Francesca Zappitelli is a lot of things. She is a talented actress, a filmmaker, producer and an accomplished fighter. An unquenchable thirst for knowledge took her on an incredible journey around the world. One thing she is not is your typical girl next door! Her natural athleticism and passion for acting and traveling led her to enter the University of Professional Wrestling, which launched her career into wrestling and fighting. Although she was heavily trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), piano, drama and public speaking, the acting element of her wrestling career soon became her true love. She focused on acting and the entertainment business and set her sights on the highly competitive world of acting and producing, where she continues to hone her impressive skills! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this remarkable woman to discuss her unique career and the many projects she has lining up for the months to come!
Where did you grow up and how did you first become involved in the world of martial arts?
I grew up in Northern Ontario. I was born in a little place called Ignace, Ontario but then we moved to a bigger city of about 100,000 called Thunder Bay, which is way up north. The closest American city would be Minneapolis, Minnesota. I loved horseback riding and that became a big part of my life early on. To be honest, I got into mixed martial arts originally because there isn’t too much to do up north! As a kid, I was into kickboxing and would go to kickboxing classes. From there I got into personal training and became a Tae Bo instructor. My love for fighting and training is something that has always stuck with me. I loved doing those things! I was also into horseback riding and I traveled a lot as well as a young adult with a group girls. I didn’t like being afraid when I was traveling. That made me pursue martial arts even further, so I would know self-defense and I wouldn’t have to be afraid when I traveled the world by myself.
Who were some of the early inspirations who helped shape the woman we see today?
Growing up, I loved Rachel McLish. She was a female body builder in the ‘80s. She was ultra-feminine yet really strong. I always loved female superheroes and I grew up watching “Wonder Woman” and “The Bionic Woman.” It was very inspiring to see woman who could protect themselves. I found that very inspiring. Then there was my grandmom! When she came to Canada, she didn’t have anything. She was an entrepreneur, self-made. She started a bunch of businesses for the whole family and had two sons. She was definitely a source of inspiration for the whole family.
You have had quite an interesting career so far. How did you go from this curious teen in Canada to a career ranging from MMA to wrestling to acting and beyond?
Interesting! How did I do it?! [laughs] I have always been a big dreamer and I had always dreamed about becoming a professional wrestler. One of my early dreams was being a horseback rider and I accomplished that. So, I started knocking them off my list one thing at a time! I got to the point in my life where pursing a career in professional wrestling just seemed like the right thing to do. I decided to go to the University of Professional Wrestling. Before that, I had been doing jujitsu, kickboxing and theater. It all helped me make the jump to professional wrestling. I am very spontaneous and I believe that we have dreams and we can manifest them. I figured, I had always wanted to do this, why not give it a try? Especially when I found out about the University of Professional Wrestling. I was like, “Wow! There is actually a university? I had no idea!” [laughs] Sometimes you have a dream and know that you want to make it become a reality but you just don’t know how to find a door to open up that dream. Finding the school really was a catalyst because it really combined everything that I had been achieving previously.
Is there anything you haven’t achieved in that realm you would like to try to accomplish in the future?
My dreams have definitely evolved through the years. Originally, I was vying for a spot in WWE. When I got a taste of that, it definitely wasn’t what I had perceived it to be. At that point, my dream evolved and took on another dream — it was a work in progress, as I am! That is what life is, sometimes you start out thinking you want to do one thing and as you take that step forward and another door opens and you find your way in the process. I got really heavy into MMA training. As much as I love the training and the discipline, I am not a professional MMA fighter. I don’t like being punched in the face. Some people are real fighters. If you punch them in the face, it powers them up and they want to fight even harder but that is just not me. I am what they like to call a fake fighter. [laughs] I like competitive jujitsu because you are less likely to get hurt in it but I lack the certain je ne sais quoi that a real fighter, like Cris Cyborg or Gina Carano, have for pursuing MMA. Once I started pursing that training, the dream morphed into, “Why not make a film about this world of wrestling and fighting that I have learned about along the way?” and “Why not do acting and stunt fighting as I already have that technique and I can do it without getting hurt?”
The film you are referring to is “Ballerina, I’m Not.” What got the ball rolling to bring this project to life?
