Scene Stealers: From Pro Football to Hollywood, Trevor Pryce’s Plan B

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Scene Stealers: From Pro Football to Hollywood, Trevor Pryce’s Plan B

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Scene Stealers

By BROOKS BARNES

LOS ANGELES — When Trevor Pryce retired as a pro football player in 2011, it would have been very easy for him to sit around in his boxer shorts all day, every day: Don’t disturb me, I’m watching “Judge Judy.”

He had millions of dollars in the bank after spending 14 years as a defensive end for the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. He had nothing more to prove, having made two winning trips to the Super Bowl. He was also selected four times to the Pro Bowl.

As Mr. Pryce said on Monday, “After working so hard on the field, it might make sense to get very busy doing absolutely nothing.”

He did a bit of that. But then he set out to remake himself as nothing less than … a movie mogul. Mark his words: He was going to be “the next George Lucas.”

Mr. Pryce figured that his football fame would provide a running start, and he already had a little Hollywood experience. In 2008 he sold a movie idea to Sony Pictures about a guy who is struck by lighting and becomes a walking encyclopedia. (The studio ultimately dropped it.)

While pursuing a side career as a musician in 2005, he licensed a song to 20th Century Fox to use in “Big Momma’s House 2.”

“I got the movie bug the day I got to go to that ‘Big Momma’ premiere party,” he said. “I thought, ‘I am on my way.’”

You know where this yarn is headed: Film bigwigs stereotyping him as a dumb jock. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Snickers about a football-related brain injury.

But the last laugh may belong to Mr. Pryce. With persistence and unusual self-assurance (and a good portion of his savings), the plain-spoken father of three has clawed his way to the verge of show business.

Starting on Sept. 2, Netflix will begin showing “Kulipari: An Army of Frogs,” an animated series that Mr. Pryce created, produced and cofinanced. Thirteen 28-minute episodes follow a young croaker named Darel who goes to war against frog-eating scorpions. (“Fat and juicy!”) Arriving in connection with the cartoon is a comic book series and a “Kulipari” themed clothing line from Under Armour.

Mr. Pryce and the animators he hired — “If I didn’t pay for this myself, nobody else was going to,” he said — adapted “Kulipari” from a trilogy of young adult novels he co-wrote after his plans for a frog war film went nowhere. (“Nobody would buy my script, so I thought, ‘Well, let’s try a book deal,” he said.)

A comic book series is a spinoff.

Published in consecutive years starting in 2013 by Abrams Books, the series now has nearly 100,000 copies in print, according to the publisher. The response was strong enough for Mr. Pryce to begin shopping “Kulipari” anew in Hollywood, teaming up with Splash Entertainment and Netflix.

“You’ve got to believe in yourself,” he said. “I remember looking at one studio guy who wasn’t taking me seriously and saying, ‘Hey, man, I’m actually smarter than you.’” (The “Kulipari” stories, Mr. Pryce said, were inspired by the “creepy” frogs that appeared near his boyhood home in Florida during rainstorms.)

Mr. Pryce, 41, is not the first National Football League star to try to make a name for himself in the entertainment industry (Michael Strahan, soon headed to “Good Morning America,” comes to mind), and he certainly won’t be the last.

In fact, there are other National Football League players pursuing cartoons as a second career. Martellus Bennett, a tight end for the New England Patriots, has been working with a California animation company called Stoopid Buddy Stoodios to develop a show.

At the same time, Mr. Pryce offers a stirring example of old-fashioned gumption. Most retired N.F.L. players, if they go on to second careers at all, stick with what they know: coaching or sports broadcasting.

Very few have enough drive left to strike out in a new direction, something that requires enormous energy and focus and carries a lot of reputational risk. “It’s true that a lot of guys don’t want to keep burning the candle at both ends,” Mr. Pryce said.

Speaking by phone from Maryland, where he lives with his wife, Sonya, and three teenage children, he added: “To me, at least, there would be nothing worse than doing nothing. My whole life, up until retirement, was regimented with football, and I needed to maintain some kind of discipline. You can’t just sit around watching ‘Judge Judy’ all day.” (Speak for yourself, Trevor.)

He said that Hollywood has definitely not been the “sexy good time” he envisioned, although he added that some movie and television executives have gone out of their way to help him. One was Doug Belgrad, the former president of Sony’s Motion Picture Group, who bought the lightning-bolt idea as a possible Adam Sandler vehicle.

Mr. Pryce still gets upset at rejection, as recently happened when he pitched video game executives on a “Kulipari”-related concept.

“I can still see the stupid look on their faces,” he said, his voice rising. “You fly back home with anger in your veins. And you drink a lot of Scotch. And then you calm down and you start again.”

What advice does he have for anyone with similar aspirations?

“Never be afraid to call an executive,” he said. “I go through studio and network lists and find the person marked ‘president’ and dial. Remember that you’re also bringing something valuable to the table. It’s not all about them.”

With that, Mr. Pryce had to go. His English bulldog, Brixton, had decided to run down the street. (“Dog! Don’t make me come chase you.”) But I had one last question: What happens if “Kulipari: An Army of Frogs” does not, well, strike a chord?

His answer was swift: “Not possible.”

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