The Phenom is the new indie film starring Johnny Simmons as a rookie major league baseball pitcher who begins to suffer a personal crisis. Simmons plays star athlete Hopper Gibson as a young and impetuous character dealing with personal demons resulting from a rough and abusive childhood. He plays and lives baseball even when his focus, skill, abilities begin to suffer and he is sent to counseling.
Johnny Simmons does a great job conveying troubled emotion as Hopper and his performance is elevated by a fantastic supporting cast. Paul Giamatti plays the counselor role incredibly well and displays a genuine sense of sincerity and concern for Hopper’s wellbeing. Ethan Hawke is near unrecognizable as the hostile and intense father figure that pushes his son nearly to the breaking point. We spoke with Johnny Simmons about shooting the film and what it was like performing alongside two of the strongest veteran actors working today. The Phenom is currently playing in select theaters and available on VOD and Digital HD.
Fandom: How did you get cast in The Phenom?
Johnny Simmons: I read the script and I met with Noah Buschel the director. He was excited about me playing the role of Hopper. I didn’t have to audition which was nice, but I did go in and meet with Noah. This was one that I really hoped would work out, and then Paul Giamatti came on board and things kept getting better and better.
Fandom: How would you describe it to fans?
Johnny Simmons: I guess on some level that it’s a spiritual movie that on some level works as a coming of age story. It’s very intense and you feel awkward watching it and you don’t spend a lot of time laughing, but I think it’s a really good movie.
Fandom: What about the film got you interested?
Johnny Simmons: For me it was like I knew what I wanted to do with it, or at least I thought I did at that point. It totally changed because Noah just wanted me to pull it back and keep pulling it back as much as I could. By the end of it I had no idea what I was doing which was probably a good thing. By the 30th page I couldn’t do anything, or at least that’s what it felt like.
When you go in and meet with a director, you’ve gotta have that moment where you feel like, “I know what I wanna do.” With Scott Pilgrim, that was one of those where I knew what I wanted to do. I realized with Young Neil that he would go and chase a moth for like a week and come back. Everybody would be like, “Where’d you go?” and he’d say, “I didn’t catch the moth.” Once I realized that and I applied that to every line then that’s where the comedy came from. The same thing happened with this movie and I felt like I knew what I wanted to do.
Fandom: How was working with Paul Giamatti?
Johnny Simmons: It was a great experience. My first introduction to Paul Giamatti was in Private Parts all the way through watching him do The Illusionist. Just watching him grow as an actor and almost growing up with him, just being on set with him was incredible. I told him straight up because I figured honesty is the way to go and in a weird way it was just bonding right after that. I really think of Paul as a friend. He is a really cool guy to look up to.
Fandom: Tell us about your scenes with Ethan Hawke.
Johnny Simmons: I’ve never had that kind of experience before. That was hard and it was not fake. Paul was very much my friend in the film and my shelter, but Ethan had to be that guy in my life. I remember him screaming at me when we had to run suicides and he comes up behind me and I thought, “This guy is going to push me! This guy is about to push me in this freaking scene!” and he never touched me. I don’t think he ever touched me in the whole movie.
I literally felt more invaded with him not even touching me more than anybody else. It’s crazy and he’s just such a great actor. I remember having dinner with Ethan one night and somebody asked him, “Why is your character such a jerk?” and he said, “I don’t think this guy’s really bad, I think he’s just showing love in the only way he knows how.” I was like, “Oh my god.” He just taught me something serious to never judge your character. How cool it was to pick the pieces out of his process and hear about his character. Every day was like that.
Fandom: What are you a fan of?
Johnny Simmons: I get into random stuff. My best friend was recently here from Texas and was like, “So what are you up to this week?” because it’s always something new. I definitely geek out about movies. I’m sure I’ll geek out about movies for the rest of my life. That’s something that definitely remains consistent. This weekend I watched a lot of documentaries which was awesome. I’m watching a lot of TV and a lot of sitcoms, and I’ve got a dog named Romulus which makes me pretty geeky.