George Kosturos is the future of Hollywood…
And the future is now.
As the lead of the new film “American Wrestler: The Wizard,” the California native is making a powerful statement through his acting. Still only in his mid 20s, Kosturos has an entire career ahead of him, and if it continues on its current trajectory, it is a career that will rival that of Matt Damon’s, his acting idol.
We recently sat down with Kosturos to discuss the attention the film has brought him, sucking weight, and how both Rocky and The Karate Kid are in his corner.
TrunkSpace: We know that “American Wrestler” is a film that you actually shot some time ago and it’s had this long and slow burning shelf life. Is it strange to be talking about it like it’s a new film even though it’s not new to you?
Kosturos: Yes. It is definitely strange. It was shot about two years ago at this point. And then we did the festival circuit last year and it gained momentum and finally got the attention of people this year and that changed things real quick because they were really excited to get it out.
I think I saw it for the first time a year and a half ago and now people can see it for the first time in the theater. It’s wild and it’s cool to see how the movie was so inspiring then, it’s inspiring now and how it’s even more timely now. It’s almost like the movie has a mind of its own and it was just waiting. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you shot this film two years ago, a very early point in your career. Just from an acting standpoint, you must feel like you’ve come a long way since then in your abilities?
Kosturos: Yeah, definitely. It’s been a wild ride. It’s had such a great reception from all the festivals and we won like ten awards. I myself have won like five acting awards, and so, it’s been cool. It’s been cool to watch this one movie continue and continue to give me more recognition and attention.
TrunkSpace: Hollywood has such a rich history of powerful storytelling through sports biopics and “American Wrestler” carries that torch forward.
Kosturos: Yes, it’s an underdog story. I think that everyone, no matter what sports you play, you can relate to that in some way. “The Karate Kid” is one of my favorite movies. I never did karate, but I love that movie. “Rocky” is one of my favorite movies. I never boxed, but I love that movie. It has that underdog mentality and story.
And funny story, I was able to get a copy of the film to Ralph Macchio and Sylvester Stallone who both emailed me personally to tell me that they loved it and thought that it was going to be a huge underdog sports movie hit. So that was cool.
TrunkSpace: You mentioned not boxing and not having done karate as a kid, but did you wrestle?
Kosturos: No, never. This movie was my first experience with wrestling. I trained with the real guys that the movie is based off of, up in Petaluma where we shot, for maybe less than a month. We were training and I had to learn real quick. They threw me into practices with local high school kids. The local coach there Jimmy Pera was this Green Beret, tough coach. Everyone was treating me like another one of the kids and then slowly but surely I was keeping up. They were kicking my butt for a while, but I was keeping up by the end. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Did you have to do the scourge of wrestlers everywhere and suck weight?
Kosturos: Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent. Well, I had to start it before I even got the role. I went to the first audition and they said that I was a little too big. I was like 160 at the time. I talked to my manager about losing some weight for the callback. He’s like, “That’s kind of crazy. Don’t. Wait until you book it.” I read the script and I loved it. I was like, “I want to lose it right now.” So I lost 15 pounds in like 12 days.
TrunkSpace: Oh man! You really were living the life of a wrestler. (Laughter)
Kosturos: Yeah. I came back and I’m all skinny and the producers were like, “What happened to to you?” Seven auditions later it finally worked.
TrunkSpace: Did training with Ali, the real life person that you’re portraying in the film, help you inhabit who he was as a person?
Kosturos: Yeah, definitely. It was cool seeing his mentality. Even to this day, he still has that kid-like determination that’s just… he was jumping in with the high school wrestlers, and he’s a little older now… he’s 44 or 45. But he’s like, “Let me show you!” And then he tries hard to take them down. Just seeing how determined and how scrappy he was… it was cool to see. Spending a lot of time with him just helped me build the character that I was going to play for the film.
TrunkSpace: When you’re taking on a character who is based on somebody who not only walks this earth, but does so now, is there an extra layer of pressure playing him as opposed to just creating a character off of the page?
Kosturos: Totally. Not only did he teach me to wrestle and not only was he producing the film and on set everyday, but he’s the guy playing the uncle in the movie. So, he’s not only on set but he was in the film across from me. A lot of times it was overwhelming, but he was really cool to work with and I think just even spending more time with him allowed me to get closer and closer to the character to make it as true as possible.
TrunkSpace: You mentioned having seven auditions before you landed the role, but now you’re actually working with the director on other projects as well, so it was the seven auditions that keep on giving!
Kosturos: Yeah. We all stayed so close after the film and shooting this movie… we shot it in 18 days up in Petaluma, so it was real quick, but we all became so close that we were like family. And that producer and that director, Ali and Alex, they work together a lot still and if they’re doing a movie together they’ll always call me and bring me in anytime they can to do other films and things like that. It’s a really cool relationship that we’ve made.
TrunkSpace: We read that when you were younger you used to keep your acting aspirations to yourself. What was it that kept you from wanting to share that passion with the people in your life?
Kosturos: To be honest, I truly thought it was not realistic. I grew up in a small town near Sacramento originally and then moved to Palm Springs/Palm Desert area for high school. I didn’t know anyone in the business. I’ve never known an actor. I’ve never known a producer. I didn‘t know anyone who did that, so I just thought that kids on TV were just like some superheroes who had some connection that I would never get. And then, I don’t know, as I began to get closer to graduation in high school… when you graduate high school everyone tells you, “You can do anything you want. You could be anything.” I started to hear that and listen to that and a small part of me wanted to test it. So I was like, “Really? I can be anything I want? Well then, Mom, I want to be an actor.” She was like like, “Noooooo!” (Laughter)
It’s a few years later now and now they’re very supportive and they’re all excited.
TrunkSpace: When did it seem real to you? When was the moment that you went, “Oh, this could be my career?”
Kosturos: I think when I finally got to USC. I went to college at USC and I graduated in 2014. I started hinting towards that I wanted to act and pursuing that path and when I got to USC, that’s where I felt like, “Wow, there are other people here that are trying to do what I’m trying to do. There’s opportunities here. There’s connections here.” It seemed like I found this little gateway to Hollywood in a way. That’s even the reason I chose USC, just because of its well-known entertainment connections. I think when I got there it kind of opened the door for me.
TrunkSpace: Your career is in a full sprint right now, so in sticking with sports analogies, how do you hope to maintain that pace and make your career more of a marathon than a sprint?
Kosturos: I think through smart choices with what I do next. I think that’s going to be real important and not rushing into something that maybe is enticing for other reasons. Just trying to find another story. So far I’ve worked on some that I’ve been so proud of because of the story and I think if I stick with that, I’ll be able to have that sort of marathon career.