Interview Magazine – US edition, July 2005
INSIDE ONE OF THE YEAR’S MOST TALKED-ABOUT DOCUMENTARIES
By Winona Ryder – photograph by Steven Klein
Winona Ryder has long been friends with Henry Alex Rubin, the co-director of the hit documentary Murderball, and counts herself a huge fan of Rubin’s hard-hitting new film. The actress spoke this month to both Murderball directors and its star, Mark Zupan, about the film and the fascinating true stories behind it. “I think it’s just something unexpected,” says Ryder. For her part, the actress can next be seen in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly with Keanu Reeves.
The winner of the documentary Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Murderball delves into the world of wheelchair rugby, a full contact sport played in tricked-out chairs by quadriplegics of varying degrees of physical mobility. The film centers around Team U.S.A and one of its star players, Mark Zupan, a tattooed former high school athlete who lost the use of his legs when he was thrown from the back of a pickup truck driven by his best Friend, Christopher Igoe, who was drunk at the time. But more than a sports documentary or a movie about people with disabilities, Murderball is an exploration of the lives of the players and their experiences. Here, Winona Ryder talks to Zupan, along with Murderball’s co-directors, Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin, about the film, which hits theaters this month.
WINONA RYDER: Zupan, I know you love shoes, so my first question is What kind of shoes are you wearing right now?
MARK ZUPAN: l’m wearing a pair of Fluevogs.
WR: They’re Doc Marten type shoes, right?
MZ: They’re very similar.
HENRY ALEX RUBIN: Tell her about how you never wear out your shoes.
MZ: Well, I don’t – I mean, how the hell would I? I’ll keep a pair of shoes for 10-I2 years. It’s not like l’m going to wear out the bottoms.
WR: But you want to scull them up a bit.
MZ: Yeah, so they don’t look so new.
DANA ADAM SHAPIRO: You really don’t get that worn-in shoe look, do you, Zupan?
MZ: The ones l’m wearing are pretty worn in. It’s not like I don’t scuff them up at all, boys and girl.
HAR: Zupan, are you at work?
MZ: No, I’m getting a tattoo. They’re just finishing up on my arm.
WR: What is it a tattoo at?
MZ: We just designed something. There’s going to be a lot of black.
WR: Are you at a tattoo parlor, or did they come to you?
MZ: l’m at a parlor right now.
HAR: Do they have on-call tattoo artists?
MZ: If you have enough money, l’m sure they have whatever you want.
WR: [laughs] I wanted to ask you, Zupan, how your parents reacted to Murderball when they saw it for the first time? I imagine it would be very emotional for them but also really uplifting.
MZ: Well, when my dad first saw it, he was like, “Holy shit! -I mean, he couldn’t put what he was feeling into words because the movie made him cry. My dad warned my mom that there were some things that might upset her, but when she saw it, she just kind of shook her head and said, “Yup, that’s my son.” A lot of the stuff that’s in the movie is stuff that l’ve never really dealt with. Seeing Igoe again was especially difficult, as was the first time I went back to the place I got hurt.
WR: What do you remember from those hours after the accident?
MZ: Not much, to tell you the truth. I remember hitting the water and looking around, going, “Oh, shit. This is a new one.” I remember trying to keep the red ants from pinching my fingers and toes. I ended up hanging off a branch to hold my head above water because I was afraid of drowning.
WR: How long were you stuck in the canal?
MZ: Thirteen and a half hours. My initial thought was, Let’s just get up and find our way home. But when I tried to get up, my legs wouldn’t move, and I just pretty much lost it. I started crying. Then I got my shit together and said, “Fuck it, I guess it’s time to hang on.” I don’t remember anything alter that besides waking up when it was light out and getting hit in the face with raindrops.
WR: Did somebody find you, or did you get out yourself?
MZ: Somebody found me. There was a guy in an office building across from the canal, and he decided to go eat his lunch outside in his car. It was getting hot, so he opened his window a little, and he heard a noise. At first he thought it was from the off ramp, but he kept hearing the same thing, so he decided to get out of the car and check to see what it was. He saw the crown of my head across the canal, so he called 9-1-1. The fire chief told my father that the only things above water were my eyes, my nose, my mouth, and an arm. Once they got me over to land, I told them that I couldn’t move or feel my legs, so they took me to a trauma hospital, and the rest is history.
WR: What about the man who heard you and called 911? Has he seen Murderball?
