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Steve Wiebe, ‘King of Kong,’ on Living the Dream

“Eventually I think when they’re older my kids will think it was a cool thing to do.”Photo: FilmMagic

The buzzy new documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters hits theaters this week, and already its been labeled “a grup’s dream” by David Edelstein, who goes on to classify the film’s bad guy (onetime Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell) and his acolytes as the kind of people you’d like to drop barrels (get it? Barrels!) upon. Vulture spoke to the film’s real star, mild-mannered everyman Steve Wiebe, who fought overwhelming odds to rise from jobless obscurity and claim the Donkey Kong world title as his own.

Why do you think King of Kong has turned into such a sleeper hit?
The video-game part of the movie is really only a small part of it. It’s about overcoming personal struggles and perservering, and it has a lot of scenes that people can relate to.

How would you describe Billy Mitchell, your nemesis in the film?
I met him a long time ago, back when we were both chasing the million mark. Then I got the high score and [his camp] started saying I was tampering with the results, so I didn’t really talk to him after that. He’ll argue that it doesn’t portray him correctly and whatever, but I think that the film really captured him cherishing the possession of the Donkey Kong record and doing just whatever it takes to hold on to it. Stop at nothing, that kind of thing.

And what about you?
My life doesn’t revolve around video games by any means. Donkey Kong is the only game I love. I’m not desperate. But then after I’d spent so much time and invested so many hours in beating the record, I didn’t want to be denied what I deserved. They were attacking my integrity.

What was the record-setting session like?
The adrenaline wasn’t even really pumping at the beginning; it started off as any routine game. I don’t get overly amped up when I’m playing because I know a game can go south really quickly. I was really nervous after the game ended though, just in case something had gone wrong with the video or something. Getting that score took me a whole month in the garage!

How did your kids react to the whole thing?
They don’t quite understand the magnitude of it all. Derek, who’s 7, has a problem with one scene, where there’s a shot of him crying in the film. [In the background: “Dad! Stop it!”] Eventually, I think when they’re older, they’ll think it was a cool thing to do.

And your wife?
She was ready to throw the machine off a cliff.

New Line loves the documentary so much that they’re remaking it as a feature film, and the rumor is they want Johnny Depp to play bad guy Mitchell. Who should play you?
Maybe Mark Hamill. Or Ralph Macchio! Kidding. There were some names being thrown around like Nathan Fillion and Greg Kinnear, but I’m not sure. I’m thinking that if they can get Johnny Depp to play Mitchell, then they might just be able to get a star for me too.—Sara Cardace

Steve Wiebe, ‘King of Kong,’ on Living the Dream