Arts & Culture News

Simon Rex Is Due For a Comeback, and Playing a Washed-Up Porn Actor Just Might Ring True

In his new movie Red Rocket, Simon Rex plays a washed-up porn actor named Mikey Saber who returns to his hometown of Texas City to learn no one wants him there. When he's unable to get a job because of a large gap in his résumé, Mikey begins selling weed to locals. He also reconnects with old friends and falls for a young girl who goes by the name of Strawberry (Suzanna Son).

Just weeks before the Dallas premiere of Red Rocket, in theaters on Friday Dec. 24, we caught up with Rex via Zoom. This is actually this writer’s second time meeting Rex, the first being in 2016 at a Mickey Avalon show at Trees, where Rex was performing alongside Avalon under his rap alias, Dirt Nasty.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Rex says. “If it was a Mickey Avalon show, I was probably a little bit drunk. Dallas has always been a fun place for us to do shows. For whatever reason, you guys love Mickey Avalon and Dirt Nasty.”

Red Rocket filmed on location in Texas City over the course of a month, and during this time, Rex says he enjoyed feasting on Texas barbecue and playing rounds at Top Golf. The movie filmed under very rigid COVID restrictions, with a 10-person crew, all getting tested every three days.

When Rex was offered the role, he drove from California to Texas on a three-day solo road trip to avoid flying and having to quarantine after.

“If I flew there, I would have to quarantine for seven days,” Rex says. “I had to get there in three days to start shooting immediately, because they needed to just go, go, go."

Rex got the part when director Sean Baker called him after getting his number through a friend.

"He called me to say ‘Can you please put yourself on tape?’" Rex recalls. "And I just auditioned on this phone and sent it to his phone. He said ‘You're perfect, I need you here immediately. We got a car rented for you down in Joshua Tree, and you got to be here in three days.’ I just packed a bag, jumped in the rental car and drove three days to Texas.”

Throughout the film, Rex struggles to place himself in good graces with the people around him, especially after managing to burn bridges with almost everyone in Texas City nearly 20 years prior. As a whole, Red Rocket is dark, and at times, uncomfortable to watch, but Rex hopes the film will help viewers humanize sex workers and place less of an emphasis on people’s careers.

"The first thing we ask in America when you meet somebody is ‘What do you do?’” Rex says. “Why does that matter? It's a weird thing. It's so American. Like, you go to other parts of the world, and people don't ask what you do for a living. That's how we gauge each other. It's like this hierarchy status thing.”

In real life, Rex had a brief stint in the porn industry as a solo actor, though he says he didn’t draw from this experience while playing the role of Mikey. Rather, he channeled other “assholes in the industry” from his time as an MTV VJ, working on other films and working as a rap artist.
“These people exist everywhere,” Rex says, before shooting off examples of big tech leaders, Wall Street traders and people on flights who speak loudly on the phone as soon as the plane lands.

Although Rex’s character is a pariah, Rex has continued to book various gigs in real life, though he has felt his career was at a standstill, as he hadn’t landed a critically acclaimed film in years. To create Mikey, he channeled a largely exaggerated version of himself.

“I was working, hustling and getting by and making enough money to be happy, but I wasn't killing it in Hollywood over the last decade,” Rex says. “I think the last big thing I did was Scary Movie 5, and it bombed, but that was a big studio movie. I made money and I was fine. I continued to perform as Dirt Nasty., I could go on the road and make money and do well and have a career.

"I was always OK, I was never starving or broke and struggling. I've been very fortunate. But the phone hadn't been ringing in a while. And I know that feeling of like, being desperate and wondering what's next, and being like ‘I gotta figure this shit out.’”

Since Red Rocket’s festival run, Rex has won the Breakout Performance Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival and the Spotlight Award at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival. Some of the more complicated scenes include arguments with actress Bree Elrod, who plays Mikey’s estranged wife.

“She’s a New York theatre actor, so I had to match that level of acting,” Rex says.

But one of the more physically taxing scenes in Red Rocket is one in which Mikey is running down the street fully naked (and yes, you see everything).

“It was hot as fuck in Texas,” Rex says. “That's why throughout the whole movie, I'm dirty, sweaty and look like shit. It was nice to let go of being vain and worrying about my looks, to just be a piece of shit.”
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez