Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Showbiz Vet Derrick Simmons' Growth Is Stunt-ed

Derrick Simmons

By Darlene Donloe

If you ask Derrick Simmons how old he is, he’ll tell you he’s ‘a day older than yesterday and a day younger than tomorrow.’

That’s all you’re going to get out of the stuntman/actor/filmmaker.  He doesn’t reveal his age because on any given day, he may have to be young, old, or somewhere in between.  In his line of work, he doesn’t want his age to be a factor, a distraction or a deterrent.

For 16 years Simmons, a New York native and father of two sons, has been mastering his craft as a stuntman, a stunt coordinator, an actor and a filmmaker.

His hard work paid off and made him a popular and highly-respected stuntman whose credits include: The Good Wife, Blue Bloods, Boardwalk Empire, Blacklist and Orange Is the New Black, to name a few. 

One of his most notable stunts was for the Tyler Perry film, Diary of A Mad Black Woman, when he was shoved from a wheelchair into a bathtub by actress Kimberly Elise. One of Hollywood's best kept secrets, he has doubled for Kenan Thompson on Saturday Night Live and recently completed work on the set of The Following.

This spring Simmons will complete his latest film as a stunt coordinator, No More Mr. Nice Guy, a drama written by Carl Weber. Simmons is coordinating all of the action sequences, including fights and stunt driving. The film stars Miguel Nunez, Lamman Rucker and Christian Keys.

He also wrote, directed and stars in the action, suspense and thriller film, "Nobody’s Perfect," under his Simmons Enterprises film production company (http://www.nobodysperfectfilm.com). The film is a rags to riches story about a younger woman name Sasha (Lexi Moeller) who meets Morgan (Simmons) the man of her dreams with the perfect lifestyle and image. They quickly fall in love. Once they get married, her perfect dream turns into a nightmare.

Simmons, who also helms a record label, is a busy man on a mission. He’s focused and determined, but he hasn’t lost his exuberance for life or his fun-loving persona.

I recently caught up with the entertainment veteran to talk about his career.

DD: How did your career start?

DS: When I was eight-years-old I used to get in a lot of fights. I had a Napoleon complex. My parents got tired of coming up to the school. My school counselor said, ‘Why not put him in a performing art class?’ I took one class and I said this is what I’m going to be. My fighting days were over. At 10-years-old an agent saw me. I did a national Burger King commercial. My first check was $1800.  I joined SAG (Screen Actors Guild).

DD: Talk about your latest film. How do you prepare for a film when you’re the stunt coordinator?

DS: I have to break down the script. I go through the whole script. I look at the scenes and how many people are needed. Do they need pads? Is someone getting shot? After I break down scenes, if there are a lot of fights, I do a rehearsal day and teach the actors a fight sequence.

DD: How did your career progress?

DS: I started to do television shows. They started pulling me out of scenes and letting stunt people do it. I said, ‘I can do it myself.’ They said, ‘no.’

DD: So when did you do your first stunt?

DS: My first stunt was for New York Undercover.  After that everybody started calling me.

DD: Tell me how you became a stuntman and why?

DS: I love being a stuntman. When I go to work I know I’m doing all of the action. I don’t like getting hurt. 

DD: Talk about the process.

DS: Before I do a stunt, I do the measurements. Everything is technical. I can do anything with a car. Everything is calculated. There is a chance we can get hurt every time but if we do it correctly, we won’t get hurt.

DD: You say you don’t like getting hurt. However, I take it you’ve gotten pretty beaten up over the years.

DS: I’ve been hit by a car, set on fire and I’ve jumped off bridges.

DD: You’ve been a stuntman for 16 years.  How many times have you really gotten hurt?

DS: I’ve gotten hurt twice. The first time I rolled my ankle and broke my collarbone. It was a freak accident. I had been doing stunts for about six years. I remember I was doing NYPD Blue when I hit a pothole while running down the street.  I felt bad because I couldn’t continue. They weren’t happy. They said, ‘Jesus Christ, you call yourself a stunt man?’  I was down for three and a half months.

