Simon Rex is a savvy, modern-day renaissance man, having donned almost every hat in the entertainment industry on his way to his role of a lifetime in director Sean Baker’s latest indie movie success ‘Red Rocket’.
He started out as a model (even dabbling in a small splash of pornography along the way) before becoming a beloved MTV VJ in the 1990s, where he notably interviewed Tupac in one of the last TV appearances of his life. Fast-talking, kind and funny, this is where he perfected his schtick, capturing the hearts of the MTV generation.
Once his MTV reign came to an end, he successfully reinvented himself as his alter ego Dirt Nasty, a cult favorite rapper (the late, great Amy Winehouse was a big fan). And he also set his sights on Hollywood, landing roles in the much-loved ‘Scary Movie’ franchise, along with TV favorites ‘Felicity’, ‘Baywatch’, and ‘Summerland’. This time, it wasn’t a spectacular ascent but a tougher grind, lining up for auditions, and learning the ropes of his new craft.
Then in February 2020, he received a life-changing call from a friend asking if they could pass on his number to Baker, the director of critically-adored independent films such as ‘Starlet’, ‘Tangerine’, and ‘Florida Project’.
Rex explains, “I was out in Joshua Tree, I moved there right before the pandemic hit. There was no work on the horizon, and I sort of surrendered to that and was okay with it. Of course, that’s when you get the phone call out of the blue.
“Sean sends me one little paragraph of my opening scene, and says, ‘Can you do a cold read on your phone and send this to me?’ I sent it to him and he loved it. Then he said, ‘I need you to be in Texas immediately. I can’t fly you here because I’d have to quarantine you for a week.’ So I drove for three days, and we just started shooting.
“It happened so fast. Usually, that’s not how you book a job in Hollywood. You’ve got to go through an agent, a manager, a lawyer. He just came right to me, and I said, ‘Yes!’ It was really a different experience. Working with him was magical. He’s just brilliant.”
The film was released in late 2021, with critics giving Rex’s performance as washed-up porn star Mikey Saber rave reviews. He has won numerous awards and was shortlisted for a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars, although the final list of five ended up being predictably the nominees with the best-financed campaigns.
As for what’s next, Rex is seeing the new opportunities open up ahead of him with the same infectious enthusiasm that has fueled him throughout his career. Coming up, he stars in ‘My Dead Dad’, another indie movie earning critical buzz, and alongside Zachary Quinto in ‘Down Low’, where he plays “a homosexual crackhead who cleans up murder scenes.”
“I think what’s so cool about ‘Red Rocket’ is that it was like the ultimate audition,” he explains. “Like most people in this industry, I was sort of written off. This movie showed casting directors, other filmmakers and other actors what I can do. I don’t care about the fame and the money and whatever. I just want to do good work with good people. That gets me excited to wake up in the morning. And then, when it’s done, I truly want to share it with people. I think Picasso said, ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away.’”
Here, Rex answers the 20 questions that get to the heart of who we are in our latest ‘Who the F*** Are You?’ profile, discussing his life-long search for adventure, his love of nature, and how this latest project helped him overcome the imposter syndrome he had previously carried throughout his acting career.
Please also check out our video of his interview, an exciting new addition to our offering here at Mr Feelgood, which can be found below. It’s available as a podcast on Spotify and Apple too. And keep scrolling for the print interview and awesome photo shoot.
Who the f*** are you?
I’m a human man from California. I’m an only child. I’m a silly goose. I don’t take myself too seriously, but I take my work very seriously. I think that the secret to life is being able to laugh at yourself. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I think it’s my superpower. You’ve got to be able to laugh at everything, especially in my business, showbusiness. People are so serious, even the comedians. So I’m a free spirited, silly goose who likes nature.
How are you feeling right now?
At this exact second? I have photo fatigue. We just did a great shoot together. Amazing photographer, Guy Aroch. I’m excited to see these pictures. And so, I got photo fatigue, which is a weird thing, because you would think it’s easy to just stand there, but I’m feeling that post coffee, post photo shoot, pre lunch dip in energy. So if I don’t seem as majestic as I normally do, it’s because I’m going through that little moment. And I’m hungry! But we’ve got food coming…
I’m a few things. I’m happy, and I slept really good, I slept eight hours. For me, that’s a lot, so I’m rested, I’m frisky. I’m feeling a little adventurous. I might skydive after this.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in San Francisco with hippie parents. It was very open-minded. This is obviously a long time ago, the 70s and 80s in Northern California, which is the hippie epicenter of the world. I grew up around everything as far as gay, black, white, etc. It’s a melting pot. I grew up around so much diversity, I think it’s such a good place to be from. And I’m a traveler. I love to travel. That’s when I feel the most alive. I don’t think I want to live in San Francisco anymore because my city has changed so much, but what a good place to be from.
