Frank Zarrillo: New film reveals 'more human side' of Matusow

Mo Afdhal
Posted on: April 29, 2024 07:49 PDT

Matusow, a feature-length documentary produced by Big F Pictures and directed by Frank Zarrillo, tells the story of legendary poker player Mike Matusow's life and career around the poker table.

PokerOrg spoke with Zarrillo ahead of the film's release to hear about the behind-the-scenes production of the film. 

How did this project come together, and where did the idea come from?

Frank Zarrillo: My first documentary was about a wrestler on AEW, and I got a front-row seat to the wrestling world. Then, I moved over to the bodybuilding world, same thing. And then to the poker world. Everything that I liked as a kid, I'm getting a front-row seat to. So, my buddy's a poker player, and he's been grinding on the circuit for a long time now. He played in Mike Matusow's home game and asked if I was interested in doing something on him. I was. 

Ben, Mike's assistant, hooked me up with Mike, and we got to know each other on the phone, talking for about six months. I'll tell you a story quickly. The first time Mike and I met, as soon as the camera popped up – you gotta remember, I have no rapport with him or anything – he's laying on his bed seductively with his underwear on. That's how it started. I thought to myself, 'I can only imagine what's going to happen when I actually go there and do the project.'

Well, that's quite the image for the mind to take in. It's kind of a dream come true for a documentarian, though, right? You've got a real character there. 

FZ: Yeah, but remember these projects aren't just a year or two. These are things I have to be married to for the rest of my life. It has to hit every crucial point, every storytelling aspect

Mike Matusow Mike Matusow is one of the old-school legends who's still playing in the biggest events today

How did your working relationship with Mike progress from that point?

FZ: We became friends and we talk a lot. He had the idea of having me stay at his house for two months during the 2021 WSOP. We went to restaurants and saw Top Gun together. As soon as I walked into his house, I felt like I was at home. I never felt uncomfortable

Did everything go as planned or were there any unexpected twists along the way?

FZ: Originally, you have all these ideas of what you want to get, but it doesn't always come to fruition. Usually there are some surprises along the way. For example, Martin Scorsese is my favorite director, and I kind of model my work off of that, which you'll see in this documentary. Casino was one of my top five films growing up. Then, on day one of filming, I run right into [Phil] Hellmuth and James Woods. That was an added bonus where I got the world of Casino through Woods, and Hellmuth gave a lot of his time. 

I don't really believe in luck, but it was one of those things where everything matched up: Mike's 25th anniversary playing poker, the final year of WSOP at the Rio, first year on the strip, and the first WSOP Halloween with everybody wearing masks at the table. 

What can fans expect from the documentary?

FZ: It's a mix of the poker world for both the diehard fan and for the casual viewer. Matusow gets a lot of hate on Twitter, which I'm sure you're aware of, and my point with that is that I think he's misunderstood. You'll see the more human side of him

Matusow is set for full release later this year and we'll bring you a review as soon as we've seen it.