“We’re living in a really interesting age. When I left school and you were an actor you could only be an actor, you wouldn’t be taken seriously as a producer, a director— now that’s not true, everyone is doing everything,” Mika Simmons tells What We Seee. “The whole landscape of how we work has changed at its core — because of technology, we can now do more than one thing, that’s accepted.” Simmons certainly exemplifies the power and perspective that comes with doing more than one thing. The actor, writer, campaigner, and, now, director has just finished her directorial debut, the short film Rain Stops Play — and her excitement is palpable as she discusses her upcoming projects.
Simmons has the type of passion for the industry that you don’t see often enough — she’s interested in every nut and every bolt. Her voice brightens when she discusses the minutiae of special effects and details of the score — and, perhaps more than anything else, when she talks about learning from her crew. Because, at the heart of it, she has a passion for anything that helps her tell the stories she wants to be told. “I’ve always been drawn to stories, I escape through them,” Simmons says. “In my high school years is when it really turned a corner. I had a situation where I was being quite badly bullied, so in order to help me find my self-esteem my parents enrolled me in some acting classes… I joined the Bristol Youth Theatre and had this wonderful teacher and I just knew. I didn’t ever want to do anything else. My friends always thought I was lucky, ‘because I always knew what I wanted to do’. I think they are probably right — I’ve never felt lost in my career. I’ve felt very unemployed, but never lost!”
At a private screening of Rain Stops Play, one could see that excitement and drive put into motion. A funny, wry short, the visuals of the film are just as stunning and quirky as the writing — and it’s clear that Simmons has learnt from her crew quickly. It’s engaging, entertaining, and smacks with potential as you witness an older man wrestling with new technology, tastes, and even Kanye. As you watch, it’s obvious that Simmons has a unique voice and a lot to say.
Simmons has also been struck by the transformative process that making the film has been. Writing a film felt like a huge undertaking until, one day, it clicked. “One day the story just came to me,” she explains. “I wrote it in a day. I sent it to someone I trusted and continued to tighten it up and work on it, but there was the initial rush. My experience with writing is that – I sit and procrastinate, thinking ‘Can I actually do this? Am I any good?’ and then something breaks. I have to remember that all of that procrastination, pain, and frustration is part of the creative process.”
The process of the film itself has had an empowering, galvanizing effect on Simmons — and it’s clear that synapses are firing as she moves onto her next project. “A shift has happened,” she says. “I’ve almost finished writing a feature film. My directorial debut has shifted something in my psyche and my creative being. It’s given me confidence — I feel like I can do it. Now it’s just about finding the time,” she laughs.
But Then… It’s Chaos
Time is clearly of the essence for Simmons. At any given time, she’s spinning many different plates — but she has had to learn to focus her mental resources on where they’re needed the most. “I definitely have issues with overcommitment — it can become a way of procrastinating and I’m having to learn to not let that happen. To follow a creative life you have to be a little selfish and really focus on it.” That can be difficult in the constantly plugged-in modern world where, especially if you’re managing your own projects, it’s easy to feel like your energy is diffused and spread in a million different directions. But Simmons has found a way to give into the chaos. “I’m the most unscheduled person you’ve ever met in your whole life — I’m the most unscheduled person I’ve ever met,” she says. “I’ve tried to be organised — I come up with these plans, but then… it’s just chaos. Technology again has changed our lives so it’s almost impossible to have a schedule. Even if you try to schedule your time, an email comes in or a call comes in — there’s always something on your phone. Now work comes in everywhere.”
Come At It From All Angles
But it’s clear that work creeping into every crevice seems to motivate Simmons — and it’s hard to imagine her going very long without turning her attention to one of her latest projects. And it’s exactly that all-in attitude that she recommends to other young women trying to break into what can feel like an impenetrable industry. “I’d say do everything,” she explains. “My brother said to me, when I was about 26, ‘Why don’t you start producing?’ and I thought no way — but it was one of the best pieces of advice anyone’s ever given me. Keep focused on the key thing you want to do — acting, writing, directing whatever it is — but come at it from all angles, immerse yourself in the work, in the industry.”
Which is perhaps why, with everything else she has going on as a writer, director, and producer, she’s still very much an actor as well. She gets excited speaking about her latest role, Rose in Us Among The Stones, playing the sister to Laurence Fox. “It’s a family comedy romp, about a big sprawling family who are about to lose their Mother to cancer — a very brave and unique story“ she explains. “It’s brilliant.”
Even when it comes to downtime, Simmons seems to feel most at home in the cinema. “I love going to films — that’s my digital detox — recently they showed The Godfather at Soho House,” she says. “I love being in a black cinema where I don’t check my phone, where it’s someone else’s story, not mine — and just getting lost for a few hours. It’s my meditation.”