Over the last 24 years, Jeremy Sisto’s varied career has encompassed comedy and drama and memorable television and film roles in everything from Clueless and Six Feet Under to Law & Order and the title role in the TV movie Jesus. That diversity holds true for his latest two projects, the movie Break Point, a comedy-drama that he produced and co-wrote, opening this weekend, and Wicked City, an ABC series premiering October 27th that casts him as a detective on the trail of a serial killer in 1982 Los Angeles.
In Break Point, Sisto, 40, plays an aging former tennis star, a hard-drinking, obnoxious loudmouth who has burnt every relationship bridge he has, including the one with the brother (David Walton) he hasn’t talked to in years—and whom he convinces to play in a major doubles tournament in one last bid for glory.
J.K. Simmons and Amy Smart co-star in the movie, which took five years and a lot of sweat on and off the court to complete, as he tells us.
“I would love to live a life where I did not care what people thought of me, to be able to say whatever I wanted. For most of us that would just be too stressful.”
Where did you get the idea for Break Point?
The idea came when me and the writer, Gene Hong, were playing tennis recreationally in Burbank and we agreed there was a lapse in the tennis dramedy genre—it seems like there should have already been one made. A couple of years later I went back to him and said, ‘I have an idea, do you want to develop it with me?’ And he was excited to do that. That’s how it all began.
So you play tennis in real life.
Not great. I had never had a lesson. I started playing in my teenage years with friends. This movie took me almost five years to get off the ground, so I trained my ass off for years. David Walton, who plays my brother, started playing when he was two but hadn’t played for a long time. But he beats me swiftly every time. It’s one of those very difficult sports where you have to have total body awareness—every muscle, every part of your body has to work together. I just don’t have that body awareness and never will so I’ve given up the game for now.
Was it fun to play a crude wiseass?
It was. I would love to live a life where I did not care what people thought of me, to be able to say whatever I wanted. For most of us that would just be too stressful. Every now and then when I’ve had too many drinks I fall into a little bit of Jimmy. But to be able to do that while I’m trying to tell a story and make it entertaining was a gift. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t have been cast if I didn’t make it because it’s a great role and they’d have given it to someone else, a bigger star than me. I had to spend five years getting it together with me in the lead.
What was the producing aspect like?
It was five years of trying to find financing and it was at a few different companies, and it went through many rewrites. A lot changed and it got better and better, and a little less dark. While it was a frustrating time it was also useful. A lot of movies go through that development process, and it can be really good for the film.
J.K. Simmons plays your dad—your old Law & Order co-star.
He was the first to sign up. I’d known him for years. He’s a great guy. A lot of people, friends and acquaintances that I sent the script to, took their time getting back to me. J.K. read it right away and said yes.
In your new series, Wicked City, you play Detective Jack Roth. What’s his story?
He’s made a name for himself because he’s been responsible for catching the Hillside Strangler, some earlier serial killers. But his personal life is messed up. He’s having an affair, but he’s married with a kid, which right there shows that his life is compartmentalized. A lot of very driven characters, they are not very good at the life outside of the job, but that just drives them further to be excellent at their profession. He’s a drinker. Although I don’t know the full extent of where his demons come from, that’s some of it. We haven’t started shooting. I just got a mullet cut.
Did you ever have one?
There’s a photo of me in the early ’80s, a kid with a Rubik’s cube and a mullet.
Any memories of the time?
We’d moved to Chicago and I got arrested once. I lived in a rough neighborhood and didn’t have a lot of money but loved to play video games. So a few of us figured out a way to break into parking meters and an undercover cop nabbed us and brought us to the station. I cried all the way there. He called our parents to come pick us up.
What roles are you proudest of?
There’s three defining moments of my career. The first was Grand Canyon. It was not only a significant thing in my life but for everyone involved. I can’t even imagine a film like that existing today. There was no pressure of a ticking clock or structure. It was just a personal perspective piece with everyone contributing to it. Six Feet Under, of course—it was instrumental for me, being able to transition into an adult actor and a significant experience for everyone involved. Break Point is the third, as I was able to be a part of the whole creative process. The entire film had my stamp on it.
What’s on your to-do list?
I want to direct. I’d love to write and direct a movie, and continue producing and acting. I’d like to raise my kids right, and see them off into the world with the ability to handle themselves. They’re six and three.
Do they show any signs of the actor gene?
I hope not! I don’t think so. My six-year-old really likes money. And my youngest just wants to be Batman.
Photo credit: Broad Green Pictures