interview by JANA LETONJA

Actor Christophe Zajac-Denek will star in Bleecker Street’s and Sundance’s most talked about film ‘Sasquatch Sunset’, which hits the theaters on 12th April. Christophe also produces and hosts his podcast ‘I’m Kind Of A Big Deal: Little People, Huge Stories’, which highlights the successes, struggles and exceptional lives of people of short stature, dwarfism.

Christophe, you will star in the upcoming film ‘Sasquatch Sunset’ that takes place in the misty forests of North America, where a family of Sasquatches embark on an absurdist, epic, hilarious and ultimately poignant journey over the courts of one year. Tell us more about the film and what can the viewers expect when it hits the screens?
The film finds four Sasquatches, played by Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Nathan Zellner and myself, living their lives as they normally would. It’s a glimpse into their day-to-day activities and how they try to survive. The film is broken into four chapters, by season, and it basically shows all of the things Sasquatch is doing on a daily basis. There is no dialog, no humans and no discernible language. It’s all Sasquatch all the time. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if a family of Sasquatches found elements of human existence, this film will answer those questions. It runs the gamut from hilarious, to tragic, to thought-provoking. It’s possibly the most beautiful and most ridiculous film I’ve seen.

In the film, your character and his family fight for survival as they find themselves on a collision course with the ever-changing world around them. How would you describe your character and how do you personally connect with him?
I play the child Sasquatch in the film. Though he’s not a baby, he’s still a bit needy and a momma’s boy. He’s also rambunctious, curious, and slightly dim. There is a side of him that is branching out and we see him creating a bit of his own world. His healthy curiosity leads him to being a hero at times. He also has a strong connection with all types of creatures that live in the woods. It was really fun to show up to set and tap into a more uninhibited being. I personally connect with a lot of the child’s traits. I’m creative, inquisitive, and can be awkward at times. As a human adult, I’m sure I try to tamp some of those traits down in my daily life. But I found when I was in makeup and on set I could tap into them.

You’ve also done quite a lot of stunt work. What excites you the most about this and what has been the craziest stunt experience you’ve had so far?
Performing stunts has been a really fun part of my career. They excite me because stunting combines two things that I enjoy, physicality and creativity. I love to be active and I love to figure out how to make an action look impressive and impactful. I also love the timing of stunts. You have to pay close attention to the timing of the scene and the action to have a stunt pay off. 

Playing The Spike on ‘Twin Peaks’ was probably one of the craziest stunts I’ve done. I play a serial killer on the show and I had to stab people to death. Being directed by David Lynch as that character is one of the highlights of my career. He’s at the top of the list of favorite directors with whom I’ve worked. Especially because I did the physical action and I also had scenes in which I was playing as Ike. 

Besides acting, you also have your podcast ‘I’m Kind Of A Big Deal: Little People, Huge Stories’. Why is it so important to highlights the successes, struggles and exceptional lives of people of short stature, dwarfism, through your podcast?
I believe that little people have received the smallest amount of positive and authentic representation in the media, relative to a lot of other marginalized groups. I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over twenty years. The majority of posts I see on social media and videos on YouTube about dwarfism consistently punch down at our existence. Plus, in my fifteen years of working as a professional actor, I’ve been offered more roles to play an elf, leprechaun, demon, bunny, rat, Oompa Loompa and other one-dimensional caricature roles which never show my face. It’s a pleasant rarity when I’m offered to read for a role that actually wants to see my face. I decided to start the podcast because I didn’t see things getting better for little people. I became tired of the disparaging representation and the labels that didn’t fit with my life and the lives of my exceptional friends. Starting the podcast was my attempt to humanize our experience. I wanted to give an authentic glimpse into the lives of little people. I figured the best people to share that with the world would be little people themselves.

Standing at 4’4 as a result of a rare form of dwarfism, how have you adapted to the juxtaposition of societal norms?
It’s been a process. My entire life is me adapting. I don’t think I’d be alive if I didn’t learn how to adapt to my life. I’ve also had to accept my life. That’s been a whole process too. From my eyes, I don’t see the world differently. My hands look like normal hands to me. I can tell they’re smaller when I hold them up to other people’s hands, but they work for me and my life and I don’t think twice about it. 