I was left to my own devices to entertain myself. I think growing up, TV and music were my best friends and that’s why I think I gravitated towards both of those things for my work. I remember coming home from school and my best friend was ‘Three’s Company’ and reruns of sitcoms. I remember when the VCR came out. I’d go over to my friend’s house and bring VHS cassettes and record movies off Showtime and HBO. Eventually I got a VCR, and I grew up watching a lot of comedies. A lot of Mel Brooks, a lot of David Zucker, ‘Airplane’, ‘Naked Gun’. I just remember that being my thing. [As an] only child, that’s your survival instinct I think.
What excites you?
Travel really excites me. I actually did this personality test recently, and who knows if it’s really accurate, but it made a lot of sense. I can’t remember the name. It’s the Briggs-Meyer test, or something like that [Myers-Briggs Type Indicator]. It’s similar to astrology, but a little more science-based, and less about the stars. Not saying either one’s more accurate. Maybe they’re both accurate, maybe neither of them are. I don’t know. But it said that I’m addicted to novelty and I thought this is so accurate. I love new. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but I’m just being honest with myself. I love new and variety. Hence, me being 47 years old and never been married and had kids. But that’s a whole other conversation.
The adventure of the open road and mystery of not knowing what’s going to happen is when I just feel the most alive. When I get stuck in one place too long, and in a routine and around the same people and things, I get angsty. I need to keep it moving. That’s just the way I am. And no plans, I love that. It drives everyone else crazy, but I love no plans. Then you’re pleasantly surprised all the time, because when you have no expectations. I just like being surprised. Serendipitous moments happen when you just put yourself out there. Yeah, that’s it. It’s freedom.
What scares you?
The irony is, being alone forever is scary as shit. As you start to get older, you realize, “Wait, am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?” I want to have a family. I want to have my tribe. And I kind of just float around. I’m what’s called a sigma male, I think. Not an alpha, not a beta, I’m a sigma. I’m a chameleon. I’ll just adapt wherever I go. I’ll go to the roughest neighborhood in Oakland and hang with the homies and somehow [adapt]. Then I’ll go to a Beverly Hills party and hang with the richest, most affluent people. And then I’ll go to Europe…
I just love putting myself out of my comfort zone and adapting. But then, as much as I love that, it also scares the shit out of me. It’s like, “Am I going to be like this forever?” Do people change? That’s a big one for me. I wonder if people really can change. So I think what scares me is how okay I am with being alone and just putting myself out there all the time, because eventually you’re going to have to have some roots and settle down. Or maybe not. I don’t know.
I like to have a home. Maybe it’s greedy, I like to have it all. Is that okay? I think it’s okay. When someone else tells me what I have to do, I run the other way. So don’t tell me what to do!
What’s your proudest achievement?
Quite frankly, and I know that we’re sitting here because of it, but this movie ‘Red Rocket’ is absolutely the greatest thing in my work that I’ve ever been a part of. I’m so proud because I think I had imposter syndrome before this movie. People would ask me, “What do you do?” And I never felt comfortable saying, “I’m an actor,” because I’m like, “I’m just bullshitting.”
I’ve just pretty much been skating by in New York and LA, in entertainment for 25 years. Basically just doing silly comedy stuff, but not doing anything that really had some dramatic gravitas and soul, because it comes so easy for me to just do the comedy shtick. Then this movie required me to not only do that – it’s a dark comedy, so there is comedy – but then there’s a lot of really vulnerable, grounded moments that I had to bring the acting chops to. So until this movie, I think that I felt like a fraud. And now finally, for the first time, I feel comfortable being like, “Yeah, I’m an actor,” and I could stand in front of it. So this movie is the most beautiful, artistic piece of work I’ve done, for sure.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
That’s a good question. I feel like breakups are always really hard for me. All of them. It’s almost easier to be the one that gets broken, to get dumped, because there’s something about letting somebody down that you’re enmeshed with, that you’re in a relationship with, to hurt somebody. Even thinking about it, I get that feeling in my stomach. Just hurting anybody else, especially somebody you care about, just thinking back to that feeling. It’s almost like you could throw up.
