By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Actor Jeremy Sisto and his Hollywood writer-producer friend Gene Hong used to play tennis recreationally. While they were lobbing balls across the net, they would often discuss making a movie together about—what else—tennis.
Together, they came up with an idea about a pair of feuding brothers who make one last effort to make it to the Grand Slam Tournament. After years and years of development, their “Break Point” story has finally made it to the big screen.
A big lug of a man, Sisto is best known for his many TV roles, most notably Billy Chenowith on “Six Feet Under,” Cyrus Lupo on “Law & Order” and most recently Peter Lattimore on “The Returned.” The Grass Valley, Calif., native is set to star as LAPD detective Jack Roth on ABC’s ‘80s-set crime drama “Wicked City,” premiering Oct. 27.
In “Break Point,” currently available On Demand and slated to hit theaters Friday, Sisto plays Jimmy Price, a once promising tennis pro. Now past his prime and dumped by his longtime court partner, he decides to call on his estranged brother Darren (David Walton) to pair up for one last run at the Grand Slam. Darren, who is now a middle school teacher, reluctantly agrees to put aside hard feelings and train with Jimmy. As they practice, they are encouraged by one of Darren’s students, a funny little kid named Barry (Joshua Rush). Oscar winner JK Simmons (“Whiplash”) plays the father of the two brothers and Amy Smart plays the girl who got away. Jay Karas (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) directed the film based on a Hong and Sisto’s screenplay.
A married father of two, Sisto recently spoke about bringing his passion project to the big screen, playing tennis and his upcoming new series.
Q: How did this work into your schedule?
Sisto: “Break Point” was something I was trying to get made for many years but I was on a TV show all the time so I was always trying to fit it into hiatuses. They were network shows, so it was always a three-month period of availability. It was a small window. There were maybe three years when I felt the possibility that it was going to happen and then it was a big letdown when it didn’t. Finally, when I had no other producer attached, I had maybe two months left before the hiatus happened. I thought the project was going to be dead after the hiatus, so I did what I vowed I’d never do again and that was to go and try to get money to make the movie. I started to talking to people and taking meetings. That’s not the part of the process (of moviemaking) that I enjoy but I was very fortunate to meet (Broad Green Pictures CEO) Gabriel Hammond so we partnered up on this. He was a great partner on this. He’s creative and smart and to see what he’s done now with Broad Green is very exciting.
Q: You broke the ice by singing songs on set. What did you sing?
Sisto: I just always am singing random songs. Half the time, they’re not real songs. I’d sing songs about boobs a lot. Anyone who’s ever worked with me will probably cite my boob songs. I don’t mean to. It just comes out during those quiet moments. It’s subconscious when I’m feeling at a loss for words. (He starts singing.) Boobs!
Q: Are you going to be dropping an EP soon?
Sisto: I did have an album out a few years ago. My alter ego called, “Escape Tailor.” But that’s not what this is about. He’s like a homeless clown. There’s a video on You Tube.
Q: For most actors, it’s difficult to make the transition to being a writer and producer. What was your experience like? What do you get from that that you don’t get out of acting?
Sisto: As an actor you sort of feel like a tool, which you are. You come to the game late and you leave early. You come to the premiere and take all the credit, which is perfect. I love it! But I definitely was craving being involved in all aspects of the product and I enjoyed it very much. There are definitely areas I need to get better at and areas that stressed me out more than they should have—trying to find the money, trying to find out how to assemble a team and trying to find out what to fight for when you’re dealing with a budget and schedules.
You have to make some big decisions that as an actor you don’t have to make. It was a great experience, for sure. Gene Hong is a very talented writer and a friend. It was great to have somebody to hang with and joke around with working on the jokes and the characters and the script. The script came a long way from the first draft to four or five years later when we actually made the film. We did many drafts with many different companies. All of that stuff was fine, because it was my first time. For a while, I didn’t think it would come to fruition. So, to be here today is actually a really big thing for me. It’s exciting to have closure on an experience that took place over so many years.
Q: Do you still play tennis? Do you play with your kids?
Sisto: I hate tennis! (He laughs.) I loved it before the movie. But it’s just a frustrating game. I’ll get back to it eventually. David had been taking lessons since he was young. I didn’t play when I was young. In my twenties, I played with my friends every now and then—not very well. As the film got closer to being made, I took a lot of lessons. I spent a lot of time on the court. Then, I’d come out and David would swiftly beat me even though he hadn’t been playing for a while. So there’s something inherently in this sport as with many other sports, where you have to start playing before you can walk to fully understand it in your body. For me, there would be moments like, “I’ve got it.” I got pretty good at my peak. But there were also days where I just couldn’t play well, and it made me not like myself. So I had to stay away (from the sport) so I could like myself again.
Q: Do you think you’ll teach your kids tennis?
Sisto: My daughter takes tennis lessons. I haven’t told her I don’t like tennis. I didn’t have an opportunity to play a lot of sports when I was young, so it’s very important to me for my kids to have that opportunity.
Q: Has your view of tennis changed since you’ve made this movie?
Sisto: I learned a lot throughout. I watched a documentary called “The Journeyman.” It was this guy very much a tennis player a lot like Jimmy. He was a journeyman tennis player. He never made too much but he was ranked and he would travel around the world. He’d get drunk and have a good time. He was basically Jimmy. That was the first time I realized what the life of a tennis player on tour was. What I learned is that it’s a very lonely life, especially as a singles tennis player. That’s something you don’t think about when you’re watching Wimbledon. You notice how intensely alone they are out there, trying to fight back from 6-2, or whatever. The doubles tennis world, which I didn’t know that much about, are not the matches that are watched as much, but it’s a much easier ride. It’s a much more fun ride too. Although the money isn’t quite as good but it’s just a better life.
Q: How do you stay in shape?
Sisto: I’ve had to start to do weights lately because I’ve got to play this detective. I play a lot of basketball. That’s what I do. Tennis, if you’re having a bad day, it sucks for you and it sucks for the guy you’re playing because the points don’t go on. But, in basketball, you can still get rebounds and pass and play good defense. So I’ll be playing that for another four years or until I twist my ankle.
Q: Are you shooting “Wicked City” now?
Sisto: I just received the script last night so I start filming in a couple of weeks. That’s actually more prep time than I’ll get on any other episode. It’s a different thing with TV. You’ve got a ticking clock there and you’re trying to figure out how to make everything work before you get there on the day. Meanwhile, the writers are working on every other episode. It’s definitely a different process. Fortunately, 1982 is not that far back that I don’t remember it.
Q: Are you looking forward to wearing wide lapels and polyester?
Sisto: Yeah, but I don’t think my character is going to be able to enjoy that world as much.
Q: Tight leather pants, though?
Sisto: Yeah, although not as tight as they are now. All the kids now are wearing really tight pants.