Interview with Keith Cavill of "Murderball"
Filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro showed up with small cameras and a dream of making a film about wheelchair rugby that would be shown at Sundance. “I guess it sounded pretty ridiculous,” admits Shapiro, but the end result – the documentary entitled “Murderball” – achieved their goal and then some. Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to talk with one of the stars of the film, Keith Cavill, about the effect the film had on him, as well as how, although he’s a quadriplegic, he’s embraced life not only through athletics but as a motivational speaker. Our conversation also included Amanda Bromberg of Participant Productions, the distributors of the film; normally, we stick strictly with our interview subject, but her statements about Participant’s ongoing charitable work with the film and the U.S. Paralympic team proved fascinating in their own right.
Amanda Bromberg: Will?
AB: It’s Amanda Bromberg, calling from Participant Productions.
BE: Hey, how are you?
AB: Is Keith on the line yet?
BE: Uh…if so, I’m not aware of it!
AB: Oh, okay. I told him to give you a call as well. Can you conference the both of us in, if he does call?
BE: Um…I don’t have conference call capability.
AB: Oh, I’m sorry! I told Nick (Lezin, publicist for “Murderball”) that we would both be calling you…so let me try to get him, and we’ll…give you a call back, I guess?
AB: Okay, thanks. Bye!
A few minutes pass, after which the phone rings again.
AB: Hi, it’s Amanda Bromberg again!
AB: Okay, so I think I have him; let’s see if this conference will work. One second. (Pauses) Keith?
Keith Cavill: Yeah?
AB: You there?
AB: Will, are you there as well?
BE: I am here.
AB: Okay, great, Keith, Will is on the line.
KC: Hi, Will?
BE: How’s it going?
KC: Not bad.
BE: Excellent. Well, I’ve seen “Murderball,” and like you haven’t heard this a thousand times, but it’s a hell of a documentary.
BE: I mean, it’s educational, inspiring, action-packed...I know you’ve got a different perspective, since you’re actually in the film, but how was it for you when you saw it for the first time?
KC: When I first saw it, I was shocked at what they actually captured on film, moreso for the part of myself. I didn’t realize that they actually had put a clip of me, able-bodied, in the film. But just to see all the characters and myself on the big screen…it was just a surreal experience.
BE: Was that the first time you’d seen yourself able-bodied since the accident?
BE: I expect that would have been weird. I know you said in your interview on “Larry King: Live” that you couldn’t discuss the specifics of your accident because of an ongoing lawsuit, but that was a motocross accident?
BE: How much of an athlete were you before the accident, beyond motocross? Were you a sports guy to begin with?
KC: Yeah, I played ice hockey, football and soccer in high school. I’ve been riding dirt bikes and bikes ever since I was, like, eight years old. So I was always active.
BE: I’m not really a sports guy myself, but I have to think that, in a similar situation myself, I’d have to try (wheelchair rugby) just to remind myself that, y’know, I’m paralyzed, but I’m not dead. Was that kind of how it was for you as well?
KC: Yeah, for me, it was more like…when I first got hurt, you hear about how you can play tennis or badminton or all these sports where you can hold things, and me being quadriplegic, I’m, like, how the hell am I supposed to hold the racket? And badminton…I got hurt racing motocross; why the hell do I wanna play badminton? And to my surprise, they weren’t really promoting quad rugby in rehabs, just because of how physically challenging the sport is. And it is rough. But for me, it was, like, okay, here’s a sport where I can actually get the adrenaline back into myself, and, y’know, you get to beat up on other people again! You’re part of a team, and it’s a fast-moving sport, which was great to be a part of again.
BE: So when you saw (fellow “Murderball” co-star) Mark Zupan speak (at the Kessler Institute, where Keith was in rehab), was he speaking about wheelchair rugby specifically, or was it just kind of a general motivational speech?
