Stanley Simons on The Iron Claw Brotherhood and Filming in His Undies

stanley simons

Stanley Simons, photographed by Eloise King-Clements.

The first scene of The Iron Claw  goes like this: a tighty whitey-clad Harris Dickinson walks into the kitchen, where the patriarch, played by Holt McCallany, enumerates his favorite sons, beginning with his middle child Jeremy Allen White. In walks Zac Efron, so swollen and chiseled it looks almost painful, grabbing a slice of bacon from his youngest brother, whose face you might not yet recognize. It’s Stanley Simons.

Produced by A24, The Iron Claw is a biopic of the Von Erich family, a wrestling dynasty in the 80s. Lubed-up and sweaty, the older brothers set their sights on wrestling glory, while Simons’s character dangles a comedic carrot. Beware, though: the director Sean Dirkin stays true to real-life events, and by the end Simons has shown the vast spectrum of his acting chops. In 2019, he made his silver screen debut with Angelfish, and he’s appeared on shows like Law and Order SVU and Two Sentence Horror Stories. A friend since I first moved to New York, Simons and I meet at Veselka, on the cusp of his film’s premiere, where he confessed that acting is the only thing he’s ever been good at. Between bites of Reubens, we spoke about The Iron Claw brotherhood, Zac Efron’s benevolent bodyguard, and filming in his undies. 


KING-CLEMENTS: Are people calling you Stanley now?

SIMONS: That’s how I introduce myself. It’s more profesh. My close friends call me “Stan.” There’s a subsection of my friends that call me “Ley.” But it’s lame.

KING-CLEMENTS: I don’t know why that’s lame, but it is.

SIMONS: I had my birthday party last week. I had a bunch of close friends from everywhere I’ve lived and I was introducing everyone.

KING-CLEMENTS: Was it stressful?

SIMONS: It was a little stressful. I wasn’t drinking and that’s weird when everyone’s getting drunk.

KING-CLEMENTS: What have you realized since not drinking? 

SIMONS: Drunk people are annoying as fuck. 

KING-CLEMENTS: [Laughs] Yes. We should talk about the film. Tell me about your first time learning how to wrestle. 

SIMONS: I got there a bit before to do wrestling training. The others had to do a lot more than me. It was wild. We had this guy, Chavo Guerrero, who was this professional wrestler. He’s a legend in his own right. He had worked on other productions with wrestling involved. 

KING-CLEMENTS: Had you wrestled before?


KING-CLEMENTS: Do you wrestle now?

SIMONS: [Laughs] All the time. Go up to my friends and drop kick them.

KING-CLEMENTS: Give them the Iron Claw. Can you explain that move? 

SIMONS: What I’ve come to understand is that most wrestlers, if they’re big, have signature moves. The Von Erich’s was just your hand squeezing the shit out of someone’s head. Hurts, I guess, really bad. I didn’t do it in the movie, but I definitely did it. Harris [Dickinson] did it the best, he was very dynamic with it.

Stanley Simons

KING-CLEMENTS: What was it like filming the wrestling scenes?

SIMONS: We’d learn the choreography for the match and then we’d film it all the way through. It was like a play. We do it five times, 10 times. I only had two scenes of wrestling. 

KING-CLEMENTS: Was the first time you did it terrifying?

SIMONS: No, but the first time being in my undies in front of a bunch of people and the whole crew was a little terrifying.

KING-CLEMENTS: And you’re in this ring.

SIMONS: Yeah, you come in and you’re just like, “Hey,” and everyone’s super quiet and then they’re like, “Action.” and everyone’s yelling and cheering and then they yell, “Cut,” and they’re quiet again. You’re just trying to cross your legs. There’s no way to stand in the Speedo and look cool. 

KING-CLEMENTS: A lot of this interview is going to be in parentheses, you acting out ‘flexes muscles.’

SIMONS: Yeah, exactly. You better quote this correctly.

KING-CLEMENTS: What was the vibe with you and Zac [Efron], Jeremy [Allen White] and Harris?

SIMONS: I met Harris and Jeremy at the wrestling practice before we started shooting. I was really scared. I was reading my book, watching them flying off the ropes. They came over and introduced themselves and I was shitting my pants a little bit. They were so cool. I mean, they’re pretty normal guys. Amazing actors, but pretty down to earth, chill dudes. Zac, I met a little bit after that. We did a table read, took a bunch of photos in the costumes and outfits.

KING-CLEMENTS: Those photos are really good.

SIMONS: I have a picture of one that got cut. I might have to show you some scandalous photos.


SIMONS: We also went to a real wrestling match while we were in New Orleans. But we were just hanging out most of the time in Baton Rouge and there wasn’t a lot to do there. We’d play pool, work out, eat food. They’re very easy to bond with.

KING-CLEMENTS: Who’s the best at pool?

SIMONS: I think we all beat each other. 

KING-CLEMENTS: Media-trained. 

SIMONS: I was on set a lot even when I wasn’t shooting, so a lot of the wrestling I was watching. Zac was doing full matches. They are really long, grueling and they hurt. That mat was hard and the cables wires with just a little tape and padding.

stanley simons

KING-CLEMENTS: Did you have a favorite scene to film?

SIMONS: We had this one day where we were chilling in those tubes, going down the lake and drinking beers. The tubes were on a wire, so we just kept going back and forth. Zac’s tube deflated, he was sinking a little bit.

