An Interview with Simeon Rice – Former NFL All-Pro Turns Film Director – UNSULLIED
The other day I had a chance to interview former NFL Super Bowl winner and four time All-Pro Simeon Rice who has turned in his football cleats for a director’s chair. Rice is promoting his first feature film entitled “UNSULLIED” which opens in theaters on August 28th. During our conversation, I could honestly tell that making films is truly the NEW passion for Rice. In fact, I have no doubt that with his work ethic and drive, he will be one writer/director to watch in the coming years. Here are some excerpts from our interview:
When did you actually have an idea that you wanted to make films? While you were playing in the NFL?
SIMEON RICE– When I was playing that’s when I started discovering I had the appetite to tell stories but I didn’t really know, not until I got to Tampa.
Do you have any former teammates or players in the league that work with you or that bug about casting them in films now?
SIMEON RICE– Of course. Yeah. You know, a few guys would say, “You know, I want to do something. Will you hook me up in your next film?” All my teammates say that! “I want to do it. Come on, Sim.” They are like, “Wow. This film came off better than expected!” People really get galvanized on that. I’ll actually use them too by the way!
OK, I gotta ask…What feels better – Winning a Super Bowl or releasing your first feature film?
SIMEON RICE- Come on, man! [laughs] I am gonna try to attempt to answer that question my way. It’s different. It’s not better. Who do you love better, your mother or your father? You love them both. Nothing will ever dilute Football- it has no rival. It’s football! The film business is an effervescent growing business, it’s something I’m learning and loving. I enjoy it. This is who I am now in my life. Football is what I was and what I always will be, but there’s a limited thinking that you can love one more than the other. Someone asked, what you want more? An Oscar or a Super Bowl? Well, I got a Super Bowl and I never thought about winning the Oscar. I never thought about that but I’m sure it would be amazing ‘cause, you know, you got to think about the lifestyle change, but my life has already been pretty magnificent. I’ve been living a bucket list life ever since I was 17 years old. From getting a scholarship to earning Rookie of the Year in the NFL and even all the All Pro selections and those different things. So, my life has been pretty fantastic. But I’ve been 100% accountable and responsible for my life. So it’s more apologies over permission. I just feel when I do my thing, I do it without thinking about the repercussions. I just go out and live, you know, I’m trying to be me and everything is about accessing 100% in myself. I’m challenging myself to be the best I possibly can be.
Any similarities at all between playing football and making movies or are they two totally separate entities?
SIMEON RICE– Different Worlds! [laughs] There is a thread and the thread is story. What is your story like? It’s about relating to people, talking to people. So you have to engage into your relationships that you have. You have teammates, you have to be a leader. It’s in the same scenario as making a film. You have a script, you have to stick to the play, playbooks, scripts, it’s similar. You know, you can make them – you can see this parallel at times, but that’s it. Because when you get into it, athletes aren’t actors. My business now is like being a boss, being a general manager. Being a director is like that. And then me being the leader of the team, I had it early in my life where I had to lead men. I had young men follow me so I’ve been here before. So in terms of communicating to people, when you’re talking to actors, you have to be a little bit more softer. [laughs]
Speaking of directing. Who are some of the directors that you currently admire? Are there any in particular that have directly influenced you?
SIMEON RICE– Yes. Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, The Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers definitely! I resonate with those guys. Scorsese is one of the greats. I also resonate with him. New, young, up and coming is Antoine Fuqua and F. Gary Gray. I love their work. I love those guys!
I tell you what, let’s get into this movie. What should filmgoers expect from “Unsullied?”
SIMEON RICE– I think they will see the ultimate game of kill or be killed, the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse. A pure adrenaline rush of a film. Hold onto to your seat because there’s a fascinating, fast-action packed ride filled with plot twists. It’s got a great story – a backstory of family as well meshed into the story of thriller and suspense. This movie is layered with so many story elements. It’s a wealth of elemental and environmental film things happening, character development happening, and story form happening that’s going to take this film to epic heavenly heights. It’s just a joyride of a film.
I did read that you wanted Murray Gray from the beginning and fought pretty hard to keep her as your lead. What was it about her that made you decide that this role wasn’t going to be played by anybody else but her?
