J.K. Simmons: “Unless your name is Clooney or Pitt or Hanks, I think it’s hard to feel completely like you’re established”

J.K Simmons has been acting in movies and television and doing voiceover work for twenty-five years but has perennially been a supporting actor in films like Juno, Burn After Reading, and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. 

So it was certainly a thrill for Simmons when he was cast in his first leading role in the drama The Music Never Stopped as the father of a son with a brain tumor.  After two and half decades of hardly seeing his name listed on a movie poster or even in the opening credits, you’d expect Simmons to be ecstatic.

However, in an interview with Movieline Simmons reveals that he actually has mixed feelings about being in the leading role of a film.  Simmons explains, “Yeah, this was literally my first opportunity to be the number one name on the call sheet and that was great on a number of levels, mainly just because I felt more so like a real collaborator from the very beginning. From the moment I signed on, I was in touch with Jim about the rest of the casting, preproduction choices and having a little input during rehearsals. A lot of my jobs — and quite frankly, I prefer it this way — I’m dropping in to do a week on a movie and then I’m out or I’m doing a TV show where I work two or three days a week instead of five. It was fun to be there from day one to the very last day and to be more of a collaborator in every aspect of making the movie. But that wasn’t the reason why I took the job, just to be the lead, because frankly I still think of Lou as the lead character in the movie even if the billing works the other way around.”  It seems that while Simmons really enjoyed the experience of being fully immersed in a production, it surely is a lot easier to do the more “fly by night” shooting of supporting actors. However, despite his leading role in The Music Never Stopped Simmons laughs off the insinuation that he is an “established” actor.  “Unless your name is Clooney or Pitt or Hanks, I think it’s hard to feel completely like you’re established or where you want to be. This script, which I am eternally grateful for, came to me but only after it bounced off a couple other guys first who didn’t want to do it or couldn’t schedule it. I’d love to be more established. I’d love to never have to audition for the rest of my life and have every good script in Hollywood come my way. At the same time, when I look back twenty years and remember that I was struggling to pay my rent for a crappy apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and doing regional theater for a subsistence wage, and now I’m able to live in a big, fancy house and send my kids to private school — there’s always somebody who is better off and worse off than you are. That’s an important perspective to keep in mind I guess.”

So ultimately Simmons feels his most success as an actor comes from the smaller parts that he’s famous for, as these are the parts he enjoys most, explaining, “It is really fun though when just out of the blue, a little plum part in a TV comedy or an independent film that ignites me, comes my way because the director thinks I might be a good fit.”  Guess recognizing Simmon’s masterful performances in his smaller parts is the way to get him into your next movie!

The Music Never Stopped has been released on DVD this week.

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