Henry Simmons talks new movie ‘From the Rough’

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Chicagoans have another movie to add to their list of new, must see films and if that isn’t enough motivation to go, maybe this is: The late Michael Clarke Duncan, a Chicago native, shares the screen with Taraji P. Henson, Letoya Luckett and Henry Simmons in “From the Rough,” which hits theaters today.

The Chicago Defender had the opportunity to chat with Simmons about his role in the movie, which is based on a true story. The drama focuses on Catana Starks, an African-American woman, played by Henson, who became the first Black woman to coach an all men’s collegiate team. Starks started a golf team at Tennessee State University, a Historically Black College and University. With her guidance and expertise, her team made it to the championships. During her leadership role, she experienced sexism and prejudice, but she did not let her struggles stop her from succeeding.

Simmons, who plays athletic director Kendrick Paulsen Jr., said he wanted to play a role in the film as soon as he realized that Starks’ story could speak to people from all walks of life. He called it “universal.”

“It was just unbelievable that a person of color and a woman still had to go through something like this in the 1980s,“ he said via phone. “I was like this story has to get out there and I wanted to be a part because people need to know this particular story; she’s a hero.”

Simmons said he originally thought that Starks had experienced the discrimination she went through during the Civil Rights era, so he was extremely surprised when he discovered that it had actually happened in more recent decades.

He plays Starks‘ antagonist, an athletic director who does not believe that a woman should coach a team of men. They bump heads.

Simmons said he enjoyed working with Henson and the rest of the cast. He said he is grateful he had the opportunity to also work with Clarke Duncan, who died in September 2012 after suffering a heart attack. Clarke Duncan plays Roger, a janitor at the university. He’s a supportive character, who sides with Coach Starks.

“[Clarke Duncan] was a man who loved life,” Simmons said. “No matter how many awards he was nominated for or how many awards he won, you would never know that; he was void of any ego whatsoever and the beautiful thing about it was that he was so open, there weren’t any barriers, he wasn’t guarded in anyway.”

It wasn’t all about work, though. Simmons said there were plenty of moments where he and Clarke Duncan could just relax and talk about life. They talked about relationships and God, he said.

Simmons recommends everyone support the film, produced by Michael Critelli and directed by Pierre Bagley.

“This story is encouraging on so many levels,” he said. “Her story is universal, for anyone who goes through any kind of struggle; it’s not just about Starks’ struggle, but the men, and their struggle to assimilate.”

Viewers will be pulled in immediately. The actors play their roles so well that it is possible for the audience to feel as if they are physically there with them. It is a must see.

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