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INT: JK Simmons


One of my only complaints on visiting the set of EXTRACT is that I didn’t get to see a couple of actors work that were on the set. One was the lovely Mila Kunis and the other was the great J.K. Simmons. The man is easily one of the best character actors around. He stole every scene he was in as Jameson in the SPIDER-MAN franchise. He also did the same in the latest Coen Brothers comedy, BURN AFTER READING. Since his excellent work in the series “Oz”, he has become the go to guy for many a filmmaker. This includes his recent work on the series “The Closer”. And soon, he’ll be appearing in JENNIFER’S BODY with several other projects in his future.

While he was waiting for his call time which had been delayed, I got a chance to hang with the man in his trailer. He showed me his television which only had a VHS player. He didn’t seem to have any of the latest VHS releases around. This lead to my conclusion that J.K. is extremely funny. But more importantly, he is one of the easiest guys to talk to. We talked family. We talked Mike Judge. We talked The Coen Brothers. It was nice to kind of step back into his career all the way back to “Oz”. I have a great deal of respect for this guy, and more so now, simply because of the fact that he really is just a regular guy. He also happens to be one hell of an actor.

JK Simmons

You’ve worked with the Coen Brothers recently, you’re working with Mike Judge…

It’s pretty cool.

What do you look for when choosing a role? You seem to work all the time with some incredible people.

You know, honestly, the two first things I look for is… does it shoot in L.A., ‘cause I got kids and I don’t like to travel. So that was the first good news. And then I just read the script. And then, if it’s a comedy that makes me laugh, you know… and it shoots in L.A., I’m there. And then, you know, I’ve been aware of Mike obviously since “Beavis and Butthead”, OFFICE SPACE and all that stuff. It’s not like I have this list of directors or writers I’m dying to work with. I’m just, you know, whatever moves me and whatever makes me laugh. And the good thing about this script, and I think Mike’s stuff in general, he’s got a unique vernacular that’s really funny but really grounded in reality. And in a different way, you know, Joel and Ethan Coen have the same thing. It’s a very different sensibility but to me that is what you look for. And you see the cast that they’re putting together and it just got more and more appealing, and here we are. I’m actually cramming this in the week before… the reason we’re here on a Saturday is because I had to schedule around my T.V. show [“The Closer”] which we are shooting right now. They were nice enough to let me out for a certain number of days per episode, but the best way for them to work it was to shoot on a couple of Saturdays.

You like doing T.V.?

Yeah, yeah, I love doing T.V. I mean, it’s a totally different vibe and pace. You know, you don’t have to sit around in your trailer as long [Laughing]… at least not usually. And obviously you have the good news, bad news about doing a series regular. You really get to know the character that you’re playing and you’re playing the same guy all the time. You get to have a real thru-line with the character. That can get tedious I think, for a lot of people. But on our show, because we have good writers, and because we are only doing fifteen a year instead of twenty-two or twenty-four… I mean, I’ve had friends on hour shows that just hate their lives. You know, it’s just work, work, work, work, work, and it’s the same everyday. So I’m really lucky on our show, I play a supporting part, I work like two or three days a week. The writing is good. More time with family, more time to do movies.

And you have a whole lot of movies lately.

I’ve been like the king of comedy for the last year… I’ve been shooting one comedy after another. A lot of good stuff. A lot of different directors and writers. I’ve been playing a lot of dads of course, ever since JUNO [Laughing]. I’ve now gotten to the point where I’m playing Paul Rudd’s dad who I think is fifty. It’s a film called I LOVE YOU MAN. John Hamburg, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones… great cast. And Jane Curtin plays my wife.

Nice… I love Jane Curtin.


Now let’s talk a little about your character here in EXTRACT.

My guy is Brian. He was Joel’s [Jason Bateman] partner/second in command at this factory. Just a sort of, middle management guy, you know. He comes in, does his job and has nothing but disdain for all the people that work for him.

Sounds like a few bosses I’ve known way back when [Laughing].

Exactly [Laughing]. He tries to have a sense of humor about it. But if he won a million dollars in the lottery he would quit the job tomorrow.

Sadly, I think that is at least 80% of America.


That is what I think Mike Judge connects with. Who doesn’t watch OFFICE SPACE and say, ‘Ah… if only!’?

Yeah. Exactly. He’s a working class guy from the real world and I think that resonates with, like you said, 80% of the country. But I also think that one of the things that Mike is really successful at, and I don’t think it is something he sets out to do to appeal to demographics, it’s just who he is. I think his appeal is across the board. I mean, a lot of things either work in Peoria, you know, in all the flyover states, or they work on the coasts. And I think his humor, really as much as anybody’s that I can think of, really appeals across the board. Because it’s smart, but it’s real and in the best sense of the word, it’s common. It appeals to the common people.

Well as I was watching the what they were filming, I kept thinking that this is what most people have to go through on some level. But he doesn’t dumb it down, he’s not making fun of them.


