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'I didn't have anything to lose': As washed-up porn star in 'Red Rocket,' Simon Rex's career comes full-circle

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·4 min read
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“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone famously bemoans in The Godfather Part III.

Simon Rex can relate. The actor-rapper who shot to fame as an MTV VJ in the mid-’90s and subsequently starred in three Scary Movie sequels was nearly ready to call it quits. During pandemic lockdowns, Rex relocated to Joshua Tree in the Southern California desert, unsure if he’d ever return to Los Angeles to try to revive a successful but fading career.

“I moved out to Joshua Tree and I was sort of exploring what else is out there besides the Hollywood dream,” Rex told us during a recent virtual interview (watch above). “I wasn't quite ready to throw in the towel, but maybe [had] one foot out the door in case the phone rang. … I was kinda like, maybe the run is over and I had a good 20-year run in Hollywood.”

And then the phone rang. It was a friend informing Rex that Sean Baker — the acclaimed filmmaker behind recent award-nominated indie hits Tangerine (2015) and The Florida Project (2017) — was interested in casting Rex as the lead of Baker’s latest project, Red Rocket.

“I've been watching him forever,” says Baker, 50, who once again co-scripted the film with longtime writing partner Chris Bergoch. “I mean, we're about the same age. So I remember when he broke on MTV back in the ’90s and then just continued to follow his career because he kept on resurfacing, which I found very endearing.”

Simon Rex and Sean Baker on the set of
Simon Rex and Sean Baker on the set of Red Rocket. (Photo: A24 / The Everett Collection)

Red Rocket stars Rex as Mikey, a washed-up adult film star who resurfaces in his rural hometown of Texas City, Texas, after crashing and burning in L.A. Broke and desperate, he moves in with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod), another former porn star, and soon becomes determined to groom a donut shop-working teenager (Suzanna Son’s Strawberry) into the newest adult film sensation.

Ever since Red Rocket premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July (where a standing ovation moved Rex to tears), critics and other viewers have pointed the parallels between Mikey and Rex’s own life.

Prior to being discovered as a model, a young Rex had appeared in some solo pornography films under the pseudonym Sebastian. The videos resurfaced as Rex became popular on MTV, and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto even published a photo of Rex’s penis.

“I know that that seems like an easy thing to make a parallel, but really Mikey could have been anything. This could be a guy on wall street. This could be a politician. This could be a guy who works in tech. He could be anything. So it really isn't to me about that,” Rex says now.

“I didn't have anything to lose. So I really didn't care. Like at this point in my career, you know, maybe there would have been a time where [I didn’t] want to go near that. I'm just at a point now where I'm just like, I got nothing to hide.”

CANNES, FRANCE - JULY 14: (L-R) Director Sean Baker, Bree Elrod, Simon Rex and guests attend the
Sean Baker, Bree Elrod, Simon Rex and guests attend the Red Rocket screening during the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival on July 14, 2021 in Cannes, France. (Photo: Kate Green/Getty Images)

Baker admits he spoke to his star about the “meta” casting. Briefly, at least.

“I was aware of [his past] because I was living in New York when Michael Musto at The Village Voice started just publishing his photos, which I always thought was unfair,” Baker says. “I think I already offered him the role and he was actually driving from Joshua tree to Texas. And we had a lot of conversations during that three-day drive of his, and it was brought up. And I said, ‘You know what? I'm aware of it. I don't know if there's anything to pull from that, but it could be seen as meta… casting you there's a meta quality to it.’ But that was really the extent of it.”

Red Rocket is currently playing.

— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo

Watch the trailer: