Ain’t no lie; it has been a year for actor Simon Rex. 

In Sean Baker’s newest film, Red Rocket, the actor plays a down-and-out adult film star, Mikey Saber, who’s in the midst of figuring out his next play. After a bus ride trip from L.A., he winds up on the doorstep of his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Deiss)—two people who couldn’t be less thrilled to see him back in their Texas small town. Mikey manages to talk his way into securing a roof over his head, under the guise that he’ll contribute to the household, as he manically shares how he wound up back in town.

Without a dime or good word to his name, Mikey manages to suck people into his world of self-absorbed chaos—including Strawberry (newcomer Suzanna Son), a 17-year-old he crosses paths with working at a local doughnut shop, who soaks up his attention despite their difference in age. Though the nature of their relationship is unsavory, Mikey can’t help but see dollar signs and his ticket back into the industry. 

Image courtesy of A24.

Rex initially found success as a model and an MTV VJ before making a foray into film and television in the late ’90s and early aughts. Some of his early credits include Scary Movie 3, Felicity, and What I Like About You. And now, at the age of 47, he’s drawing critical acclaim for his breakout performance in Red Rocket.

“I’m just happy that Sean Baker chose me and that I guess I delivered for him because everyone seems to like the movie,” the San Francisco native said this past October. “As an actor, you’re lucky to get any work at all, much less something of this caliber, you know?”

And Rex is well aware of this. Though he’s continued to work on various projects involving acting, comedy, and music over the years, Red Rocket has put him back in the conversation. He’ll be appearing in the upcoming film Mack & Rita alongside Diane Keaton in a role he describes as “a new age huckster shaman.” 

“[F]or the first time in 20 years, I’m actually in a position where I’m getting scripts sent to me, and I can kind of pick what I want to do,” shared the San Francisco native this past October. “That’s very rare. So, I’m just thankful that I’m in this position, and I want to keep surprising people with fun roles.”

At this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival, Rex received special recognition for his work in Red Rocket. While in town, I had the opportunity to sit down with the actor for Art U News during a roundtable interview to discuss his performance, working with Sean Baker, and the fun of playing an anti-hero.

Congrats on the Mill Valley Film Festival recognition. How’s the whole film festival experience been for you?

It’s been a roller coaster. I’ve never done this before, and starting at Cannes, which is like the top of the festival world, was cool. And since then, going to all these other different levels of festivals, you know, it’s all a new experience for me. … It’s the coolest thing ever. I love it. I’d be lying if I said the traveling wasn’t exhausting. I think I slept in my own bed five nights now in 10 weeks. 

I thought your performance, in particular, was very layered. Mikey’s a little bit manic in the beginning, especially when he shows up on his wife’s porch. But he’s also very charming, and he’s a hustler. I know you didn’t have a lot of time to prepare prior to filming, but how did you quickly figure out how to balance him out as he interacts with the people in his world?

Yeah, I basically just made the choice that he had to be a charming boyish likable, a–hole, really. Because if he was just an a–hole, then I don’t think the audience cares what happens to him, and then you’re not invested in the movie. So, you have to kind of be rooting for him just a little bit, considering the horrible things he’s doing. So, I made it almost like he was a little kid that doesn’t know what he’s doing. There, you might find a little bit of, oh, he knows not what he does. So, you’re more connected to the outcome of the film instead of just writing him off. 

Read the full Q&A at ArtUNews.com.

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