Ron Simons: an interview with the actor and producer

Ron Simons offers his thoughts on working in both theatre and film

Ron Simons is a theatre, television and film actor, a producer and is the CEO/President of his own company.

His company, SimonSays Entertainment, has produced Broadway plays and musicals: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Best Musical Tony Award), Porgy & Bess (Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award), Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Best Play Tony Award, Drama Desk, New Drama Critics and Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama League Award winners) and A Streetcar Named Desire (AEA’s Extraordinary Excellence in Diversity on Broadway Award).

Off-Broadway, some of his projects include, Bedlam’s St. Joan (Off-Broadway Alliance Award – Best Revival) and Bedlam’s Hamlet. His work in the city of Chicago, 5 Lesbians Eating Quiche, received the Fringe NYC Outstanding Production Award.

Simon’s work as a producer of films includes Night Catches Us, Gun Hill Road, Blue Caprice, and Mother of George, which all premiered at Sundance. 25 to Life, his first documentary, premiered at the American Black Film Festival, winning best documentary at this festival. His most recent film, as a producer, was The Seagull, based on the play by Anton Chekhov, stared Elisabeth Moss, Saoirse Ronan and Annette Benning.

Photo credit: Bobby Quillard

He is also an actor performing in films, television shows and on the stage. On film, he has been in Blue Caprice, Night Catches Us, 27 Dresses, Phoebe in Wonderland and Mystery Team. On television, he has been on, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, As the World Turns and Nowhere Man. On the stage, he has performed in Boy Steals Train, in which he and his fellow actors won the London Stage Award for Acting Excellence. He has performed regionally all around the U.S. including at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Utah Shakespeare Theatre and the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

As a humanitarian, Simons contributes to the Harlem Stage, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Hudson River Performing Arts Center, Technology Access Foundation and the University of Washington School of Drama, just to name a few.

Prior to being an actor and a producer, Simons was a Software Engineer for companies such as Hewlett Packard and IBM. As a Marketing Executive, Simons was a member of the Microsoft Corporation.

The Celebrity Cafe's Stephanie Lottes spoke to Ron Simons about his time as an actor, the difference between stage and film and his newest project, executive producing the movie The Seagull.

Stephanie Lottes: I see that you were an executive producer on The Seagull with Elisabeth Moss, Saoirse Ronan and Annette Benning. What was it like to produce that work, based on the play by Anton Chekhov?

Ron Simons: It was amazing! I'm a huge fan of Annette Benning, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Corey Stoll and Brian Dennehy. It had an extraordinary cast. And I am a huge fan of Chekov. When I was younger, I didn't understand Chekov and was bored by all of his work. I thought that there was a lot of talk happening but nothing actionable was happening. Then once I got to grad school, I learned to appreciate him more. It was an opportunity for me to also work with Tom Hulce, who gave me my first professional acting job, so all the stars aligned and told me this is something that I should do.

SL: I love hearing that. I read that you’re going to be in the new movie Departures with Maisie Williams. What can you tell me about your character and working on the movie?

RS: Well, my character plays a doctor of the lead actor, who is somewhat of a hypochondriac. The set was amazing because the director was very smart, kind and giving, and set a tone that made working on that film very pleasurable. And I loved all the rest of the cast and crew; it was great fun and I'm looking forward to seeing the film.

Photo credit: Bobby Quillard

SL: As both an actor and a producer, did you find anything in your acting that you feel made you a better producer?

RS: Absolutely, because I'm an actor, I know story, and as a producer when you assess new projects for what you might want to work on, it's important to understand if the story is ready to be shot if it's a film. So, being able to read a screenplay and understand its strengths and weaknesses, and how it can be improved, I think makes me a better producer, because I understand and appreciate when the story arrives and is ready for production.

SL: Stage and film producing seem like two vastly different things. What are the differences that you found between stage and film producing?

RS: Well, the differences between stage and film producing are many. Producing for film, the biggest obstacle is usually financing and once you get the financing, then it's a hurry up and go. With Broadway, you have two major challenges. One is financing and the other is getting a Broadway theater because there are far more Broadway shows than are theaters to show them. So that is one ginormous piece of the differences between the two.

And I would also say, that it seems that with Broadway, you don't have to coordinate the schedules and oversee so many people as far as personnel. When you shoot a film in pre-production and produce, you're dealing with hundreds and hundreds of people sometimes to pull off a film, depending on its size and its budget, etc. So, you have to handle more and keep more balls in the air when you're producing films and when you're producing plays.

SL: I love hearing about the differences between those two things; it’s so interesting to someone usually watching the production. You were a producer on the Broadway musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. What was it like producing that production specifically?

RS: Well, what I loved about that piece more than anything, was not only the acting and the design, which I thought was brilliant, but the directing was extraordinary! Our director rung every single comedic beat out of that play that he could. It's one of the best-directed musicals I've ever seen. It was very smartly executed. And it was an interesting challenge to figure out how to market a musical comedy about an Elizabethan serial killer, because by the sound of it at first blush, it doesn't sound like it's going to be funny, but it was hysterically funny. It was a great surprise for audiences who had some concerns. I think most people walked away really happy with the product.

SL: I'm a huge fan of that musical so I love hearing your experiences on that.

RS: It was awesome; everyone was great! The cast was great!

Photo credit Bobby Quillard

SL: As a producer and an actor, the Stage Door is an important part of what you do. What has been your experience with fans at the stage door or interacting with fans on social media?

RS: My experience, fortunately, the people have been very gracious and supportive of my work, and I appreciate that. I know that I don’t do as much social media as I should, because I'm so busy, but I love interacting with fans of my work. They range from being funny and insightful and caring. And if I had more hours in the day, I would love to engage with them more.

SL: Is there a project or work that you would love to work on one day that you haven't had the opportunity to yet?

RS: Hmmm. Yes, as an actor, I would love to portray Walter Lee in A Raisin in the Sun. And from a producing point of view, there are a number of characters from the civil rights movement, who I would love to tell their stories. I love bio-pics that give us great insight. And it doesn't have to be a documentary, it could be a narrative feature, that highlights the unsung heroes of our society. There were so many in the civil rights movement, particularly the women of the movement. So, there are dozens of stories there that I would love to tell.

SL: That’s really interesting.

RS: Thanks.

SL: As someone who has worked on different projects, do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked?

RS: I love all my projects, so that would be really hard for me to tell you what my favorite is. I can tell you why I love each individual ones, but the whole reason why I do any given project is because I'm excited and passionate about it. And so they’re almost always
untold stories, which is the thing that most gets me going. So I would be hard-pressed to tell you which of my children I love the most.

SL: Is there anything that you want to discuss about your work?

RS: Well, one of the things that I'm most proud about my most recent film, which is, of course, The Seagull is that I think that the writer, director and actors really found the humor in Chekhov, which many directors aren't able to find. Anton Chekhov referred to a number of his plays as comedies, and if you just read them, you might miss the comedy as I did when I was younger. But in this film, I feel that the creative staff really mined the material very well, and found the beats that were not only tragic and dramatic but also humorous and funny.

SL: I like that they were able to find the humor in that.

RS: Yes, I was very excited about that, too.

SL: Thank you so much for chatting with me!

Follow Ron’s company on Twitter.

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