SIMEON RICE– You know what, I thought this is something that I could push towards the studio once we had all the pieces in place, but at that point, the studios said, “Okay. We’re going to cast this but with different actors. Real actors.” And I’m like, “They’re real actors. Everybody in here is a real actor.” But they wanted actors that people know. It was like they were saying that an African-American girl can’t carry a film. It wouldn’t translate and I’m like, “Wait. What?” It made no sense to me.” I’m like if that’s the case, there’s so many other films that have been made that supposedly wouldn’t translate like Slumdog Millionaire, that wouldn’t translate, City of God, wouldn’t translate. You see the the numbers Straight Outta Compton is getting? That movie shouldn’t translate based upon what they say because they’re like, “there’s no stars in this movie.” Well, there’s only Paul Giamatti in that film and I’m not saying he’s not big actor but he’s usually a supporting actor and all the actors that were the stars in the movie, nobody knew. And a whole host of other films, like Snatch. The only person in that movie was Brad Pitt. Nobody knows those other actors. There’s a bunch of actors from the UK, but we go on with these films. If that’s the case, then nobody watches Game of Thrones. There’s nobody. I’ll say to the people that read it, I don’t read books like that, but I love that show. So I can argue that all day. I’m like – everybody needs a start. Even Jennifer Lawrence needed a start. I’m like all you need is a start. What about building careers? How about that? Let’s build somebody a career. Why did I pick Murray Gray? Because she personifies Reagan Farrow. I wanted somebody that looked like they could rival a man athletically. I didn’t want a girl that could just let out and take down a guy. I didn’t want a girl that had no vulnerability, that was so strong. I wanted a fish out of water concept and this was the ultimate fish out of water concept. You put this black girl in the woods, that’s the fish I don’t want to come back to me. You know what I mean? Ultimately, these films will ultimately be shot with a man, you know, but the original, the one that’s similar to this is like “Surviving the Game” with Ice T. So this is art at its purest sense and its purest form. We do indie films to tell our own stories our own way and this is what it is. If you don’t have a narrow-minded perspective limited to your own thinking, then you can free yourself and allow yourself to go on this joyful and adrenaline rush of a ride.
I have a technical location question. I’m assuming here, but I noticed in the movie a lot of emphasis on the Spanish moss (which is prevalent all over the Tampa area) and I don’t know if that’s a big reason you chose to shoot there? To me, it added an extra element of creepiness and loneliness to the movie.
SIMEON RICE– You felt as that as well? [Laughing] Yes, I did feel that and it’s funny you should say that! I felt like the backdrop for the movie lends itself to being a separate character in the film as well.
Well personally, I would have shot in Tampa simply for Bern’s Steakhouse! It’s my favorite restaurant on the planet!
SIMEON RICE– [Laughs] Man, you know films and you know Tampa.
For you personally, what was the most rewarding and most challenging part of making the movie?
SIMEON RICE- Well, the most challenging thing is problem solving. You know when you’re shooting a film there’s so many problems inherently that you can’t plan for, and everyone of them is a big, big problem. I mean, every problem in the production phase is big and then it becomes minute and then it becomes nonexistent and you continue to mitigate risks. It’s all about mitigating all your risks and dealing with all your problems. The most gratifying part of the process is where I am right now, when I get to talk about this film to you and it’s in the can, and it’s done and that the labor is done, the music is done. And now, we’re getting ready to see this thing take its platform. It’s also the anxiety as well. I haven’t experienced making money and all of that yet – and that’s going to come, you know, but right now, this phase has been the best phase for me.
So what can you tell our readers about any other films or projects you’re working on after this?
SIMEON RICE- Yes. A film called “Full Tilt.” It’s about backroom poker. It’s really in the vein of like a “Snatch”, but built on Americana and all the different cultures and, you know, faces. I want to shoot that in Chicago or New Orleans. And there is another film about about the origins of zombies. It’s another film that I wrote and another suspenseful, eerie type of film.
Any last thoughts you want us to convey to our readers?
SIMEON RICE– Whether you like it, love it, are indifferent, please tweet me out. Let me know what you think whether good, whether bad or indifferent, you know what I mean? I appreciate all the feedback, it doesn’t matter. This film is the purest form of an adrenaline rush filmed this year. You know, there’s only one other great film I’ve seen this summer and that’s “Straight Outta Compton.” This film follows on that field and the different genres layered with story. It’s filled with intrigue, creates an anxiety filled suspense thriller at its most paramount. And like I said, it’s a rollercoaster ride of a film. So grab your popcorn, grab a date and check this film out.
I appreciate it, Simeon. Good luck to you and I’m looking forward to seeing more of you down the road
SIMEON RICE– Thank You!