Zagarino, according to IMDB, made 51 movies, most of which would be considered pure garbage by mainstream movie lovers, yet Zagarino has quite a big fan base among those who know what low-budget action movies are all about.
Zagarino is mostly known for his famous “Shadowchaser” trilogy, playing an unstoppable albino cyborg. For the most of his film career, Zagarino made action and sci-fi films, with a few exceptions.
Zagarino made a horror movie “Spiker” – a low-budget effort which he himself wrote, produced, directed and played the lead in. Since then, in 2008 he made only one family film, and seemingly disappeared into obscurity.
Since I’ve been a huge “Zag” fan, I’ve been observing his career closely, and it was sad for me to see him not acting anymore. So, I’ve decided to find the action hero I grew up watching, and talk to him. This actually took two years to accomplish, however by the end of June 2012 I finally got lucky – Frank picked up the phone, and he had some time to kill as well.
So below, is an exclusive BZFilm interview with Zagarino, where the former action star talks about his beginnings, how he got into movies, how he was working in North Korea, and where he is now.
For weeks, nothing was working out. It was either an autoresponder, or Frank was telling me he does not have time.
“Between my kids and my two businesses, I have absolutely no time to breathe,” he told me, before getting ready for a business meeting.
Thank God, in this particular case I was quite persistent, and finally caught Frank with some time to spend on this interview.
“I grew up in Miami, Florida, and got into doing TV commercials,” Frank recalled. “My parents did the TV commercials, so I started doing them too.”
Zagarino, who is 52 now, said he rolled into the TV commercials since he was 10, and did quite well there.
“I did about 40 national commercials from Ford Trucks to BMW’s to Mountain Dew, Coca Cola, Pepsi. Pretty much every product you can think of, I did it,” he laughed.
As some Zagarino’s private photos suggested, he was an amateur wrestler, and when I asked he confirmed it.
“I got involved with wrestling, and it became my priority, instead of doing commercials,” he said. “I wrestled through high school, and I was 3rd in the state of Florida.”
What has never been mentioned anywhere is that Frank in fact had a disability while he was young. That was the reason why he did not go to college.
“I had a reading disability called dyslexia, when you have to spell almost everything phonetically,” he admitted. “I did very well in high school, but did not have a desire to go to college, so after I finished high school, I went to Los Angeles and started going to normal readings, theatrical readings”.
Although Zagarino’s career in movies started in 1983, he prefers to not to talk about his earlier films (such as “Baby its You”, “Lovelines”, “Barbarian Queen”), and he started right off from 1987, when he made Striker.
“The first film I did was Striker, this was like a low-budget Rambo that we shot in Santo Domingo with an Italian company,” Frank recalls. “After that, things sort of started rolling and more movie parts followed”.
In 1988 Zagarino made an action movie titled “Ten Zan – The Ultimate Mission” that stands out from the rest of his action movies for one simple fact – it was shot completely in North Korea, and reportedly was funded by the North Korean government.
IMDB even says that Zagarino spent 2 days in prison there during filming because government agents caught him taking pictures.
“That’s not true, it is a made-up story, I didn’t spend any time in prison,” Frank laughed hearing the question.
“When I was there for about 9 weeks doing the film, the North Koreans watched everything I did, and once I took pictures in a warehouse and they got all crazy and upset. It was ridiculous. They took my camera, but that’s it. They didn’t do anything else”.
While the film wasn’t all that bad by b-movie standards, Zagarino himself had a different opinion. He told BZFilm how it all started in the first place.
“The North Koreans wanted to learn to make movies. What they did is they went to the Cannes film festival, and later agreed to make a movie in North Korea with a production company from Rome. They’ve decided that the Italians would bring everybody, art director, stunt coordinator and so on, and teach the Koreans to make movies,” Zagarino says.
“It was a huge disaster. I mean it just got worse and worse as we went along, it was harder and harder to make a movie there. They never gave us what they promised, but you know every movie is a learning experience. The film was terrible, it was shot in a full-blown communist country, yet it was really a life-changing experience,” Frank recalls.