So I would say the fear of walking into that room when you know you have to break up with someone you care about, because you just know that it’s not working out and someone has to do it. That’s a tough one for me, to let somebody else down.
I thought this was Mr Feelgood, I’m getting so dark! But it feels good to be honest, so there we go.
Who was your greatest mentor, and what did they teach you?
I’ve got a guy in my life, his name is Chris Ryan. He’s an author, he has a PhD in psychology. Smartest guy I know. He’s sort of been a big brother to me. I think in the last few years, when I went through my sort of midlife existential crisis, when I hit about 40, is when I became friends with this guy. He’s been a mentor of mine, not in work, but in life. He basically was the inspiration to me getting an RV and exploring, just going into nature more and getting out of the city. Not being caught in the hamster wheel of chasing money because that’s a shallow pursuit and it doesn’t make you happy. I just learned a lot from watching [him]. Just from watching, he never preached it. I just watched how he was living.
He did a podcast, I started doing a podcast. He was somebody that I just was like, “Wow, he’s figured out a good way of living life and loves to travel, all these things.” Then, after getting the RV, I ended up getting my place in Joshua Tree, so everything just sort of went down that path as soon as I started exploring those things instead of just staying in the city, chasing and worrying about your career. Doing other things that make you happy, which I’ve learned, is mother nature. Mother nature is my church.
There’s a famous [philosopher]. His name is [Baruch] Spinoza. He was Jewish Portuguese. His theory about religion – and he got banned from the synagogue for saying this – was that going into nature is your connection with God and with the church. This canyon we’re in should be your church, not a manmade thing. And I really connected with that because I’ve always struggled with organized religion and I didn’t grow up having to do that. That’s been a big one for me, I just see a lot of these churches where you see the bookshop and put your money in the basket, I’m like, it’s a business, it’s a hustle. So I have a hard time with that. Nature is my church.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
Let’s see. Real-life heroes. One thing I’ve learned, and I don’t know if this will answer your question, but you don’t want to meet your heroes because quite often you’ll be let down. Sometimes it’s better to just observe the tiger than to pet the tiger. I’ve learned that I don’t want to meet my heroes. I want to keep them as fantasy.
Since I work in showbusiness, it’s not really like an actor’s going to be a hero of mine because now that I’ve been in entertainment for so long, I realize it’s actually not as magical as it looks on the big screen. If you’ve ever come to a movie set or photo shoot or anything, it’s not as glamorous as you think. It’s actually a lot of sitting around all day.
So if anything, I think superheroes to me would be athletes – it’s impossible for me to wrap my head around what Steph Curry does on the Golden State Warriors when he hits a three, or Joe Montana throwing, that’s like a superhero to me. So I think the magic I feel when I watch my basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, win a championship. There’s a magic that I feel when I see something like that happen because I can’t wrap my head around it.
Fictional. I don’t read a lot of fiction, I love documentaries and biographies. I should start reading more fiction. But I guess a good example of a fictional hero would be Indiana Jones, or Luke Skywalker. He goes out, he acquires the wisdom and he brings it back, and that’s the journey. Because it’s the same hero story. There’s so many of that archetype that it’s pretty much the same thing, just in a different outfit.
What’s your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
I’m a real jacket guy, and I have a couple of jackets that just feel so comfortable and cozy in. So I’m going to say a couple of my jackets that are sitting right now in Joshua Tree in my closet, almost like a blanket, and it becomes a part of you. Specifically, one of them is a fur, like a corduroy with the [shearling] lining. For whatever reason, it’s just like Fonzie, I feel like Fonzarelli [with] my jackets.
What music did you love at age 13, and do you still love it now?
It’s funny, because I’ve been revisiting music from my childhood and it’s so nostalgic because it takes you back to that time. I’m from San Francisco bay area, so there was a lot of underground rap music, and also mainstream music. I’ve been listening to heavy metal again, Metallica. Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, because it was so part of my formative years. A lot of 90s rap and a lot of heavy metal, which to me were both pretty much the same thing. It was rebel music. It was anti-establishment. My mom would say, “Turn that shit off,” and it would make me want to turn it up more.
