Movie ReviewsWrestling.com (Part 1)
by Toby Hedglin
James Petulla at the “Reversal” Premiere with Kurt Angle
I recently sat down to talk with the writer, producer, and star of the upcoming high school wrestling movie “Reversal,” James Petulla. It was obvious by the tone of his voice, he was excited about the release of his first film, based on his own high school wrestling experiences.
JP: “It’s a father, son love story, the backdrop happens to be high school wrestling. And basically it’s based on a true story about my life. My father was my wrestling coach from the time that I was four years old ’till I graduated from high school. The film starts off with the boy when he is 7 years old and then it goes to him at 17 years old. It’s a father out of love, sort of pushing his son to be successful in the sport.”
TH: “Reversal” is being compared to the likes of “Rudy” and “Rocky,” yet Petulla insists it’s more a father/son love story than anything.
JP: “There’s sort of a cross between “Rudy” a nd “Good Will Hunting” in a way. There’s some family issues here. It’s a deep film and it’s sad. The story is not about wrestling, somewhat like “Rocky” wasn’t about boxing, but it was there, it’s about these people.” “I think the wrestling world, when they first hear of it, they’re expecting this sort of “Rah!Rah!” wrestling film and it isn’t that. Now wrestling is in it, wrestling is the backdrop and so forth, so that’s there, but it’s really the relationship of the father and son.”
TH: Petulla was pushed throughout his childhood and teen years to be a champion wrestler like his father. Many times starving himself to make weight for matches and training incessantly to be the best. While he doesn’t blame his father, he admits he may have pushed him too hard.
JP: “It was all done to try to get me an education. I come from a poor family. His thing was, if you’re good at wrestling, you’ll get a college scholarship. My father was just a regular guy and he thought he was doing the right thing and he pushed me a bit too hard.”
TH: As strange as it may sound, Petulla plays the role of his father in the film. His father attended the premiere in Pennsylvania.
JP: “I play my father in the movie, yes. He did see the movie, oh yeah. He cried like you wouldn’t believe, my parents were just blown away, they had no idea. I flew ’em out here, we did the screening at Paramount Pictures and they were just floored by the film.”
TH: From the very beginning Petulla insisted on having real people play the parts in his movie.
JP: “I saw this little heartfelt script turn into this Hollywood, TV movie, we’ll get an actor who doesn’t know how to wrestle and I was very intrigued about getting real wrestlers for some of the key roles, if they were charismatic and could do the acting and stuff as well. I’m really intrigued by using real people in films to some degree. I mean certainly using actors too, but there’s nothing like the truth.” “Actually we interviewed some Hollywood actors and then we went back to Pennsylvania and had a room full of state champions from across the country and the two kids that are leads in the film, Danny Mousetis, I mean he’s pretty much the guy I wrote, he’s been wrestling since he was 4 years old, he wrestles for the University of Pennsylvania and Justin Spates. Justin at the time was ranked number one in the nation at 119 pounds in high school. He was a national high school wrestling champion, he’s now wrestling for Missouri. But the reason the wrestling community loves it is, it’s the truth.”
JP: “We did an opening and Jack Spates, the head coach of the University of Oklahoma, Justin’s dad, he flew out along with some other people Michael Leitner, and some other people that are in the wrestling world and we’d just gotten their undivided endorsement on the film, cause they say the only film that ever came close wrestling-wise was “Vision Quest” and of course if you look at the wrestling in that movie, it’s not real. And the wrestling in our movie is live, it’s the real deal, I mean these kids just really go at it.”
TH: The film has attracted many people from the wrestling world including former WWF Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, Kurt Angle. While Kurt Angle attended the premiere in Pennsylvania, if you’re looking for a movie about professional wrestling, you’re not gonna find it here.
JP: “I don’t want people thinking this is a WWF movie, cause it’s not. What Kurt liked about the movie, is the fact that it related to him growing up with his father. He said “anybody who’s ever wrestled is gonna relate to the movie but anyone who’s ever sacrificed for a sport is also gonna relate to the movie.” Any father who has a son relates to it, you don’t have to be a wrestler to like the film. He just goes on about the truthfulness of the film, his wife cried.”
TH: “Reversal” has not yet been released nationally but Petulla already has another script in the works.
JP: “There’s a script that I may write about an old boxer by the name of William Miske. And this guy was the only guy to beat Jack Dempsy and he died of kidney disease when he was 26 years old. Interesting, life this guy had. But right now I want to get this film (Reversal) off the ground, but I do have another script about the boxer that’s in development.”
James Petulla is still in negotiations for the release of “Reversal” but he expects it to be out after the holidays. As soon as a release date is confirmed, I’ll be sure to let you know. Look for part 2 of the interview with James Petulla as well as my thoughts on the movie, next week. Thanks for reading.