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How AMERICAN UNDERDOG’s Hayden Zaller Opened Doors For Disabled Actors in Hollywood

Photo from IMDb

How AMERICAN UNDERDOG’s Hayden Zaller Opened Doors For Disabled Actors in Hollywood

By Movieguide® Staff

The Erwin brothers’ recent box-office hit and Movieguide® Award-nominated movie, AMERICAN UNDERDOG, tells the true story of faith, family, and perseverance behind NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. 

Although Zachary Levi played the titular role of Warner in the movie, child actor Hayden Zaller portrayed the role of Zack Warner—perhaps the most instrumental part of the Warner family’s real-life story. 

Born blind and with an intellectual disability, filling the role of Zack was no easy task. However, the 11-year-old Zaller stepped up to the challenge and delivered a winning performance. 

According to the Savannah Morning News, Zaller’s parents adopted him from China in 2016 into a theater family.  

“One of my friends, her name is Lucy and she is blind, she sent me the audition and I wanted to do it,” Hayden told the outlet. “My mom thought it was an indie flick, but we didn’t expect it to be so big.”

Shannon, Zaller’s mother, accompanied her son on set, but the cast and crew accepted Hayden like family. 

“We were only supposed to be there for a month or so, but because of that huge blizzard that hit the mid-west they had to push a lot of Hayden’s scenes to be at the end of filming,” Shannon said.  “Which was cool because you got to say that final thing which was…”

“I got say, ‘That’s a wrap!'” Hayden added.

“He got that special privilege,” Shannon continued. “The director gave it to Zachary Levi to say and Zachary Levi said, ‘Hayden, I want you to say it.'”

Hayden also met Kurt and Brenda Warner, who were heavily involved in making the movie. 

“We were going outside and mom was going to show me how to make a snow angel, but we saw Kurt and Brenda Warner and they were making a snowman,” Hayden recalled. “Brenda Warner taught me how to throw snowballs at Kurt.”

Shannon said that the crew also helped Hayden get his hands on a braille script. 

“This production was very kind and we said it would be easier for Hayden to learn his lines like all the rest of the cast by having a script he can read,” Shannon said. “They went out of their way to find a place that could print a braille script. And they printed multiple versions of the script whenever they changed something.”

“It was so nice getting to work with Anna and Zach because they were from superhero movies I know, and I just hope I get to be in another movie with them someday,” Hayden added. “I’d like to continue acting. There’s not really that many roles for blind people right now. I just hope that they write more roles for blind people, so I can be in one of them. I’d like to do a superhero movie.”

Read More: Kurt Warner: ‘God’s Plan Was Better Than Our Plan’

A portion of Movieguide®’s review of the movie reads

AMERICAN UNDERDOG is an uplifting, entertaining sports drama about the highly honored quarterback, Kurt Warner. It shows the challenges Warner overcame and is intentionally very clean and inspiring. 

AMERICAN UNDERDOG is a well-plotted sports drama, with strong personal elements and heartwarming moments. The main characters and storyline are well crafted by the directors and lead actors. AMERICAN UNDERDOG contains strong references to Christianity and faith. It stresses doing the right thing, having God as your Lord and Savior, praying for help at the lowest point, and much more.