When I’m out in public, it’s a different dance though. There’s the element of physical survival. I’m not the biggest fan of crowded places. It ends up being a game of ‘dodge the asses and elbows’. I’ve had to adapt socially as well and I’ve become quite confident in my skin. Sometimes I can have a thick skin, which I’ve developed from years of being called out, avoided, laughed at, gasped at, photographed and asked inappropriate questions while going about my day running errands or on a walk outside. That thick skin is a protection that I’ve had to perfect, but it isn’t helpful when it comes to breaking the barriers to access around dwarfism. 

More recently, I’m trying to find the balance between protecting myself from hurtful interactions while leaning into the humanity of a situation. If someone reacts to seeing me, I want to try to approach that scenario with as much confidence and acceptance as I can. Approaching with softness in those situations can feel more like offering a bridge than not. It’s all adaptation all of the time.

After graduating, you worked as a TV producer while touring as a drummer in a very successful rock band, The Hard Lessons. How have these experiences shaped and impacted your career?
I was very lucky to be able to work at two community TV stations in metro Detroit after college. Not only did I learn how to shoot, write, edit, produce, direct, run audio and do slow-mo, the jobs also allowed me the flexibility to leave for tour for months at a time. There’s nothing like working part-time for a city that allows you to have that kind of job security. Playing in the band was such a great time as well. We all worked really hard to make the project go. We did everything ourselves for the longest time, promotion, booking, release distribution and producing. It was a fun, fulfilling and exciting time. 

Both of these experiences taught me that there’s opportunity out there for the unconventional. If you want to do the thing that’s not what society directs you to do, you can do that. You just have to believe in yourself and go for it. Listen to your heart and find a way.

You are very passionate about surfing. How has surfing become your passion and changed your life?
I’ve been obsessed with surfing since I was 14 years old and living in my mom’s basement in metro Detroit. I’ve always loved the Great Lakes, oceans and skateboard culture. Surfing felt like the blending of those. When I was a kid, we took a vacation to Cocoa Beach, Florida. That was the first time I surfed and I was terrified. I didn’t take any lessons, I just hopped on a board and went for it. I didn’t catch any waves, got caught in a rip current and barely made it back to shore. But it didn’t matter, I was hooked. 

I’ve been surfing consistently for the last ten years. It’s not the easiest thing for me as I’ve got a spinal fusion in almost my entire back. The rods along my spine significantly limit my mobility and flexibility, but I’ve found out how to make things work for me. A couple of years ago, a documentary was made about my life, surfing and dwarfism. It’s called ‘Standing On Water’ and it’s won awards at film festivals around the world. I’m so grateful that I am able to share my passion for surfing with the world. It’s been a difficult road to learn how to make it work for me. I used to say that surfing has changed my life and I now say that surfing continues to change my life.

You’ve even competed in and won The US Open of Adaptive Surfing in Oceanside. What did this win and what does competing in surfing in general mean to you?
Being in the water for our heats at The US Open of Adaptive Surfing in Oceanside was a time in my life when I felt the most seen and accepted. Me and the other competitor had competed in other divisions with average height athletes because there weren’t other little people surfing in those events. However, when we were in the water for our heat designated for short stature, it was validating in a way I had never experienced before. Little people are pretty rare to come by and little people who surf are even rarer. I’ll remember that feeling for the rest of my life. Winning the short-stature division was the icing on the cake. I honestly didn’t care who won. Surfing rewards being in the right place at the right time. I just happened to be in the right spot when a good wave came.

Your love for surfing took you all over the world. What do you love the most about traveling and exploring new places?
I started traveling at a young age. My mom took me on trips to Caribbean islands when I was only two years old. I quickly became comfortable with being in different locations and surrounded by other cultures. Both of my parents took me on lots of trips when I was a kid. Those experiences have encouraged me to be curious and adventurous. Traveling gets my blood pumping and my mind stimulated. I love the experience of being immersed in different cultures and trying new things. Plus, I love food and trying local foods. That’s reason enough to get out and expand your horizons.

What can you share with us about your upcoming projects?
I worked on a film called ‘Astral Plane Drifter’, which should be completed this year. It’s got a 70s psychedelic desert vibe. It was a really fun project to work on and we shot for a week near Joshua Tree. I’ll be in another project where I’m going to be drumming along with some choreographed dance. I’m stoked to get back into playing music on set and be a part of the rhythm in the show.

all photography by AMANDA RAMON