I’ve been revisiting those two genres and it’s like you get high off of it. I mean, you really do. It’s like you get the chills, you get choked up, and you’ll start having these memories flood. I actually just was in San Francisco recently and I’m like, “Mom, what was the apartment that we grew up in until I was 10 years old? I don’t know where it is.” She gave me the address. I drove by there and I looked at the house, the apartment and it was almost like I felt an out of body experience. I was remembering sitting on the steps waiting for my mom to come. I haven’t had these feelings in so long. Similar thing. It’s a time machine. So it’s magic.
What is the most inspiring book you’ve ever read?
There’s a fictional book that’s actually loosely based on a real story. It’s called ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts. It’s my favorite book. It’s based in reality, but I think it’s heightened for effect and exaggerated to make the story better. It’s about an Australian guy who escapes prison and goes to India to the slums of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, and gets into a lot of trouble with some locals, and it’s just incredible. That’s my favorite, inspiring book.
That’s a good question too. I kind of went through my woo-woo moment where I read a lot of self-help books. There’s some truth to a lot of the cliche bumper stickers, like, ‘Be in the moment’, ‘Everything’s connected’. All these things that I used to scoff at. Then you kind of realize, “Oh, I guess there’s some universal truths to some of these things.” I think going through all those books, there was really one that helped, because I have a neurotic brain, called ‘The Untethered Soul’ by Michael Alan Singer. So that was one of the few books I can look back on and be like, “Okay, that’s not bullshit.” The same author did ‘The Surrender Experiment’.
I think what I do is take little things from books and movies and whatever, because it doesn’t have to all be true, but you can take what you want from them. Because I also think that the self-help industry is a little bit of a hustle, so I’m on the fence about a lot of it. But there’s some truth in there. You just got to find what works for you.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
My favorite movie growing up was called ‘A Christmas Story’. It’s on TNT every Christmas for 24 hours a day. It’s so moving. And it’s a Bob Clark movie, who I ended up working with years later. He did ‘Porky’s’ and he did ‘A Christmas Story’. ‘A Christmas Story’, for whatever reason, is just that movie that’s kind of like the music I was talking about, or going to my childhood apartment. There’s something about that movie that moves me. And it’s just so simple. It’s about a little kid wanting a BB gun. The whole movie’s about this kid who wants a f***ing BB gun. Spoiler alert! At the end, he gets the BB gun and he shoots himself in the eye! It’s just so simple, and it was so well written. And you can watch it in the summer, you don’t have to wait until Christmas!
What is your favorite word or saying?
I like the word regalia. And I use it incorrectly all the time. It’s an inside joke with my friends, and we use it as a verb. What it really means is like regal clothing. Jewelry could be regalia. It’s very British. Me and my friends have abused that word for the last 15 years and made it our own word, and even to this day we use it wrong. I’ll be like, “You guys want to go to the regalia?” And my friend will know by how I’m saying it that I mean, “Oh, do you want to go eat food?” So regalia is this inside joke. It’s a real word, but used incorrectly with me and my friends, that’s my favorite.
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
That he put a smile on my face. That he never did anybody wrong nor hurt anybody. Just that he was a good person. Because at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s about. I think [that’s] why I’m here. Laughter is the best medicine, and I feel like I’ve been able to make a career out of getting people to chuckle and that’s just the best blessing ever. What’s so cool about my work is that someone could put on ‘Red Rocket’ in 50 years and discover it. Or ‘Scary Movie 3’, a comedy I’ve done. Or whatever it is, and have a laugh way down the line. That’s pretty special.
And finally, a quickfire five favorites…
My favorite car that I had was a 1968 Chevelle Malibu, or, I would say ’65 Buick Riviera, which I still haven’t got yet. I had a ’68 Riviera. I think that’s the most beautiful American car ever made.
San Francisco 49ers, and the Golden State Warriors.
I guess just a good face moisturizer. Kiehl’s face moisturizer. Shout out to Kiehl’s.
You know, I’m not really a label whore, but I like a good new pair of Nikes.
Grooming by Sussy Campos @sussy_styles at Art Department @artdeptagencyla using R+Co @randco and Tom Ford Beauty @tomfordbeauty
Fashion Assistant Margrit Jacobsen
Thanks to Chase Lehner, Narrative PR @narrativepr