Simeon Rice was a dominant force on the football field over his 12-year NFL career. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, is 12th on the all-time sack list (122) and won himself a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. A man used to being the best at what he does, it was only a matter of time before Rice decided to “tackle” another career entirely. After retiring from the game in 2007, Rice began working on his next sport of choice: Film-making. And this weekend, his film “Unsullied,” in which Rice wrote and directed, will be released theatrically and On Demand. I had the chance to speak with Simeon Rice today, and as to be expected, he held nothing back, especially when it came time to discuss current NFL bad boy, Ndamukong Suh.
“Unsullied” however, is a mile-a-minute thrill-ride centering on a track star (played by Murray Gray), who is kidnapped by a dangerous pair of sociopaths after her car breaks down on the way to a meet.
Here is my interview with Simeon Rice:
Tom Santilli (Detroit Movie Examiner): So Simeon, a lot of former NFL stars go on to other careers, whether in the field of broadcasting, acting or something else entirely. Not too many – if any – make the jump into writing and directing feature-films. How did you make the leap from the NFL to Hollywood?
Simeon Rice: It takes a certain level of ambition. Ambition and challenging myself on this quest. It’s the idea of seeing myself better than myself today, tomorrow. And chasing after that, led me to enrolling myself into a film school (The NY Film School), learn all I could learn and get the basis down. Getting through film school is good. But there is nothing in the world that mocks or substitutes like on-the-job training. The big question, the elephant in the room when I walk on the set is, can he do this? Can I do this? What’s this going to be like? What you find is, on the other end of it, there isn’t another 325-pound lineman trying to stop me. Only I can stop me. You don’t have to walk in and worry about seeing Jonathan Ogden, or Orlando Pace. You go into it with an attitude of commanding, of directing. Of getting this vision made, this story, that resonates in people’s mind for a long time. And if you really do it well, you come out with a real classic film.
Tom Santilli: You mention on-the-job training. What was the most shocking or eye-opening thing that you discovered once you actually got on set?
Simeon Rice: The subtleties of the day-to-day. The personalities and the character traits, the real-life character traits of the actors. The subtle behaviors. Their process. Their pre-game, if you will. But it was very interesting watching different people doing different things getting ready for a particular scene.
Tom Santilli: If you told someone that a former NFL player was going to make a movie, “Unsullied” is about what people would expect. I mean, it’s adrenaline-charged right from the get-go. Is this the kind of film we can expect from Simeon Rice, the film-maker?
Simeon Rice: I do want to do all kinds of movies. I don’t want to lock myself into one thing. There are so many stories, an infinite amount of tales you can tell. And I want to tap into that. I go off of what compels me, what I find interesting.
Tom Santilli: You wrote this film too. When did the story develop? Were you writing while you were in the NFL?
Simeon Rice: It’s just what I developed into. As one door opens another door closes. Portals. We walk into portals. When you are playing ball and you’re putting your mind into that, you do start thinking, what’s next? What am I going to do after this? What’s my next chapter? Obviously, I’ve been watching films my whole life, so I said to myself that if I get the opportunity to challenge myself as a film-maker, I will. And it’s an homage of the past, continuing to reign myself in. Can you be a man of your word? Can you accomplish what you set out to accomplish? I don’t have to go to Saturn or to Mars to achieve my dreams. I dream of mine is to become a film-maker, and I’m in pursuit of that. It just brings me to the set, then to completion of the film, and my next challenge is to get this movie into theaters. I was told I need bankable names, that nobody would distribute the movie. So I just went out and did it myself. Now, I need the public to validate that, to allow me into the film business, to have a career. I have done my all, in terms of this story. All those levels of success I have been able to take part in. Now is the final challenge and final stage, on August 28th, to get this thing into theaters. That is the ultimate validation. I hope that people are able to go out and see this film, and to see what we came up with as story-tellers.
Tom Santilli: And in football, there are clear winners and losers. Not so much when it comes to films. You mentioned needing the public to validate your success with this movie, is that how you will judge its success or failure?
Simeon Rice: I mean, it is a success that we were able to finish it. I have had success. You can’t sit there and say that just because we didn’t win the game, that we didn’t learn something. However how well this film does in theaters, will determine if I will have success or failure as a film-maker. moving forward. That’s yet to be determined. Do I have more stories? Yes, I have many more scripts. But this film kicks off my brand as a filmmaker. So I need this film to do well, I really do. I don’t need it to do crazy numbers, I just need it to get me to the next film.
Tom Santilli: So I have one of the fiercest defensive players in the history of the NFL on the line with me right now, and being that I am from Detroit, I have to ask you about your thoughts on Ndamukong Suh, one of the fiercest defensive players currently in the NFL, and definitely one of the most controversial. Do you respect Suh’s style of play and how do you think the Lions are going to fare without him this coming season?
Simeon Rice: OK, I’m going to give you real answers. So they say he’s a great player. They say he is. And I’ve watched him closely. But I played the game next to true greatness. Like true greatness, without the you know…people who average 15 sacks, 14 sacks, big play-makers. Guys who talked a lot, but left it all out on the field, without any extras. Guys who were devoted to the game and made plays. Made plays, not excuses. I don’t view Ndamukong Suh like those guys. How many seasons has Suh had double-digit sacks? (Answer: Only once, with 10 his rookie year in Detroit) How many forced fumbles has he caused? (Answer: Only 2, in his 5-year career) How many times have you all made it to the playoffs? (Answer: Twice in the past 5 years, losing both games) I mean, I played for Arizona where they were epically challenged at winning games. I helped usher us to be one of the top defenses in the NFL. We went to the playoffs and beat the Cowboys for the first time. We were two games away from the Super Bowl with that defense in Arizona. That’s dominant, OK? What interests me is, if I was on a team with him, we’d win the Super Bowl. With Tampa, we had one of the best defenses in the history of the game. We won the Super Bowl. When I look at Ndamukong Suh, I see a guy that’s a really good player. Really good. A lot of talent. But the kid has not become a great player yet. He’s not a great player yet. Because a great player isn’t speculated on. People don’t question if a great player is a great player. With him, everyone’s got to look into it and question. How many plays has he made that were winning plays? Does he affect winning? I’ve seen him get suspended and stuff. Getting mad and stuff. And he has made big plays, he has that ability. But that’s just not what sticks out in my mind. What sticks out in my mind is him stomping on a player, all this extra stuff. That shouldn’t be your symbol. That shouldn’t be how people know you. And I’m not saying that’s how everyone knows him, that’s just how I know him. And I’m one of the greatest defensive players to ever play the game.
“Unsullied” is in theaters on Friday, August 28th and On Demand.