Interview: Rusty Joiner Talks ‘Unsullied’ and Working with Simeon Rice

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Coming from a successful modeling career (modeling for brands such as Prada, Abercrombie and Fitch, and American Eagle among many others), Rusty Joiner has changed direction and ventured into the acting world circa 2000, when he had a minor guest spot on the Michael J. Fox show Spin City. His feature film debut came in 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction and since then he’s been getting bigger roles.

Joiner stars alongside Murray Gray in Simeon Rice’s feature directorial debut, Unsullied, where he plays the antagonist Noah Evans, a sinister hunter who kidnaps Gray’s character and then proceeds to hunt her after she escapes from the hunter’s clutches.

Joiner spoke to me about making Unsullied, working with former NFL player and future Hall of Famer Simeon Rice, and playing a villainous character for the first time.

Unsullied is out in select theaters tomorrow, August 28.

You can read the entire interview below!

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As a football fan, what was your reaction when you found out you’d be working with Simeon Rice? 

Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get into a director’s session and see if he was as big as he looks in all his pictures, and the answer is yes, he is. That’s a full-grown man! Knowing how talented he is…. I’m an athlete and I have a great amount of respect for athletes and especially when they’re into their craft and they still have the same discipline after they finished playing as they did when they were playing. And he’s an awesome dude. Really generous man. Super smart and you know people don’t give athletes a lot of credit, but in the first five minutes of conversation you could tell this guy’s different. He’s really smart and I was really, really happy to meet him and make friends with him over the couple of months we shot the film together.

This was your first role as an evil character. How did you prepare for that? 

You know I think every actor has a couple of things at the top of the list they want to play and a lot of times, you only get to play the handsome guy who’s likable. So when I read the script, to be honest I couldn’t wait to dig into the opposite, the different side, you know? The last person you’d expect to be the bad guy is the character I played, so you go through all the movies you’ve seen and the characters you’ve seen, then you research and study where you would go as a human being if you were pushed beyond your limits. Bad guy or not, pushed beyond your limits to fight for your own life and that happens with this character.

Were there any challenges you faced or any rewarding experiences you can take with you to your next film? 

When you go into a film and the environment is in the middle of the woods, there’s always a challenge. But being an athlete and loving to push things beyond the limits, I kind of thrive in that situation. In my own life I’ve always had the attitude of being the first one up and the last one standing so going out and we’re shooting that many days in a row with so much action, fatigue really does set in and as an actor you can really use that to your advantage because your character does get worn out. Once the action starts, the chase never stops, so you can use the elements and the environment and the woods as a tool to be as true to character as possible. So what can be considered a bit of a challenge can be used as a gift to realize the situation we’re in.

And the role required a lot of physical endurance. Your athletic background must have definitely been a plus. 

Oh yeah! Simeon and I talked about that because he has the same kind of discipline and approach to everything he does. He’s like, “Give it your all, give it your all,” and you want to be the last one standing so it’s not just my background in playing sports, but keeping that same mentality as you get older and applying it to whatever you do in life. And if you keep that same intensity, you’re going to be just as good at thirty or forty as you were when you were twenty. I try to push myself every single day. Not to get big muscles and be that kind of guy, but literally just to be in good mental and physical shape so when I do step on set that is demanding and challenging, I don’t want the cameras to stop because of me. So my goal is to really stay in a shoot-ready shape so when we roll cameras, we can get the best quality and the most out of my performance.

We know a lot about Reagan [Murray Gray’s character]. She comes from a track background and she had a sister. Your character is more vague, but completely villainous. What would turn a person into a hunter of people? 

When you’re a thrill seeker and your life is literally at the top of an empire and most of that has to do with money and with that comes violence. When you love so much to be a thrill seeker, what else is there? So I think this guy that had gotten so far beyond success that nothing really was exciting to him anymore, except for their sexual appetite and their power and control of that that led to something that was just delusional and that was hunting women. So being able to use that and kind of create the unimaginable and that would be a human vice, and to use that, to see that, then nothing was good enough and then you lose compassion for humanity. I think that’s the only thing that can make a person want to become like that. So I tried to live in that loss of compassion and staying connected to that, with Simeon and always driving that into me, I think we were able to create some really truthful performances. And with the cinematography, they really brought that to life effectively to where you’re sweating and sitting on the edge of your seat the entire film.

You modeled a long time before acting. Was there always an interest to get into the acting world or did it just kind of happen? 

As an actor, there’s always been a performer inside of me and I love films. It always affected me differently than anybody I knew. And because of that, there was a seed planted that just needed the right kind of growth. And as a small kid from Georgia, I never imagined I would be gearing to go to Florida, much less Hollywood. So after college your brain starts to develop and you really start your life, that’s when I knew eventually I’d wind up in Hollywood just to try it and luckily for me, the path was paved by my modeling career and took me to New York, took me to Miami and Europe and eventually led me to Los Angeles, so I’m really grateful for that. But it’s a tough thing when you switch careers in your early twenties and I really literally switched careers and started at the bottom. In a way, it gives you drive to want to learn more and in our business in acting you can do it forever and ever and some of the most successful award winners have the highest IQs because so much goes into the learning process of being an actor and that’s one of the things I love the most about it because it will never stop, it will never end.

Did you get to work really closely with the dogs on set?

I did. I’m a lover of animals, I’ve had a dog my whole life. Usually big, big dogs. So when I read that in the script, I was like, “Man, I really hope we get some fantastic dogs!” And Simeon saw the value in the chase and you had to make it believable, so Simeon hired one of the best trainers, not just in Florida, but on the planet. These dogs were championship dogs. Champions! They actually had to leave and go to some competition and come back. So these animals were so well-trained and it’s amazing what they could do on command. And that’s what you need on this production, they need to be actors and believable actors, and they were able to convey these things. I saw these dogs jump a fence, climb a tree. They could do anything! It was really, really, really incredible. So I got to work hand-in-hand with them. I have this scene where I have to let them out of the dog cage and I’ve got blood all over me from chopping all this crazy meat, and got these dogs that trusted me to grab them by the collar and kind of rough them up and set them loose. So that was an adrenaline thrill ride. And to think that two animals onscreen can look so vicious, but trust me enough. I love that part of it! Working with those animals, it was a really big moment.

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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