HFPA in Conversation: The Two Sides of J.K. Simmons

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros December 26, 2018
Actor JK Simmons, Golden Globe winner

magnus sundholm/hfpa

When Golden Globe winner J.K. Simmons first read the script for the series Counterpart he didn’t know (SPOILER ALERT) that there were two versions of Howard, two spies are living on opposite sides of a parallel dimension. “I always prefer to read a script without a synopsis or any information going in.  I thought there was this guy.  His name is Howard Silk, he was kind of a sad sack and a kind, gentle guy.  And then page 20 we suddenly meet his counterpart and my mind was blown and I realized oh, this is going to be twice the work,” he tells HFPA journalist Vera Anderson.

He was drawn to the first Howard. “I always viewed him as the protagonist even as I got to know and even like most aspects of the tough guy version of Howard.”

Simmons learned that playing two characters in one show can be challenging. “I honestly think it would be a challenge even just playing one of these characters because of the complexity of plots and subplots and the subplots of subplots.  There were times especially in the first season when we were jumping around, shooting episode nine in the morning and episode two in the afternoon and different characters.  I had to sit down with the script supervisor and say, do I know this?  Does this character know this in this moment?  But because the two characters are so clearly delineated on the page, it’s been really a joy.”

Simmons graduated from college with a music degree and dreamt of becoming a composer.  But when he acted for the first time, he immediately knew he loved it. “Late in my college career, I took a job as music director for a summer theater company, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Montana.  And because I could sing I was cast as the lead in Brigadoon.  That was the beginning of a long and painful process, and I’m talking from the audience perspective really, of me learning what acting is and how to become somewhat competent at it.”

He moved to Seattle and started auditioning.  He got parts in musicals and plays. “I began to develop a pretty well-rounded resume before I moved to New York where I continued to do regional theater.  I would get a job in Buffalo, Atlanta, Boston or Pittsburgh and go off and do a play for a couple months and come back and wait tables for as long as it took before I got another job.  Then the first half of the 90’s I spent on Broadway.  Once I realized that doing the same show eight times a week for a year could get slightly tedious I told my agent I wanted to really concentrate on trying to get some film and television.  I wanted to have more variety and possibly even get a residual check once in a while.

In 2015 he turned 60 and won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his performance as the abusive music teacher in Whiplash. “Stating the obvious, it was a great year.”

Listen to the podcast and hear why he is excited about the second season of Counterpart; why he almost didn’t do Counterpart; how his hairstyle affected his life in 1969; when he became a true Sinfonian; what answer he stole from Mark Ruffalo; when was the last time he was on stage; where he would like to do theater; how he got his SAG card from the work he didn’t do; what color of M&M's he has done the voice for over 20 years; why he is proud of lending his voice to video game Portal 2; when  moved to Los Angeles; how the success of Whiplash changed his life; what is his take on roles that are based on real-life characters; why he is apolitical; and what he watches on TV.

Listen to the conversation here or, for immediate access to all of our podcasts, subscribe to HFPA in Conversation on iTunes.