KING-CLEMENTS: That scene was so wonderful to watch. I felt like I was part of the brotherhood.

SIMONS: It was fun. It was a testament to Sean [Dunkirk]. Originally, that scene was going to be Zac on the back of the pickup truck, going full speed across a bridge, and he was supposed to do a front flip off the truck and into the lake. But then it changed to just us eating burgers in tubes. I think it was way better, to be honest.

KING-CLEMENTS: Which scenes did you film first? 

SIMONS: Sean specifically wanted to shoot the ranch house scenes first so that we bonded. It was sick because they got a bunch of eighties work out equipment and props. We were just throwing around the football, looking at the cows, and working out. 

KING-CLEMENTS: How did you prepare for your role? 

SIMONS: There’s so much footage of them, the real life dudes, so I just watched as much as I possibly could. I was just eating all the time and working out, even though it didn’t really show. I was like a twig before.

KING-CLEMENTS: Tiny. What would you eat? 

SIMONS: Zac was eating some good shit. He brought beef heart to the set one time, which looked amazing. I think he had a chef. Don’t quote me. I just ate as much protein as possible. We were working out two hours every day. They gave me two sessions with this trainer in New York. Jeremy and Harris had a nice gym next to their apartment, so I’d sneak in with them.

KING-CLEMENTS: So you were staying at a different hotel?

SIMONS: Yeah. They were staying in this nice Airbnb.

KING-CLEMENTS: All together?

SIMONS: Not all together. Why do you want that to be a thing? 

KING-CLEMENTS: [Laughs] In my head, they’re brothers.

SIMONS: Harris and Jeremy were staying in the same apartment building. Not the same apartment.

KING-CLEMENTS: Were you worried that paparazzi were going to find you? 

SIMONS: I had no concept of that, but they did find us. They took photos from afar with a really long lens of Lily and Zach. It’s pretty not cool. Obviously it depends on the person, but it’s a very weird way to make a living if you analyze it.

KING-CLEMENTS: Have you been paparazzi’d since then?

SIMONS: No. This better not come out and then some spiteful paparazzi is going to go start taking photos of me. That’s a different level of fame. Zac’s like, the biggest superstar of his generation.

KING-CLEMENTS: Did you guys talk about fame?

SIMONS: To an extent. At this point he’s dealing with it really well, with a close unit of people around him. He has an Australian bodyguard, Vas. He was such a cool guy, but he sussed me out for the first couple days. He wasn’t really fucking with me, and it didn’t help that I told him I was Australian and he was like, “You’re not fucking Australian. You’re American as shit.” We’d throw a rugby ball around, and he was like, “Who won the last Ashes?” Which is a big cricket rivalry between England and Australia, and I was just like, “One of the two.” He laughed and that broke him and then we were tight after that. People are strange to Zac, though. We went out to this bar one time, we were just playing pool and this girl sneakily brought out her phone. I’m not going to speak for him, but it’s got to take an emotional toll in some capacity, right? He’s such a nice guy. He deals with it amazingly. So many celebrities, you see them get angry at the paparazzi. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy that would ever do that, ever. And Jeremy had just done The Bear, so there’s a lot of people coming up to him and being like, “Can I get a photo?” And then they hand me the phone. Which is actually fun. I know Jeremy’s angles.

KING-CLEMENTS: What was your experience watching the film?

SIMONS: I was very anxious. It had been a year, and at that point I just wanted to watch it really badly. I had a general gist that it was going to be cool. It was beautifully shot, I knew that, and I really enjoyed the script. But I didn’t know what to expect. I was definitely like, “No, please” while watching myself. The second time I watched it more objectively and it was better that time. I got sad the second time. That last scene, dude, that ruined me.

KING-CLEMENTS: Yeah, I cried. And it was 11:30 am.

SIMONS: Yeah, Zac’s just like… Damn. I liked it quite a bit. I’m biased, though.

KING-CLEMENTS: Rate it out of ten.

SIMONS: 300 billion kajillion. If you have brothers, it’s going to resonate.

KING-CLEMENTS: Yeah. I don’t have brothers, but I felt like I was a brother. You’re the black sheep of the family in the film, right? Do you identify with that?

SIMONS: I did identify with the younger brother. I was thinking about the dynamics between the three in my head and how I treated them. Zac kept us in line, Harris was more mischievous. My character and his character were the most similar. Jeremy was the wild card, the middle brother. In real life, they all really loved each other. 

KING-CLEMENTS: Where do you want to go from here?

SIMONS: I just want to keep going. I want to collaborate with good directors and writers. I want to do more writing. I’ve been reaching out to certain directors and writers that I like.

KING-CLEMENTS: Can you name-drop anyone?

SIMONS: No, because I’m not going to jinx it. I’m not superstitious, but I’m not going to jinx it. I wish to have a sustainable career. I wish to set up my parents. That’s a big thing. They’ve done a lot for me, so I want to repay that.

KING-CLEMENTS: Yeah. It’s crazy because I met you my first week in New York. Now here you are.

SIMONS: Sleeping on my brother’s couch.

KING-CLEMENTS: Up and up. One last question: if you could play any type of character, what would it be?

SIMONS: That’s so difficult. Something very different for myself. I’m not a method actor, but there’s careers like Daniel Day-Lewis or Philip Seymour Hoffman or Heath Ledger, they all have really interesting careers. They play such different characters, but they always feel real. Something like that. Maybe that’s wishful thinking.