Then it was the time to talk some “cyborgs”, as I asked Frank about the movies where he portrayed robots, cyborgs and androids. Since I loved those so much, I simply couldn’t skip it.
Frank quickly said he hated “Cy Warrior” (shot in 1989 by Italians), and then he spoke about the famous “Shadowchaser” trilogy. Below are combined pictures from all four “Shadowchaser” films.
“The first Shadowchaser was good, I liked it. But then the following films progressively got worse,” Zagarino said.
When asked how he managed to get himself into this crazy shape for the cyborg parts in “Shadowchaser” films, his answer was simple.
“It was mostly diet. I knew a lot of good people in the private fitness business, and I was working hard for 2-2,5 hours per day,” he recalls.
Zagarino noted that two of the films that he made he actually liked were “Project Shadowchaser 1” and “Convict 762” – both science fiction films.
Among others, he spoke nicely of “Never Say Die” (“a fun movie we shot in South Africa”), and “Terminal Impact aka Cyborg 3” (“different producers, all tried to cash in on the first Cyborg movie, with different characters).
“We shot the film, and I helped out a little with editing,” Zagarino recalls on Fist Fighter 2, a movie that was never discovered anywhere. “Later they basically gave me the directing credit, the film itself had the title changed six times before it was released”.
As for the “Spiker”, Zagarino says he had complete control over that low-budget horror flick about an albino serial killer.
“For that film I raised the money, produced it, acted in it, directed it – everything from the beginning to the end,” he said. “On that movie I had total control”.
Zagarino made two or more movies with his fellow action stars Martin Kove, Billy Drago, Joe Lara, and he admitted that now living in New York instead of Los Angeles, he doesn’t see any of them anymore.
And finally, it was time to ask why Zagarino, once famous, has disappeared from the movie screens. There were no excuses – the former action star said it straight.
“It was really a financial thing. I am divorced now, I have two kids that I have to take care of,” Frank noted, adding that the times for action movie actors like him have changed.
“After 9/11, I don’t know why, the films were not paying what they were used to pay. You were paid very little money doing garbage movies you did not even like,” he says. “It came up to the point where you would be basically making the same films over and over again, while they were not getting any better – then what was the point?”
“I would still do a film, if someone would offer me a decent part, but I am not going to go to audition for a $100,000 budget film to get paid 1/3 of what I used to get paid,” he said. “So I did not want to be there anymore. Smart people know when a movie is decent and when it’s garbage”.
“Now you can make these action films cheaper because they can be shot on video, however you still need around $250,000 to make a film,” Zagarino continued. “Nobody is making any money, so the films are made cheaper and cheaper”.
Zagarino of course dismissed any chance of doing smaller parts in movies, noting that a man has to have some kind of integrity.
“You make a film that is improving your career or improving the quality of the movie. You’re making movies, you’re taking a paycheck to support your family, and keep on working just like everybody else,” he says. “But soon they were making fewer movies, the money was low and some just got squeezed out. Salaries of big actors dropped like 50 percent if not more – look at Lorenzo Lamas, he used to be one of the highest paid TV actors.”
And yet, Zagarino doesn’t seem to be willing to forget about the movies completely, as even his current business is directly connected with the cinema.
“I started this business 5 years ago,” Frank recalls. “Now there are more companies of this kind in the U.S., so the demand is there.”
He continues: “I send the guys who work with me out with movie screens, they set it all up at the location, and show a movie. We once had a screening with 800 people or so. They select the film they want to see, and we just deliver the equipment”.
Zagarino laughed when I asked if any of his own movies were ever ordered.
“No, since most of this is for kids, and the movies are rated PG,” he said.
Speaking about his comeback to the movies, Zagarino was clear about a few things.
“I am still in good shape but how many times you can make the same movie with the same people, especially now that they are harder to sell?,” he asks. “The money that independent movies make these days are very slim”.
“If the economy gets better, I still have a few movies that would like to make and produce,” Zagarino noted by the end of our talk.
A big “thank you” goes out to Frank for doing the interview. With all the countless calls from me, he never even once was rude, always nice, down to Earth, willing to talk and share his memories. Below are some more pictures from Frank’s movies.
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