KC: No, he came down to show what quad rugby is, and that was the first time we had a speaker about that sport. And their thing was, “Come meet the Olympic guy,” and he talked about all the stuff he’s done in a wheelchair, because very rarely do the rehab facilities have quadriplegics come in to speak, so it was kind of nice to hear a life story about somebody who was quadriplegic and also able to do everything, which was pretty wild.
BE: From what I was reading, I got the impression that you were kind of a late addition to the movie. Like, they had shot a lot of the rugby footage, but they also wanted to get kind of a different perspective.
KC: Yeah, actually, when they were editing the movie and putting it all together, they decided, “We have all this film of all these quadriplegics, and we’ve heard them tell their stories about rehab and everything,” so they had an idea to go to a rehab facility to either shoot B-roll and take clips of a couple of different people and how they were participating in the rehab facility…to get in-depth. Instead of having the film just about quadriplegics who’ve been in their chairs for ten years or even their whole life, they wanted to have something about the newly-injured people. They came to Kessler and they interviewed a bunch of us and put some of us on camera, and, talking to them throughout the day, they were more intrigued by my story. They said, “You seem pretty comfortable on camera, you look pretty good.” I dunno, it just clicked with them, and they asked to use me as, like, a third character, pretty late in the film.
BE: Are you still in regular contact with the majority of the guys in the movie? Or at least some of them? I mean, I know you did the press rounds with them, but…
KC: Yeah, for the most part, we are. Granted, Mark’s super-busy right now, between the rugby and the movie, but Chris Iago, we speak…whether it’s on computer or phone call…and stay pretty much in touch. And the filmmakers live in Manhattan, and I live 20 minutes outside of Manhattan, so I see them.
BE: Actually, that leads to me next question. You live in New York; so you’re on a team in New York now?
KC: Um, I live in Wayne, New Jersey, which his 20 minutes outside of Manhattan.
BE: Oh. But you’re on a rugby team up there?
KC: Yeah, the New York United Spinal Jets.
BE: Okay. And you’re doing motivational speaking now as well?
BE: How’s that going?
KC: It’s going very well. They’re very responsive, as far as the events I’ve been to. Every single event is a little bit different, a different crowd, a different pace of speaking, but it’s still the same message, that everybody takes so much away from the experience, that it lets me know that I’m in the right direction and my message is getting heard.
BE: I think the movie’s really inspirational to a lot of people. Like, I talked to my nephew last night, who’s just entering his teens right now, and he’s seen the film…and as soon as I mentioned that you were the motocross guy, he said, “Oh, I know exactly who that is!” I think the story itself is just very inspiring. How is your medical situation doing now? Have you had any physical improvement, or do your doctors think it’s likely to happen?
KC: Basically, they told me I’d never move anything from my shoulders down, and they said I had trace biceps; they really weren’t sure if I was going to be able to use them, or if I was going to lose it going through rehab. (Pauses) Can you hold on one second?
BE: Yeah, sure!
KC: I’m sorry. (Pauses again, then returns, his voice much clearer) I have you on speaker phone. Let me know if you can’t hear me.
BE: No, actually, I can hear you fine.
KC: Alright. After being in rehab for, I guess, the first two months, at first, it was real discouraging to me, because I didn’t want any part of it. I come to this place, there’s a whole bunch of people in wheelchairs, and I’m, like, “Wow, this isn’t for me. I don’t want to be doing this.” After I got back into rehab, though, I was, like, “This is what I need.” And I started getting things back fairly soon. I really wanted to be involved with it now, and, nowadays, I actually have some movement in my lower extremities…nothing substantial to benefit me in any way, but it’s something that I keep working on. And I’ve gotten feeling back in both legs and my middle section, which is all a case by case situation, but I try to capitalize on it and stay with it as much as possible.
BE: As far as other people in the movie, did Joe Soares (who played for the US rugby team for years but, as soon as he didn’t make the cut, immediately began coaching the Canadian team) get anywhere with his desire to coach the US team?
