects I am working on to hopefully begin pre-production in 2017. 


What kinds of films inspire you most and would you like to see yourself act in?

GEORGE: Films like "Karate Kid", "Rocky and Remember the Titans" were the kinds of films I’ve grown up loving! After doing "American Wrestler: The Wizard", that dream has been met which is crazy for me. I really feel beyond blessed. In the future, I would love to continue to do films that tell a story with a purpose. Fortunately, each of the projects I have found myself involved in have had a greater purpose to them. I chose to act to inspire and I would like to continue to find projects that let people leave the theater feeling a little better than when they walked in. But I mean, in all honesty, I would love to do a film series like Jason Bourne. Those are films that I can watch over and over and have always imagined myself doing. Secretly, I like to think I am the real Jason Bourne. 


You recently attended the Napa Valley Film Festival and won multiple awards. How was that experience and what awards did you receive?

GEORGE: That was a wonderfully exciting night for me. They kept pushing me back up on stage and wouldn’t tell me what it was for...I would actually have go out and ask the audience what we won. When they all pointed to the screen behind me and there was this giant picture of me with “Favorite Actor” written above it, I was able to figure it out. Luckily, the audience seemed to find it all pretty funny. Our film won Audience Award 'Favorite Film' and I won Audience Award 'Favorite Actor' and Jury Awards for 'Special Performance'. 


What will you be working on in 2017?

GEORGE: This coming year we have a few projects we are trying to get off the ground. That stuff you kinda have to just be patient with. I will surely doing more promo for American Wrestler as it should be out in spring 2017.  Also, I have a band called ‘Thomas.” with my close friend Nic Luken and we will be releasing an EP in spring of 2017 as well.

Actor George Kosturos as 'Ali'


Interview by Vanessa McMahon

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