Simon Rex’s All-Time Low Led to ‘Red Rocket’ + A Complete Career Revamp

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Photo Source: Courtesy A24

Simon Rex, a name once synonymous with MTV VJs and late nights with Paris Hilton, had hit a career dead end. Then the phone rang. The voice on the other end was indie film darling Sean Baker, who had a role with Rex’s name on it. 

Baker’s new A24 feature is “Red Rocket,” in which Rex plays an aging porn star. The film has already been lauded on the festival circuit and will have its wide release on Dec. 10. Rex has already received raves for his performance. So what exactly catapulted the actor to this career revitalization and standing ovations at Cannes? 

As he’s wont to do, Baker sourced his leading man from an unlikely place: Vine, the now-defunct short-form video app. In a recent interview with Vulture, the director said that he has always followed Rex’s career and felt there was more to him than his public persona let on. “Let’s stop pretending this guy’s not talented,” Baker remembered thinking.

Rex started making Vines while on tour as his rap alter ego Dirt Nasty. Despite his video’s viral popularity, the actor just saw them as a bit of fun; after all, it wasn’t like they were making him any money. But Baker, whose previous outings include indie faves “The Florida Project” and “Tangerine,” saw raw potential in the sketches Rex was churning out. “It’s not just the ability to improvise,” he said of Rex’s gift. “It’s the ability to improvise and make people laugh, which I find to be genius.”

“Red Rocket” was inspired by Baker’s research on the porn industry. The writer-director felt that Rex, who had a brush with the industry at the beginning of his career, couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. Rex agreed, seeing “Red Rocket” as the ideal vehicle for his blend of awkward humor and vulnerability. 

Rex believes his long professional dry spell had given way to a new authenticity. “I don’t know if I could have gone to those depths before I got slapped down,” he admitted to Vulture.

The stars aligned when it turned out that Rex and Baker’s sister had a mutual friend. Rex put himself on tape with the film’s opening scene, sent it to Baker, and shortly thereafter, the filmmaker offered him the role. The rest, as it so often goes in this business, is history.

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