KC: No. Nope. I don’t know what he was thinking even trying to apply, but, yeah, they pretty much shot him right down. And a lot of the guys from the team said that if they ever even chose him as a coach, none of them would play for him.
BE: Did he do any promotion for the film? Because you could argue that he wasn’t exactly painted in the best light...through no fault but his own, really.
KC: He… (Laughs quietly) With Joe, there stems many other issues besides the cause of the movie…moreso how to financially benefit himself.
KC: I don’t know the whole extent of the problems with that, but he came down to saying, “It was a great movie, I liked it,” then came down to, “I don’t like how I was portrayed, this isn’t right, what did it do for my appearance?” And, then, when we would go out to do promotional things in the beginning for the movie, if he wasn’t getting paid, then he’d be, like, “Well, then, why am I going out there?”
BE: And I guess I just have one more question. I mentioned how I saw you in the special features on “Larry King: Live,” but how totally bizarre is it for you to find yourself as a celebrity when you wouldn’t necessarily have ever been one if it wasn’t for the accident? Or do you just try not to think about it?
KC: Oh, no, I totally embrace it. If you watch that whole Larry King interview, he asks us, if there was a magical pill for us to take that’ll get us able-bodied and walking again the next day, all of us said we wouldn’t take it. You know, I’m sure there’s a handful of people who tend to be worse off that would say, “Oh, magical pill, I can walk, I’d love to take it.” But you’ve also got to understand that, me as a person, I’m comfortable that I am who I am, whether I’m in a wheelchair or not in a wheelchair. This wheelchair gave me a tool to...well, things happen for a reason. Why I broke my neck, I don’t know. I don’t know why I was rendered in a wheelchair. But because of that fact, I now have an opportunity to become a movie star… (Chuckles) …and to go along for the ride, which was wild. So when I do get depressed or I am down, I think back and realize that if I’d just given up and sat in a hospital bed, I’d never have any of the opportunities that I do now.
BE: Cool. Well, I think that’s everything on my end.
BE: It’s been very, very cool talking to you.
KC: You, too. I don’t know as far as the events go, as far as speaking events…
BE: I can certainly mention some. I don’t have a schedule yet for as far as when the interview will be up, but I presume sometime within the next few weeks, so if you know some that are a little farther out, I’ll be glad to put those in there.
AB: Well, have you visited our campaign website yet, Will?
BE: I have popped on there; I haven’t gotten really in-depth about looking through it.
AB: Well, Keith has now attended two of the different screenings that were organized by our community online. Keith, the first one was at University of Cincinnati, right?
KC: Uh, yes.
AB: And, then, a few days later, he attended a screening in New York City. And if you go onto the site, the organizers of those events have posted blogs about them, and there’s actually a picture of Keith and his friend, Matt, there at the event. So it’s worth taking a look at. That’s why we connected with Keith. That’s why my department connected with Keith, because we started this action campaign around the film to try and raise awareness and raise money for the U.S. Paralympics. And, so, Keith is helping us do that by going across the country and speaking at events. And we have a number of screenings set up for late summer and fall that we’d like to try and send him to, if his schedule works out for that.
BE: And, actually, I went to the site while you were talking. Keith, actually, an unrelated a question I meant to ask before, but I had read that you like going to lounges and clubs and whatnot. What kind of music do you listen to?
KC: Basically, anything with a good beat. But, y’know, I’m from the city, so I love hip-hop, rap, any kind of club music. And, still, some classic rock ‘n’ roll. Good music, basically. Anything that’s got a good beat that I can try to dance to… (Laughs) …I love. But, you know, that’s why I mentioned the motivational speaking earlier; Participant.net plays a big role in what I’m doing.
BE: I’ll definitely put that in there.
AB: Yes, thanks.
BE: Alright, well, I think we’re good, then.
AB: Okay, well, thank you so much!
BE: Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
AB: And thank you, Keith!
KC: No problem.BE: Thanks a lot, Keith!