Sean Baker interview: ‘Red Rocket’ writer-director

“Red Rocket” is the latest indie film about the working class from Sean Baker, writer and director of such acclaimed films as “The Florida Project” and “Tangerine.” The provocative new comedy centers on Mikey (Simon Rex), an adult film star who returns to his hometown in Texas and falls in love with a 17-year-old girl, Strawberry (Suzanna Son). While this concept may turn off some moviegoers on the surface, Baker stresses that the film is more of a character study than anything. “Putting the audience in an uncomfortable place is sometimes necessary,” says Baker in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. Watch the full webchat above.

Baker has specialized in telling stories that do not judge or look down on the characters. This is especially true in “Red Rocket,” in which Mikey makes a series of bad decisions but it is left up to the audience to decide how they feel about him. “We’re asking the audience to apply their own ethics to this,” explains Baker. “I’m being very objective in my portrayal of this, not condemning, not condoning and hopefully not judging.” There is a trickiness in the dynamic where Mikey is clearly manipulating Strawberry, but she also has “agency and intelligence,” which complicates the situation. “It’s not just an innocent little lamb being taken advantage of or preyed upon by a big bad wolf.

Adding another layer to the film is Rex’s performance as Mikey, who he imbues with charisma and makes the audience understand why people are drawn to him, but also communicates that this guy is full of it. Striking that balance might have been tough for some actors, but Rex fully understood what was being asked of him. “Simon got it from day one, which was really incredible,” recalls Baker. The actor had been living in Hollywood for two and a half decades, which allowed him to draw from, in Rex’s words, the “narcissistic sociopaths” he had interacted with, as Baker recounts.

Set along the Gulf Coast in Texas, “Red Rocket” is also the latest in Baker’s run of films where locations are key to the story itself. There is character in the cramped houses, the local donut shop and the faces that populate this small town. “There is a very dark and sad history about that entire area,” observes Baker. “Yet, people that we found there are full of joy and they’re proud of where they’re from and they’re very loving and very welcoming.”

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UPLOADED Dec 15, 2021 2:00 pm