During his 12-year NFL career, Simeon Rice made three Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year. His 122 sacks are the 17th most in league history, and, along with Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, he helped turn the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense into one of the most formidable units in football.
But, apparently, all he really wanted to do was direct.
In the eight years since he last played in the NFL, Rice has graduated from the New York Film Academy and made tentative strides in the world of independent filmmaking. Now, he’s preparing to release his feature debut, Unsullied, a survival-horror film he wrote, directed and largely financed. But for a guy who spent a dozen years dominating the cutthroat world of pro football, making the transition to the movie biz has proven to be a lot tougher than bringing down a quarterback.
“In football, what you see is what you get. It’s a dog-eat-dog business, but the best will survive. The team that is supposed to win does win. The best person will win. Football is honest,” he says. “You can’t prepare for something like making a film. The hope is people connect with it, but that’s an abstract thing. You can be the best actor in the world, but you still might not get the part. You can make the best film in the world, but that doesn’t mean people are going to see it.”
Unsullied, which opens in select markets Friday, is equal parts The Most Dangerous Game and Deliverance – Rice’s one-sentence synopsis: “It’s about a runner on her way to a race who gets kidnapped by these two sociopaths and thrust into a game of kill or be killed.” – though it also takes inspiration from films Rice says made him want to be a filmmaker in the first place.
“I connected with a lot of films, and they kind of melted into one unified film. I was watching Hostel when I started writing the script, and I looked at a film like Apocalypto, and was struck by the pacing of it,” Rice says. “And then I watched No Country for Old Men, and the suspense of it, the personality and intensity of it, that stuck with me, too.”
Shot over 23 days in Florida, Unsullied features plenty of stunts (including a cliff-jumping escape, shot in one take mostly because, as Rice says, “nobody on set wanted to do the stunt”) and suspense, though, name aside, it has nothing to do with Game of Thrones‘ elite group of warrior-eunuchs. Of course, Rice isn’t opposed to a little crossover appeal – anything to help turn his big-screen dreams into reality.
“I hope to be doing this for a long time, but when you do an independent project, you need people to validate you. I need people to go out and see this film, buy tickets,” he says. “I financed this project myself, I brought on some executive producers after that to get this film out there, and here we are. We’re opening in 130 theaters nationwide, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Hopefully, I can go on to make more stories and tell more tales.”