Simeon Rice is a multi-talented man. In his 12 years playing in the NFL for the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and New York Sentinels, the future Hall of Famer has in no way, shape, or form slowed down. But instead of continuing on in the football world in some way, Rice turned his attention to filmmaking. A 2009 graduate of the New York Film Academy, Rice premiered a short film called When I Was King in 2011 and his newest film and feature film debut, Unsullied, is out tomorrow, August 28.
Unsullied was co-written and directed by Rice and follows the story of Reagan Farrow (Murray Gray), a competitive track athlete on her way down to a race. After her car stalls in the middle of Florida, she is kidnapped by two hunters (Rusty Joiner and James Gaudioso) who pay off the whole town to cover up what they’re doing.
Simeon Rice took some time out to chat with me about his feature film debut, how he got into filmmaking, and having what it takes to direct a film.
You can read the entire interview below!
Congratulations on the movie.
You’re the best. Thank you!
Your career background is in football and you’ve done that for the majority of your life. How did the transition to filmmaking happen?
The transition happened when I was playing in school. I don’t know why, I wasn’t even a good student at school. Pretty intelligent but books didn’t… I had no interest in them. I just had this urge to be a storyteller after watching so many films, so many movies. And after watching so many movies, I wanted to tell a story and I’m like, “I can’t tell these stories.” I mean I’ve always been a good writer, I just didn’t do it. I wasn’t in practice Growing up, I was into artistry in terms of sketching and drawing and my mom always wanted me to get involved in it but I didn’t, I was always playing sports. It wasn’t anything I was really devoted to. And then I was playing and was like, “I want to be a storyteller,” and so I started writing scripts and moving forward and it kind of led me in the direction of what I’m doing right now.
You directed and co-wrote the script. Did that help you be more hands-on in making creative decisions?
Yeah, I mean I own the company so starting out with that I sat down with my writing partner [John Nodilo] and we sold the script to HBO. After that, it was like, “Why don’t we sell the idea, the intellectual property?” So after that, we spent a year working, coming out with scripts and doing things that we could sell and justify the company. We had to do all that stuff. Yeah so we jumped back to something I naturally believed in and would be commercial enough that people would want to rally behind and really watch. So we wrote together this amazing, amazing story and I went in to direct. I was a little bit nervous and it was a little bit daunting but I did it anyway. And when we got on set, I really felt like I had what it took. I really did. I felt like I had what it took and all the nervousness went away. It was like I’d been here before when I did my short, it was familiar territory to me. So that’s the beginning of the process of film. Taking paper and making a visual story out of it.
And you mentioned at first you were nervous to make this film because it was your feature debut. How did you overcome the hurdles?
I think the biggest challenge, and it’s a challenge everyday no matter how many days go by, that things could go wrong. Something’s going to go wrong. The lights are going to go out, a producer is going to mess up a deal, some money’s not going to come in. There are always going to be unforeseen problems that you’re going to have to overcome. And problem solving is the thing I learned most. Not to overindulge yourself, but that things happen. Understand them, compartmentalize them, and keep it moving.
A lot of the chase sequences in the film resemble first-person video games. Talk to me a little about those scenes.
Oh my gosh! You did not notice that! Did you notice that?
Yeah. Not in a bad way!
Oh no no, I just think it’s kind of cool that you noticed that. Oh my god! Wow, I’m impressed.
Why did I do that? When I’m playing these video games, it’s funny because, and truth be told, I’m still into them and that’s what inspired me to write those into the story. I was playing the video game Max Payne and I was like, “Wow, I’m playing a video but I could write this. I could write this game.” This was before the movie was even thought about coming out and I’m like, “This could be a movie! This could go in the movie I’m writing.” And I watched No Country for Old Men and other films that I watched really created that momentum that really got me into wanting to write a script. So when writing the script and writing my shot list, I said I wanted to do it different, I want a first-person POV and I want to use that. I don’t want to overindulge it, like in the shot, like some people do they try to go too far with it. I wanted it to be useful so you could feel like you’re in this movie, but you’re still watching a traditional movie. So I had a concept of how I wanted this film directed. Wow! The fact that you noticed that, respects me. Kind of respects me as a filmmaker.
The character of Reagan was based off of your four younger sisters. In what ways did their personalities help you shape her character?
My sisters, these are like my babies, I raised them. My mom raised me to take care of my younger sisters. I have an older brother, but me and my brother were put in charge of my little sisters. My furthest in age little sister is twelve years younger than me so we have a long distance in between. So watching my little sisters grow up, they grew up with big brothers, so we had made them rough. They’re all girlie girls now, but for a time they were like power boys. Pretty girls who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. So all their different elements and personality I wrote into the character of Reagan Farrow. I did that from a certain standpoint. One of my sisters was really strong, but they were all engaged, and they were all fun, and they were all cool. They all have a strong belief in values. They all listen to each other, even though the youngest always listens to the oldest, it’s very much a point of seniority. I don’t care if it’s two years. The younger will listen to the oldest and then she gets older and does her thing, but you see that. My sisters have all the elements I filled in for the relationship with Reagan and her sister, Kim.
This was Murray Gray’s first leading role. Talk to me about working with her and what did she bring to the character that you valued?
I love her humbleness. She brought a rare sense of humbleness to the character because she’s never worked on a set before so she was so open. She was in this acting program at UCLA where they pick like sixty students out of two thousand, so she has elite level of that training and background as an actress. Yet she was so excited. Her exuberance everyday on the set comes across. She was up for every challenge and it was a very challenging role for a first role. She had to go through so many different character twists in terms of elements in herself. Like to being able to go from being sad to being angry to being strong. To all those different points, to being dismayed to feeling vulnerable. All those things came across and she had to do these different things. She had to bring all the joy when she was with her sister, the happiness when she was with her father, all these different story arcs within her character. And there wasn’t a lot of dialogue all the time, it was how she played it. So she carried this character and didn’t have a lot of dialogue and she still had to communicate how she felt. And it was effervescent. The script was just bone, a skeleton. She took the meat and brought it to life.
Yeah. She was very much the emotional core of the film. Her character wasn’t in a good place in the beginning and her sister helped her throughout the ordeal. In what ways do you think her ordeal changed her and how will it impact her life experiences moving forward?
Her ordeal changed her in a way that, well first of all she didn’t know if she was prepared for anything. In terms of backstory, she had this need for sisterhood because of what was going on with her sister. So many unforeseen questions. Because of this great loss, she felt like she was in dismay but when she was going through these ordeals, the memories, the spirit of her sister was so much that she got to a point where her sister was always going to be with her. She came to that point in her life where she realized that sisterhood was never something that she was missing, she always had it.
There’s something very sinister about the antagonists in the story. Talk to me a little bit about the conception of these villains as hunters in terms of the story you wanted to tell.
What I was attempting to do was like these Wall Street guys, riding around. Country boys who would buy up the town and be left to their own devices. I think to a point, that was done very successfully. It kind of went in and out of the action a little bit, you know, that kind of got away at times. But their backstory was more to the effect of these guys come down to this town and this is kind of what they do. The adrenaline jump comes from running out of things to get their juices flowing. The ultimate killers are always the sociopaths.