MZ: I don’t know, but he actually contacted me. He found my name somehow, and we were supposed to meet for lunch, but we never did. The guy’s name is Martin Story. If he hears something about the movie, I’m sure he’ll see it. It was kind of wild.
WR: Who introduced you to wheelchair rugby?
MZ: This therapist, John True in Miami. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but after a while I was like, “This is cool.” I have an athletic background, so I can pick up sports fairly easily you know, the rules, the ideas, the ways of doing things. But the first time I played in a chair I was like, “Wow This is something that I never thought was going to be possible again.”
WR: I wanted to ask you, Dana and Henry, about the decision to include that footage of George W. Bush meeting Zupan and some of the other players at the White House. I understand that it was designed to show people how far murderball has come as a sport, but not long after, there’s another scene of the players showing these really young-looking kids who have come back from Iraq with missing limbs what you can do in a wheelchair. Whatever your opinion is of the president or the war in Iraq, I think it’s really important for people to see that there are these young kids who are coming back maimed. These kids went over to Iraq and fought, but there are a lot of questions right now about how well they’re being taken care of when they come back.
HAR: That’s the reality of war. We’re just showing it the way it is.
DAS: That’s something that we were really trying to do with the movie, to show everything that people don’t know about or are scared to ask about. People are going to war, and people are getting fucked up.
WR: Well, when you see these soldiers in the film, you no longer think of them as statistics. They become faces and personalities. That’s something that the movie does for the murderball players too.
HAR: That was really the overriding rule that Dana and I tried to apply to the whole movie–in other words, show, don’t tell. We tried very hard to stay away from statistics because we really didn’t want to paint with a broad palette. We wanted to get into the lives of these people and their stories.
WR: That’s what keeps the film from being tragic, it’s actually incredibly uplifting. Zupan, there’s a thing that you say in the movie that a lot of people have talked about.
MZ: That l’ve done more in a chair than I would have out of one?
WR: Yeah. It’s interesting because the film really doesn’t play into the sympathy thing. After a while you even start to forget that these guys are in wheelchairs.
MZ: Well, it helps that Henry and Dana decided to shoot from the perspective of someone in a chair. It’s like any other movie where you see eye-to-eye with the people onscreen.
WR: The movie also just kills everything that says you can’t make jokes about-
MZ: Poor old crippled kids?
WR: [laughs] I wonder if there are actually people who will find that aspect of the movie in poor taste?
MZ: Well, if you can’t make a joke about the situation you’re in, then what right do you have to comment on anything? That’s a big fuckin’ deal.
DAS: After Sundance we were looking around on the Internet for quotes or posts about the movie, and there was someone, I think from
Italy, who wrote that it was grotesque and disgusting and exploitative. I think the last line was: “What’s next? A film on midget tossing?”
WR: So, I don’t know if it’s been like this in other places, Zupan, but at Sundance people were stopping you on the street because they recognized you from the film.
MZ: Oh yeah, it’s weird. I got stopped recently in the Dallas airport. A woman came up to me and said, “I saw the film in Indianapolis.” She was trying ta catch up with me. I was just pushing along normally, and she’s like, “Dude, you’re moving fast.” And she was, like, running.
WR: Do the other guys give you hard time for being the star of the movie?
MZ: They gave me shit from day one. They’re like, “All right, Mr. Superstar, go do your movie shit.” And l’m like, “Fuck you, guys.”
WR: I don’t know if I’m allowed to ask, but what’s next lor all of you? I know that there are some things that are top secret.
HAR: Yes, l’m designing a new weapon. It’s plutonium based. I can’t discuss it at this juncture.
MZ: l’m working on a time machine, and if I get my government funding, it’s going to be good. It’s kind of like a transport, so you don’t have to take planes anymore.
HAR: And, I don’t know, Dana, should we talk about our midget tossing movie?
MZ: I thought that we were going to save the midget tossing for my birthday party.
HAR: Dude, is your tattoo done yet or what?
MZ: No, we’re still putting it on.
HAR: Can we put a picture of the tattoo design in the article?
MZ: [to tattoo artist] Hey, Pete, can they put a picture of the tattoo in the article?
PETE, THE TATTOO ARTIST: Fuck, yeah As long as my name’s underneath.
MZ: As long as his name’s underneath.
HAR: That’d be awesome. Do you have it on a piece of paper? Maybe we could send it to InterView or something.
WR: l’m just hurt that it doesn’t say “Winona Forever”.
Winona Ryder can next be seen in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, due in theaters next year.