And a lot of comedies like this tend to make fun of the people they are portraying.

Yeah, it’s a fun line to be, you know, as an actor and watching the other characters too. Because the characters are somewhat broad, like you said, they don’t dumb them down, they are not caricatures and they are not stereotypes. They are just… well you know what, I was just going to say they are much bigger than real life but then, I don’t know… real life is pretty big so [Laughing].

Speaking of real characters, one character I loved of yours and I have to bring it up is BURN AFTER READING.

I haven’t seen it.

You haven’t seen it?

I know, it’s ridiculous.


Well there was no premiere. And then my agent sent me a list of this screening and that screening, and it was like… you know, with kids and school and buying and selling a house and I’m working two jobs… My wife and I, it was, ‘Oh, can you go this night?’, ‘No, we can’t get a babysitter.’ Finally she goes and sees it with her mom. And I still haven’t seen it.

Oh man, I loved your performance in it.

Oh thank you! Well I had auditioned for a couple of different parts in that. And Joel and Ethan are so specific about casting. And when I read the script, I just thought, this may be the funniest thing I’ve read on paper. Certainly that I’ve read in a long time. And I just wanted to do anything.

It was cool to see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and then BURN AFTER READING the next year…

Yeah, and with BURN AFTER READING, it is sort of back into FARGO land, you know, the wacky side. I also thought that… I mean No Country and Burn After Reading are sort of the two ends of the Coen style. But I also thought that No Country was hilarious. You know, in a dark way, where he is strangling the guy and his heels are making all those marks on the floor. I mean, that was f*cked up. That was funny in a really messed up way. All of it, you know, the coin flipping stuff with the guy in the gas station. Great actor. And you’re scared that whole time but it’s funny as hell.

I think people sometimes forget how important casting really is. It really helps make the Coen Brothers films work.

Oh yeah… and they are really OCD about casting. I mean, I went in I want to say five… at least four times for THE LADYKILLERS. Which is the first one I did with them. And I’ve had a few auditions for OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, for a couple of really fun little parts in that. And then ultimately the part that they were interested in me for was the one part that I didn’t really want to do. Because it was this racist, white-supremacist guy, and I was doing “Oz” at the time and I just didn’t want to be the racist white guy for the rest of my life. So I didn’t get hired for that. But then when THE LADYKILLERS came along… the same thing with BURN AFTER READING, they basically wanted this character to be like a seventy-five year old guy. They wanted him to be Donald Rumsfeld, only a little older. But I was basically doing what I wanted done with it so finally they said, alright, screw it.

I remember when “Oz” was on and I just remember how f*cked up your character was. Was that hard to live that character down?

It was. And that was my first… I was basically a theatre actor for all those years. I was making no money and doing Shakespeare and musicals and whatever. And then I did a guest spot on “Homicide”, the [Tom] Fontana show as a, you know, white-supremacist, bastard, murderer guy. And then a few months later, they’re casting “Oz”. And I basically went into the meeting with Tom, with like, no resume except theatre. It was totally from hunger. And I was almost talking my way out of the part because I was really concerned, because I didn’t want to be perceived as the neo-Nazi bastard for the rest of my career. And Tom fed me this line of bullshit about how this character was gonna start out, you know, you think he’s a good guy and then down the road we’re going to find out what an evil son of a bitch he is. So, you know, it’s gonna be a great opportunity to really pull the wool over people’s eyes to play different things. And of course, down the road turned out to be like, twenty minutes into the first episode [Laughing]. I got like one scene where I’m a nice guy and then the next time I’m tattooing this guy’s ass. But obviously it was huge for my career. And also just as an actor it was great. The first year was really intense, and it was kind of hard to leave the character at work sometimes. You know, because it was so creepy and dark. And I think a lot of guys were struggling with that in the cast. There was a lot of theatre actors, a lot of New York actors. But after the first season, it just got to be like boy’s camp, you know. We just had fun.

That was a terribly risky show for that time.

Well at the time… Ninety-six we started that… HBO, which is the only place you could do that show. And really do it. I mean, I look back on it now, you know you see an episode and to me, maybe because it was really groundbreaking at the time, it actually doesn’t stand up as well because it has been done so many times since. So to me it looks kind of dated to look back on it now. But that is kind of a testament to how groundbreaking it was. You know, it was just a great job in so many ways. Really not a week goes by that I don’t… you know, to myself [Laughing]… thank Tom Fontana for that opportunity. Of course I never call him and tell him.

Well it will now be in print…

Thanks Tom!

Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to





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5:47PM on 11/20/2008
great actor, great range, nice piece
great actor, great range, nice piece
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9:31AM on 11/20/2008


Excellent interview! J.K. Simmons is one of my favorite actors. The guy can play any role, funny, dramatic, dark or just plain crazy!!
Excellent interview! J.K. Simmons is one of my favorite actors. The guy can play any role, funny, dramatic, dark or just plain crazy!!
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