DD: What about the second time?

DS: The second time was when I was doing a Bell Telephone commercial. There were five of us riding five bikes and a lady is supposed to stand in the middle of the road.  On the first take we all fell and all broke our collarbones. I was down for four-five months.  

DD: When you first got into the biz, who did you look up to?

DS:  I didn’t have a mentor. No one took me under their wing.

DD: Is it OK in your profession to be scared?

DS:  I’m scared everyday I go in to do the stunt. If you’re scared it will keep you alive. If not, you will get hurt.
I pray. I hate heights. I remember one of my first stunts they called me and said they needed me to fall off of a bridge. It was about 40 feet. I prayed. I did it, then I did it one more time.

DD: What stunt are you most proud of?

DS: My car hit on Third Watch. It was nominated for an Emmy. 

DD: Have you every turned down a stunt?

DS: Yes. I turned down one in New Orleans. They wanted me to be in a swamp with an alligator only 50 ft. away.  I said, ‘No.’

DD: What makes a good stuntman?

DS:  Somebody that does their homework before doing stunts. Make sure you’re not over your head. Always be prepared and always be on time. Time is money. 

DD: What advice would you give someone who wants to do stunts?

DS: Train first and network with other stunt people. Take gymnastics, martial arts and rock climbing. Maybe learn how to do tricks on motorcycles. Get into fighting and boxing.

DD: What do you wish you had known before you got into stunts?

DS:  That I had to network. I’m not someone who hustles. If I had, I would have gotten a lot further quicker.  Luckily my phone always rings.

DD:  Talk to me about Nobody’s Perfect, your third film.  

DS: I wrote it, produced it and directed it. I had a digital distributor, a limited theatrical release. I like being involved in every aspect of the film. I find that rewarding. It’s an awesome film.

DD: What have you learned about filmmaking?

DS:  It lets me express myself.  It lets me explore my creativity.

DD: Nobody’s Perfect is very dramatic.

DS: Yes. The backdrop is domestic violence. It’s intense, but it has a message.

DD: You are an actor, a stuntman, a stunt coordinator, a writer and a filmmaker. If you could only do one, what would it be?

DS: Acting is my first love. It’s what got me into the business. As a director I can paint a picture. Producing is power. I like writing and creating a story. It’s all a way to create. I wrote 12 movies, I shot three movies. I have nine more scripts.

DD: Who are some of the people you’ve done stunts for?

DS: Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Morris Chestnut, Larenz Tate, Kevin Hart, Taye Diggs, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx in the movie, Ray. In the Ninja Turtle movie I was a Whoopi (Goldberg) double.  I’ve doubled for more than 50 actors over the years.  I’ve bonded with some of the people like Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan and Charlie Murphy.

DD: What else is happening in your career?

DS:  I recently shot the show, Elementary. I’m playing an undercover cop. Lucy Liu is directing.

DD: Are you a member of the Black Stuntman’s Association?

DS: No, I don’t want to isolate myself.  I choose not to join any stunt associations. I work for everyone. It’s very political.

DD: Recently there was an article on the Black Stuntman’s Association that appeared on EURWEB.com.  Apparently Warner Bros. was going to cast a white stuntwoman to play the double for a black guest actress on Fox’s hit show, “Gotham.” Talk about how you feel about the paint down controversy. 

DS: I’m strongly against paint downs. We have more than enough black stuntwomen on the east and west coast. There is no need to use paint downs.  I found myself having to cross the line and play a black actress.  I told them there are black stuntwomen. Believe it or not, I was the stunt double in Precious. Lee Daniels wanted me to do it.

DD: Really?  So that was you in the stairs scene?

DS:  It’s me falling down the stairs with a baby in my hand. I had on earrings and a fat suit. It wasn’t a paint down but I took a job from a black actress. It’s not fair. I’m totally against paint downs. But, the reality is, producers are going to hire who they want to hire.

Nobody’s Perfect trailer: http://www.vimeo.com/85040649

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