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Interview: NFL Great Simeon Rice goes from the football field to behind the camera

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“Just because you have the privilege, doesn’t mean you have the right.” NFL great Simeon Rice told me by phone about his decision to enroll in film school. A Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, the former intimidating defensive end now spends his time behind a camera on movie sets.

Rice’s “motivation [to got to film school] was to be a story-teller—to be able to tell stories, to be able to tell tales and to challenge myself.”

Unsullied, an independently made action thriller, is Rice’s directorial debut. It opens in Atlanta next weekend, August 28, 2015.

One would think that Rice could have gotten into the movie business without spending the time learning how to be a filmmaker in the classroom. But when he left the NFL, he had other thoughts.

He told himself “when I retire, I want to go to film school—cutting my teeth, learning the trade, understanding the art of creating.”

And unlike your normal film student, Rice had contacts and access that few of us could ever imagine. He spent time on the set of Rush Hour 3 where he “shadowed” blockbuster director Brett Ratner for a day. And he recalled meeting Bruce Willis and talking about making movies and the craft of acting. Rice told me that he even invested in a film project that he describes as a bad experience in which he lost money.

“But at the end of the day, I had nothing to show for it.” Rice lamented. It was school that made the difference.

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Unsullied is the story of Reagan Farrow (played by new-comer Murray Gray) a track star dealing with the mysterious disappearance of her older sister. When her car breaks down in rural Florida, she is picked up by two charming and attractive young men. But instead of helping her, they drug her and take her to their farm where their plan is to hunt her as she struggles to escape. The story is something like a loose update of The Most Dangerous Game or the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man.

But Rice, who shares writing credit with John Nodilo, drew his material from another source.

“What really led me to make this film was watching No Country for Old Men.” Rice said referring to the 2007 Oscar-winning film from the Coen Brothers. “The anxiety of that film I loved. I borrowed some of that anxiety in making Unsullied.”

And in crafting the characters, Rice created a ruthless character in Noah (played by Rusty Joiner) that while charming is something akin to the devil as personified by the killer Anton Chigurh in No Country.

“I’m not in the NFL anymore, I’m a filmmaker.” Rice admitted. “And as a filmmaker, I have to give a scene freedom. I have to create a scene that really makes people hate the guy (Noah). I have to create the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. So, they have to go through these heinous acts. They have to be guys that you are not rooting for.”

Only the most sadistic of film fans could root for the villainous killer duo in Unsullied. But in making a film that is so in your face and vicious, Rice hopes that he brings attention to another pressing issue.

“This is an opportunity to bring attention to human trafficking, which black women really suffer from.”

And sometimes it takes an unusual medium or format to remind us of matters that need to be redressed. Unsullied opens in limited release.