I really loved wrestling and fighting, as I still do today. It was such an unveiling of what I thought it was all about. I thought getting into ECW and WWE would be one thing but as I proceeded with my journey, this entirely different world was revealed. It was a world that I don’t think you know about unless you are a part of the industry. I really wanted to shine a light on what is really an underground industry, so that the world really knows what it is like to be a female wrestler or fighter and the challenges of that journey. I met some other great female fighters and they aren’t what you think they would be. They aren’t stereotypical, buff meat heads! One of the girls that I showcased in the documentary has her PhD — a southern girl who has won beauty pageants. You would not think that she would be a professional fighter and power lifter! She is a really empowered, strong, smart woman!
What has been the biggest challenge for you on the project so far?
Like I said before, sometimes you have these dreams but have no idea what it is going to take to make everything happen! It was the same thing that happened when I walked in the door of the fighting world as it did in filmmaking. There are so many pieces of the puzzle to make a masterpiece and there is so much work entailed to get there. I really enjoyed the process of learning and I have had some amazing people around me, who I couldn’t have done it without! There are so many elements involved from the composing to the editing to whatever you are focused on at a particular moment. There are a lot of long days but I have loved every moment of the journey!
Do you think the perception of female fighters changed in the years you have been involved with both MMA, jujitsu and professional wrestling?
One hundred percent! You know, when I first started out in jujitsu, the Gracie’s wouldn’t allow girls to train at the dojo. I am dating myself a little bit! Now MMA is so mainstream! Look at Gina Carano for example, who has “Haywire coming out right now and she is the star! Or look at Stacy Keibler who used to be a WWE Diva and is dating George Clooney. Female MMA fighters and professional wrestlers are really being perceived as incredible women! They are well-rounded and have that element of competitiveness. I think we will definitely see it become even more mainstream in the future.
What is the current status of the film and when can we look forward to seeing it?
I have it entered in a bunch of film festivals and I am waiting to see how that turns out over the spring of 2012 and I am pursuing distribution for early summer!
That’s great! It seems like things are moving right along for you!
Yeah, it’s great! Things never happen quite as quickly as you would like them to but if you take it one day at a time, one step at a time and stay focused, everything falls into place!
Is filmmaking something you hope to do more of in the future?
Yes, definitely! That is why I got into fighting, it empowered me. I find the same is true about filmmaking. In a film, you can tell a story that could change someones life or changes the way they view themselves or others. It is such a dichotomy of so many elements of life and I find it both empowering and challenging. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun! [laughs]
What other projects are on the horizon for you?
I just finished writing, directing and starring in a short film called “Frankie.” Putting that project together was a lot of fun and I have it entered in several film festivals right now. Fingers crossed! I am also in pre-production for a sci-fi creature-feature called “Embryo.” We are looking to start production on that in late spring. I am also working on a book to talk about my journey.
Wow! That is great! I imagine doing something like that is quite an undertaking.
Yeah, it is! I have all of these things going on and ideas for the future. I like to write and that is definitely a beast that I want to tackle. Most of the things I want to achieve, I set a deadline goal for to keep me moving forward. I have set my goal at a year, so I work on the project a few times a week. All of my other goals I work on daily to make them a reality.
It is really inspiring to see someone like yourself achieving the goals they are setting out for on so many levels.
Thank you, Jason! I am really trying not to be what they call a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none!” I have had so many different hats I have worn. I like to focus on one thing and move on to the next.
What is the best advice someone has given you so far in regard to your blossoming career?
I had one manager that told me to “Live the life you want to live now.” If your dream is to be a filmmaker, go be a filmmaker! You can’t be a makeup artist working at a local department store and be a filmmaker. You need to put everything you have into filmmaking. Even if it is scary because it is not a 9 to 5 job or because it is something new or this or that, if you give your all to it, you can achieve it. The same thing is true of being a fighter. If you want to be a fighter, you have to jump in and give it your all. You can’t be a holding on to something in your past and give your dream everything you have. You need to set your sights on what it is you want and go for it!
Where is the best place for people to find out more about all that you have going on?
Thanks for you time and we look forward to spreading the word!
Thank you so much!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.