Hollywood is putting his life story on film, but a star turn didn’t come in a Schwab’s pharmacy moment of instant discovery for Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz.
What there was was this: hours and hours into days of some of the most back breaking work you could ever imagine doing. And while you’re doing it? Chipped and lost teeth, cauliflowered ears, vertebras pretzeled. All for little or not-serious recompense. This is freestyle wrestling. This is Olympic freestyle wrestling in America. Blood, sweat, tears and no cash. Yet when the stocky and still solidly muscled Schultz ambles into view, you can see there is even more to him than that: there is an abiding gentleness, cheek by jowl with a distinct undercurrent of dark.
When a man wants to make a movie about your life, you don’t complain
- Mark Schultz
“Dave had always sort of been my protector,” Schultz says from his present home in Oregon. ”Even then, when I was getting ready for the Worlds again,” he trails off as he tries to explain the following decade of what can only be described as mourning. Because once the headlines had died down after his brother’s murder, there were a lot of years of not much at all for Mark: a brief bow in the early Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a lost gig at BYU and then, an idea. “I think I needed to write about it, my life,” said the 5’10”, now about 200 pound Schultz. “I ended my career and realized that no one really knew what I had done, so I took two weeks and decided to tell them.”
Sure there were accolades and acclaim: the Gold Medal in the 1984 Olympics, the Gold in the World Championships in 1985 and 1987, entry into the Guiness Book of World Records for “The most world titles won by a U.S. wrestler,” a job as head wrestling coach at Brigham Young University in Utah (Schultz is a Mormon), and inductions into various Halls of Fame. But there was also the day it all came screeching to a halt: that day was January 26, 1996, the day that his older brother Dave, an equally decorated wrestler, was shot to death by multimillionaire wrestling patron and paranoid schizophrenic, John du Pont. Dave Schultz’s love for the sport of wrestling had led him to coaching for du Pont’s private “Team Foxcatcher” squadbefore it all spiralled out of control.
Sixty pages later he had a solid treatment for a movie. He sent it around to friends since it “was really like an email anyway.” One of his wrestlers sent it to his own brother who was at Columbia (the studio, not the university), who got it to the producer of Precious, who in turn gave it to director Bennett Miller. He of Capote, Moneyball, and an all-time OZY favorite, the documentary The Cruise.
The year was 2005 and after Miller initially tried to refuse the story, he read one paragraph and said, according to Schultz, “this is exactly what I have been looking for.”
Critics are already buzzing about an eerie, award-worthy performance from Steve Carell as John du Pont, one of the darkest roles the actor has ever taken on. The role of Mark’s slain brother, Dave, is played by Mark Ruffalo, and Mark himself is portrayed by Channing Tatum, in a turn that, like Carell’s, is being called career-redefining.
Schultz’s original story spent only about three pages on the murder that has overshadowed his life, but Miller made that the movie’s set piece.
“When a man wants to make a movie about your life, you don’t complain,” laughs Schultz. So from the early life lows (the divorce diaspora, high school drug use and a certain rootlessness), to the rise to grappling glory followed by tragic lows, Foxcatcher(named after du Pont’s Pennsylvania wrestling emporium) brings all the drama of Schultz’s life to life.
And the story is well-timed now that wrestling has been restored to its place as an Olympic sport after being unexpectedly axed last February. Like the elite athletes of the true story, the production put all of its stars through the aforementioned hell of training. Tatum, who is a real life martial artist and often makes his way to San Jose, California to train with UFC fighter Cung Le, “just busted his ass,” says Schultz. “He came out the other end like Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull. Much better than when he started and actually really good.”
Originally scheduled for a December release, Foxcatcher has now been pushed back a bit to 2014 to avoid the year-end rush of movies trying to make an Academy Award run.
”Whatever they put in that movie,” said Todd Hester, former editor of Grappling and now editor of Gladiator magazine. ”Will probably not even come close to being able to really capture how phenomenal both Mark and Dave were. I mean Mark didn’t start wrestling until he was, what, like 17? And less than 10 years later he’s in the Olympics? This is no average man by any stretch of anyone’s imagination.”
And though the early screening sent Schultz into high dudgeon while watching the movie’s portrait of du Pont and his subsequent threats of legal action, he realized his reaction was really about the rush of reliving the darkest of the dark periods of his life. ”Steve [Carell]…” Schultz pauses. ”I had to look twice to make sure it was not du Pont.” Making his peace with the flick’s “genius,” Schultz is now focused on releasing his autobiography as a companion piece to the movie and hoping all of this marks some sort of turn around.
“It’s a great movie,” Schultz concludes. “But I miss Dave every day. So it’s nice to have him remembered but it’s hard to remember.”
Why you should care
Because wondering if Channing Tatum was handsome enough to play you in your life story would keep you busy for at least a minute.