The athlete talks about making the film, his "history" with Joe Soares and being yourself on camera

Anyone familiar with the documentary Murderball is undoubtedly familiar with the “face” of the film. As this is movie about a group of athletes who play for Team USA, saying that there is just one face is certainly doing somebody a disservice. However, one glimpse at the poster for this movie and it’s hard to forget what Mark Zupan looks like. Tattooed up and looking as mean as anyone, his picture creates a striking impression. As one of the best “Murderballers” in the world, Zupan and his team will show you that their physical limitations aren’t as limiting as they may seem. The doc also lets you into their private lives so we can gain a better understanding of who these men are as people.

So, what is Murderball? Also known as quad rugby it combines the finesse of soccer with the bone-jarring collisions of a demolition derby. The athletes use custom wheelchairs that look like something out of a Mad Max movie. Players careen around the court with reckless abandon, slamming into each other, fueled by an unrivaled competitive spirit.

Their ultimate goal is to win a gold medal at the Paralympics. Team USA has dominated the sport for years. But when Joe Soares, a gold medalist in 1996 and one of the best ever to play the sport, gets cut from the team, he becomes coach of Team Canada with one goal: beat Team USA at the 2004 Athens games. Murderball, the film, chronicles these men as they overcome unimaginable obstacles to become world-class athletes.

Would you say the Mark Zupan we see in Murderball is the real Mark Zupan? Or, were things edited in a different way than maybe they should have been?

Mark Zupan: That’s me, dude. They said what was cool about me was when the camera was off, I was still the same person.

So you didn’t watch it and say, “Oh man, I wish they hadn’t done that!”

Mark Zupan: That was a great depiction of who I am.

When you started playing the sport did you go out of your way to set yourself apart? With the tattoos and the way your wheels are on the chair? How did all of that come about?

Mark Zupan: I don’t know... I started playing and I guess my style’s my style. It’s always been that way. I guess it just fits in well.

So you just took who you were before and just incorporated it into the sport?

Mark Zupan: Yeah, the way I look now just fits in really well with the sport. If you look at where the sport would fit in, it would fit in as an X Game. And most of us all dress and act and pretty much are like that. So, it’s just fitting that that’s my personality and my personality fits in.

How did you end up being in the movie Murderball

Mark Zupan: Dana Shapiro (Director) wrote an article for Maxim Magazine. And he approached us, me, Scott (Hogsett) and Andy (Cohn). He gave us a call because he didn’t know anything about the sport. So he called us and we talked about it. Then they showed up in Sweden and just found that there was a history between Joe (Soares) and myself, and I guess they liked the personalities. Like I said before, I was the same on camera as I was off camera. They liked the honesty. They liked everything.

When you started doing the movie did you have any idea that it would do everything that it has done?

Mark Zupan: I knew it was going to do something but I didn’t know it was necessarily going to do this. I mean this has been wild. It’s been really, really wild.

Has your life completely changed because of this movie?

Mark Zupan: I’m never home. (Laughs) I’m doing a lot of speaking at colleges so that’s been really fun. Has it changed? Yeah. My face is noticeable now. People come up to me and are like, “Hey, I saw you in this, that and the other...,” and it’s like, “Oh... okay.” It’s definitely weird.

Had you been doing that stuff before? Was that ever something you’d wanted to do before the movie? Before there were cameras around?

Mark Zupan: I’d done some of it but not to the extent of what I’m doing now. For me, talking in front of people isn’t really difficult. It’s pretty easy. And now, this has afforded me the opportunity to speak more.

Are you at all interested in moving on to acting?

Mark Zupan: Yeah, I would definitely think about it. I mean, like I’ve told people before, I’m not gonna sell my house in Austin and move to LA to pursue my acting career. But, if somebody comes and says, “Hey, would you be interested...?” I’ll listen. Of course. I think it’s kinda cool.

What’s next for you?

Mark Zupan: Next for me would be to just keep training. I mean, our club season just started so we’re gonna get in shape for that. I’m gonna continue to do speaking. Hopefully, we get an Oscar nod. That could be kinda cool. Very, very odd, again, but that could be cool. Just pretty much run with what comes at you.

Lastly, is there ever a possibility that there will be a mending of the fences between you and Joe Soares? Or, are you two just never going to be friends?

Mark Zupan: I highly doubt we’ll be friends. I’ve never gotten along with him. He’s a different person. He’s not somebody I’d go and hang out with at the bar or what have you. There’s just something about him... I’m never gonna take away that the man knows his rugby, he just doesn’t convey it well... in my eyes.

Murderball rolls on to DVD shelves November 29th, 2005.

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Evan Jacobs