J.K. Simmons is one of those actors you know, even if you don't know you know. Simmons' most visible role right now is Daily Bugle editor and hothead J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies. He's also into his eighth year as sensitive psychiatrist Dr. Emil Skoda on Law & Order, and has scared the piss out of more than one HBO watcher as Oz's Aryan madman, Vern Schillinger.
Oh, and he's the voice of the yellow M&M. That's quite a collection of characters. This weekend, Simmons will just be himself at Orlando's Florida Extravaganza Show, FX Show for short. It's a convention for fans of comic books, anime, sci-fi, toys, movies, TV, and just about every other aspect of pop culture.
The FX Show always brings in celebrities to sign autographs. This year's group includes Simmons, Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Ray Park (Darth Maul, Star Wars: Episode I), Gena Lee Nolin (Baywatch), and Cindy Morgan (Lacey Underall from Caddyshack). The FX Show starts Friday, but most celebs are only guaranteed to be there Saturday and Sunday.
For 2005, the FX Show has moved away from the Orange County Convention Center and into downtown Orlando's Expo Centre, across the street from the TD Waterhouse Centre. After you pay for admission, celebs typically add a second charge to sign a photo or whatever item you bring. Usually, it's around 10 or 20 bucks.
This is J.K. Simmons' first time attending one of these conventions. Orlando CityBeat's John Graham talked to Simmons on the phone from his home in California.
Orlando CityBeat: When you got the part as J. Jonah Jameson, had you ever read a Spider-Man comic book?
JK Simmons: I was not a giant comic book fan as a kid, but to the extent that I did read comics, Spider-Man was always my favorite guy. One of my cousins was a big Spider-Man freak, and whenever we got together, we'd share Spider-Man stuff. I certainly did a lot more research and read every comic book I could get my hands on after I got the part to try and bring the guy to life.
OCB: I hear you like to do your own stunts in movies.
JKS: I think there's really only two times I didn't do my own stunts and that's when there's broken glass lying around and that's when producers absolutely refuse to let me do them. So, one was in Oz when my character had his eye cut open and the other was in the first Spider-Man movie when the Green Goblin first blasts through the window. But when he choked me and lifted me for a day and a half, that was me. About the ninth time that harness lifted me by the groin, I was thinking there are guys that do this for a living.
OCB: And you're back for Spider-Man 3, right?
JKS: We don't have an official start date yet, but that's the plan. I had a little more to do in number ywo than I did in number one. My personal feeling is that's about the right amount of J. Jonah Jameson, and he's not going to become the central figure in any of these movies. It's a great part and a really fun character to bring in the comic relief and have a good time, and then get back to the heart of the movie.
OCB: I assume being in the Spider-Man movies have brought you a new level of attention from the comic book and science fiction fans. I mean, there aren't Oz conventions, are there?
JKS: No, no, although I'll tell you, the Oz fan base was pretty dedicated and intense, and continues to be, but certainly not as organized as the comic book or sci-fi fan base. It's been a great kind of attention and it's exactly what (Spider-Man (director) Sam (Raimi) and all of us were working toward with both Spider-Man movies. You know, the first time out of the chute, Sam was really dedicated to making a movie that would reach everybody, and make billions of dollars, but also was very intent on not upsetting hardcore fans, and not messing with the franchise and not doing anything that would not be true to the reality of who Spider-Man has been all these years.
OCB: Even though you're very visible and busy as an actor, you don't seem to get pigeonholed into a certain kind of role. Did you have to work hard on that, or did it just happen?
JKS: When they first offered me the role in Oz, I almost talked my way out of that because I had done a guest spot on Homicide, playing a Nazi guy and I thought, "I don't know if I want to be perceived as this for the rest of my life." But (Oz creator) Tom Fontana talked me into it, and of course, it was a great job. After Oz started, I got a lot of offers to come be "The Nazi of the Week" on different shows, and of course, I turned those down because that was a trap I could easily fall into. Fortunately, Law & Order came along. I was playing the psychiatrist and the psycho at the same time.
OCB: And those were both shot in New York, so was it one day on one set and then the next day on the other?
JKS: Sometimes, both on the same day. The sets were about half a mile apart, and at times, I'd be the bad guy in the morning and the good guy in the afternoon.
OCB: There are so many people that know you from one role, but have no idea about another. I imagine you walk down the street and different people know you from different things.
JKS: Not that long ago, I was walking down the street and somebody just got very excited about recognizing me and I always figure it's Oz or Spider-Man or Law & Order. He said, "Are you JK Simmons?" and I said "Yeah." He said "I saw you in Das Barbecu," which was an Off-Broadway musical I did in 1994. (It's a Texas hoedown parody of a Wagner opera that lasted 30 performances.) There is a recording out, but it ran for about four or five weeks and only four or five thousand people saw it.
OCB: You moved from New York to Los Angeles about a year and a half ago. Does that mean we'll be seeing less of you on Law & Order (which films in NYC)?
JKS: I sort of felt that I would be saying goodbye to that job when we moved out here, but they called and I did four episodes last year and two so far this year. They seem to still use me. Actually, I have a regular role on a new series starting in March out here in California, which may cut into my Law & Order appearances.
OCB: So tell us more about the new show.
JKS: It's called The Closer. It's for TNT. Kyra Sedgwick is the star. I play the boss. It's a cop show. They were looking for smart procedural crime dramas, not unlike Law & Order, because that's one of TNT's big syndicated shows, and this is going to be a great show. James Duff is the writer/creator and he's the same guy that wrote The D.A, which is a short-lived series I did last year.
OCB: I should remember that, but I don't.
JKS: Well, it was on ABC, but you had to be looking pretty hard. They didn't promote it very well.
OCB: So are you in the middle of shooting The Closer right now?
JKS: We've done the pilot, but we haven't started shooting episodes. We'll start shooting episodes in March and it will be on the air in the summer.
OCB: What else are you up to?
JKS: I actually just finished a small part in a movie called Harsh Times with Christian Bale and then next week, I start a movie called Thank You for Smoking. It's a hilarious script based on the Christopher Buckley book. They started shooting this week, and I start next week.
OCB: The Oscar nominations were announced this week. Do you pay any attention to them?
JKS: You know, I do pay as little attention as possible to that. Ever since I was the best actor at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Montana, I've tried to pooh-pooh the idea of competitive awards for acting. I really have a fundamental disapproval of that concept. It's not as big a deal to me as it used to be. I used to be very much on my high horse about it, but now If a friend of mine is nominated for an Emmy or a Golden Globe or an Oscar, that's great, but otherwise, I don't pay much attention.
OCB: I assume you know that you didn't get nominated for J. Jonah Jameson.
JKS: I really think awards always go to much more splashy performances. Even though J.J. is an over-the-top kind of character, the idea of winning awards is kind of counter to what I've always tried to do. The best complement I ever got from the public or producers or directors is that I just totally blend in and become the character and they don't notice me and that the play happens or the movie happens or the TV show happens. Awards aren't going to pay the rent anyway.
OCB: Signing photos here in Orlando will do that.
JKS: Well, so I'm told yeah (chuckles.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun