Kerry Rhodes peels off an expensive pair of aviator sunglasses as he steps out of a waiting SUV at the Andaz 5th Avenue cafe in New York, the city that drafted him nearly a decade ago. "New Yorkers like to pretend they don't care that they've read about you in the papers, but they do. They do," Rhodes says, without noticing two businessmen rubbernecking their heads in his direction. Rhodes spent five seasons with the Jets, earning All-Pro honors and the highest salary of any safety in the league before heading to Arizona. But with his time on the field likely behind him, Rhodes now lives in Los Angeles, a city without a football team, but one that openly embraces the showbiz status that earned him the nickname "Hollywood." There, he's spent the last two years producing Gone in an Instant, a documentary that chronicles the life and career of fellow athlete Antoine Walker, a three-time NBA All-Star who made headlines when he was caught writing bad checks in Vegas after losing the $110 million he had earned during his pro career. As a fellow sportsman, few seem more qualified than Rhodes to handle the player's story with the amount of class and compassion it deserves. He may be done with the NFL, but with a number of projects in the works with his production company, there are plenty in Hollywood who are happy to have the company of Kerry Rhodes.
Did you always know making films would be your career after football?
I've always wanted to do film. I've had a love for acting, writing, and producing. It was something that I planned to do regardless, and then when my football career was over, I believe it was a blessing that I got to do a project like this that hits so close to home. I never set out to be a documentary filmmaker, but this opportunity is such a natural move. I met and got to know Antoine and we had a great connection right off the bat.
What made Antoine Walker the right subject for your film?
I loved football, but my first love was always basketball. I've followed the it as a fan for years, so I knew who Antoine was since the beginning. I went to Louisville and he was in Kentucky, so I followed his career from there and throughout. It wasn't until later that I became familiar with the rest of his story, though. I was watching TV and saw his mug shot on the screen. People were talking about how he lost all of his money. I was shocked. $110 million? That doesn't make any sense, but I was playing football at the time, so I didn't have long to really dwell on it. Later, my business partner Anthony Holt suggested that we look into his story to potentially tell and I regained that interest all over again. I knew that the film wouldn't be compelling unless we had Antoine on our side. We started the conversation with him and he seemed open to going there, and talking about everything. We just ran with it.
How long did the film take to produce, from concept to completion?
It's about a span of two years to get everything finished. We had to figure out an arc that was interesting. People are going to want to know where he is now. Where is he trying to go? The story is in full bloom now. He's cleared all of his debts, except for his casino debt, because of the laws in effect in Nevada, he can't get it off the books. He's still $700,000 in the hole. But it's not $8 million in the hole. He's moving forward with his life.
There's no doubt that some of the subjects in his story were painful for Antoine to talk about. How did you get him to be completely candid? Did you feel like he backed away from discussing certain topics?
He didn't fight us on anything. He wasn't withholding from us at all. There is shame there of course. He lost a lot of money. I think he realizes now he has a story to tell that is powerful and can help people. To have someone that is that open, and isn't worried about what people are going to say about him is a true gift. The first screening we did of the film was in Boston; this is a place where he was known as a great player - an icon. It took a big man to look those people in the eye and show where he is now. He's a strong individual.
What seemed to be the most painful topics for him to talk about?
The part of the story that hurts him the most was the realization that he wasn't able to do the things that he wanted to for his family anymore. When he was at the height of his powers he bought his mother a $4 million house. Not just that, he bought her a dream house. He bought cars for his family. His kids were used to going to private schools and that was all over. Talking about those concessions is where it really hits home with him.
Did you sympathize with any of the struggles he went through as a successful and well-paid athlete?
Yes. I had to deal with the same situations that he went through. You have those family members that you want to take care of because they've been around you for your entire life. They are the ones that, when all else fails, they will be there. Good or bad. You want to take care of those people and your friends who you want to bring to Vegas for that perfect guys weekend. You want to do buy the clothes for them. I've done it. On a much smaller scale, of course, but I know those pitfalls and the tensions that can come from that.
Does his process of giving his side of the story finally get you thinking about what you'd like to clear up to people about your own career?
You know, I was called "Hollywood." I was called out for doing what I wanted to do. There was a stigma placed on me. People said that I cared more about this than I did about the football. That wasn't the case at all. When it was time to train or play football, that's where my heart was. No question. That was one of my biggest struggles coming out. When Antoine was playing he went through a similar thing as well. He was a showboat. People are going to make interpretations of who you are from what they're seeing, but they're only seeing you on a TV for a few hours a week. There's no way to know a person from that. You have to go out and live your life and do what you want. That's what Antoine did. The end result I'm sure is not what he was hoping for, but I know for a fact that he had fun doing it. He's learned his lesson and he's trying to move on.
Why did it feel ridiculous that people were calling you "Hollywood"?
The funniest thing about that for me is I'm such a chill guy. For that to be my headline was hilarious. I wasn't doing anything flashy at all. I just was open to opportunities that aligned with what I was interested in off the field. I was in that Lady Gaga video. I've done a lot of little things like that. It didn't bother me at all. I was performing out there and one of the best players in the league at my time. It bothered me that people knew me.
Because you're an athlete as well, do you think that gave him some sort of comfort on letting you tell his story?
He said he felt comfortable with us doing it. He is ready to tell the story and he was happy to tell that story to us in his words. There are a lot of people who jump to conclusions when they hear that a guy lost $110 million. They want to say he's this or that. But in this guys case, he made mistakes, he was too nice, loose with his money. That's what put him in the hole.
Do you ever have moments where you miss playing being on the field?
I'm not missing football at the moment. I've been busy with this. Last year I'd watch some of the games and think that I could still play on that level. I haven't missed it yet, though. I talked to a few of my old teammates. I hung out with Patrick Willis not too long ago. Rashad Johnson, who I played out there in Arizona. They hit me up whenever they're in town and ask me to take them out, as you can imagine. Eventually they all come through California.