By Shelby Livingston | August 27, 2015 | People
Simeon Rice tells us why it feels "totally different" winning the Super Bowl and making his directorial debut with Unsullied and why he felt so anxious the first day on set.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end and Super Bowl champ Simeon Rice is ready to tackle a new frontier. The Chicago native, who first smashed records on the field with the Fighting Illini before going pro, makes his directorial debut with Unsullied, an edge-of-your-seat thriller he both wrote and cast.
In Unsullied, college track star Reagan Farrow (played by newcomer Murray Gray) is in the race for her life in the backwoods of Florida against two relentless kidnappers keen on hunting her down. Before the film hits theaters nationwide August 28, we caught up with Rice to chat about making the switch from football to film and what inspired him to write Unsullied.
You graduated from the New York Academy of Film in 2009. It's such a 180 from your football career. Why did you decide to be a filmmaker?
SIMEON RICE: Because I enjoy films. I love films. I wanted to challenge myself psychologically. I truly feel I have a knack for storytelling and I wanted to go out on that knack and really kind of develop it in story development, character development, and visual storytelling. All my life I've always been able to see from a very visual standpoint and a very colorful standpoint and I think it lends itself to filmmaking and directing and storytelling. So from a bird’s eye view I think I was here a long time ago. I just didn't know it.
Talk to me about Unsullied. It’s a thriller with a lot of surprises and moments that'll make you jump. What was your inspiration behind the story?
SR: So many stories in the past. I was watching No Country for Old Men, and the anxiety of that film, the intrigue of that film, and the suspense of that film really kind of set the tone for what kind of film I wanted to come out with first. I loved the way I felt during that film. That film felt like an experience. So I wanted a film that not only do you watch, but that you feel, that you experience, that you sit on the edge of your seat and you run with [the lead character], you're scared with her, you tire with her, and you get anxiety with her. I shot it from a different point of view, almost like a video game, so that you feel like you're in the movie.
And speaking of the lead character, Reagan Farrow (played by Murray Gray) is very tough and gutsy. She takes matters into her own hands. Who’s behind her character?
SR: The character was inspired by my four little sisters. I like to say they're pretty, they're smart, they're intelligent, and they have a certain toughness about them. I wrote that character with that thought process in mind.
Did your football career in any way prepare you for directing a full-length feature film?
SR: It didn't. There's no real correlation. If anything it was more or less leadership. I’d spoken to large bodies of audience, and I’d spoken to my teammates before. It's being able to convey messages. Communication is an asset, in terms of when you have to read in front of the class or stand up and bark out orders and give people direction. That's the thing that was in parallel to what I've done before. But outside of that, nothing really prepares you for this.
How does the feeling of earning a Super Bowl ring compare with seeing a story that your wrote, cast and directed come to life on screen?
SR: It’s a different feeling because my whole life I’d been prepping for that moment to win the Super Bowl. That moment to be prepared enough to put a team on my back and anchor it and usher in a Super Bowl with the rest of my teammates. There's no feeling like that. And in film there's no feeling like this. I can't tell you how good it feels that out of 25,000 films that are made, they say only five indie films make it to a platform of a theater. I can't really tell you how that feels either. This feels, I could say, effervescent. But I can't really describe it if you haven't experienced it. But I can't really compare the two. It's like apples and steaks. Totally different. They're not even in the same class.
Rusty Joiner, Simeon Rice, and Murray Gray on set.
What was directing Unsullied like, where you led the team rather than being one of the team members?
SR: It was high anxiety before I did it. I felt like the script was bigger than me. I felt like the script was so good, and I'm like, “I need to get this out of my hands.” I had a talk with my partner, (Unsullied co-writer) John Nodilo, and he was like, “You're going to be fine, it'll be good.” But when I got to set, everything just kind of fell right in place. It felt like there was no place I should be other than right in that director's seat barking out orders on how to bring these characters to life.
You grew up on the Southside of Chicago. What do you like to when you’re in town?
SR: I'm one of the investors in a restaurant, Municipal Bar + Dining Co. (216 W. Ohio St.) so I go by to check on that, and I come home and all my friends are there. I work out at East Bank, play a lot of basketball, go out to the clubs—The Underground (56 W. Illinois St.) and Paris Club (59 W. Hubbard St.). I love doing the Chicago thing. I love it. It's a cool city, man. And the older I get, the more I have an appreciation for it.
Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, I always swing by my old high school [Mount Carmel High School] if they're in or not. I go by just to look at the place that was my first springboard into where we are right now.
If you had to recommend three places to visit in Chicago, what would you recommend?
SR: It all depends on what the person’s like. What’s the person like?
They like good food and having fun.
SR: What’s the age? What’s the demographic?
Thirty years old.
SR: Single or married? Male or female?
A couple. A man and a woman.
SR: OK. Then I’m going to say go down and go shopping on Magnificent Mile. That's always cool. Then grab some food on Rush Street at Tavern on Rush (1031 N. Rush St.). And then go check out Municipal. Then I would say—it depends on whether it's winter or summer—but it's always cool to go to the lakefront. If there are some plays in town you might want to do that. You've got the Willis Tower. You can look over the city. There are so many other things to do. You might want to go get dinner on the river, that's always sexy. Take a boat tour. Go check out Unsullied in theaters August 28. Popcorn's on me.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF JASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES; ARLEN J.
January 4, 2019