Chris Schoeck bends a horseshoe in “Bending Steel.”
We spoke with the film’s director, Dave Carroll, producer Ryan Scafuro and of course, the strongman himself, Chris Schoeck.
New York Post: Dave, how did you guys find your Strongman, Chris Schoeck?
Carroll: I was doing laundry in the basement of the building that I live in, and I had my dog Gizmo with me. We were just minding our own business, and we heard a clatter and some grunting in the distance. Her ears perked up, and she darted back into the depth of the basement. I chased after her and rounded a corner, and there [Chris] was. It was the storage space that he works out of. At the time, I recognized him from running into him in the building, randomly like in the elevator or getting mail. He was the kind of person that you say hi to, and he doesn’t really look you in the eye. He averts his attention. I always kind of noticed him as being a little odd or strange.
I go in the storage space, and in the space are piles and piles of bent steel. I quickly thought to myself, something bizarre was going on — some kind of angst or maniacal fixation with repetition. I thought about this for two weeks. I ran into him again and was like, “What’s up with the steel?” and that discussion turned into the film.
You originally set out to make a short film. At what point did you realize you had something bigger on your hands?
Caroll: It was after a really long in-depth conversation Chris and I had one night [after we’d been filming for awhile]. The next day we were filming down in the basement, and he was explaining how he’s at home in the basement and how he has no interest in communicating with anyone else.
Scafuro: It was a very revealing moment, when we started to realize that he was comfortable enough to be open with us and tell us these things. But also we realized that there was a lot more to his character than the story of the steel. There was something much deeper inside that we wanted to explore.
Caroll: And it was that moment that really opened up the conflict too, because he has no interest really in engaging other people, yet at the same time, he has this goal of going out in front of people.
Chris, you’re not exactly how I imagined you’d look like when I heard about the movie.
Schoeck: I am how I look. How did you think I’d look?
I think when you hear strongman, you imagine this huge, muscly guy.
Schoeck: With a leopard skin suit?
Are people slightly suspicious or surprised when they see me? I would say yes. They’re generally expecting a larger person.
In the beginning of the film, you seem to be very private. What made you unafraid to do this?
Schoeck: I would like to give you a succinct answer, but there is no jumping point. We started out very small, and they built up a sense of security and a comfort zone. Over time, we got deeper and deeper involved in each other’s lives. As trust built, they caused me to be more introspective, and the root of everything started to develop.
What do you think about the way you come off in the film?
Schoeck: I think my evolution was portrayed very well. I think the editor did an extremely good job of piecing the last two years of my life together. He showed progress from me in this somewhat reclusive state.
Are there any parts that are difficult for you to watch, such as when your parents are less than supportive?
Schoeck: You would think so. I’m kind of wondering myself why I don’t find some of those moments difficult to watch. I expected my parents to behave the way they behaved. As a matter of fact, it was better than I thought.
What is it about steel that you love so much?
Schoeck: It’s hard to bend. It’s not supposed to be bent. Not that many people can do it. And to be good at it, you need to be able to turn off all those self-governing mechanisms, those limitations. Once that metal gives — just a little bit — there’s a tremendous sense of freedom. I’m not sure if I’m flying or if I’ve fallen in love. But it’s just a special experience when I feel that metal give.
But why not just lift weights? Don’t you get those same kind of sensations from that?
Schoeck: No. Because you’re pulling the weight up, and if the weight doesn’t lift off the rack, what do you do? You grab a lighter weight. And you lift it until it’s uncomfortable, and then you put it back down again. When you’re pushing on steel, you feel searing pain. And those governors say quit, quit. You better quit. And your mind, through practice, learns to turn off those governors. Steel — even though it’s completely sexless — it has a will. And your will is attacking its will. When that steel succumbs, you beat it.
The way you talk about steel makes it sound almost sexual.
Schoeck: I’m sure that if we talk for a couple of hours, some of that would appear.
In the film you say “I’m having a relationship with this steel.” Weren’t you joking?
Schoeck: No, no, that’s quite true. You have both hands on a piece of steel, and it’s part of you almost. It’s no longer separate, you’re united for a little bit.
How much money do you spend on steel?
Schoeck: Well, on articles — which includes cards, horseshoes, steel bites — I would say $400 a month.
Do you use hand moisturizer afterwards?
Schoeck: No! No, I do not use moisturizer. I assure you I do not use moisturizer.
Carroll: His hands have developed over the last two and a half years — they’re twice the size and super coarse [laughs].
Schoeck: And I am not getting hair plugs, and I am not dying my blonde eyelashes. Okay? I did get new teeth though.
Because of using your teeth to bend a penny?
Schoeck: I have since retired that one.