For 20 years of his life, J.K. Simmons’s world revolved around the stage. The Academy Award winner began his career on Broadway and didn’t get into film and television until the mid 1990’s. One of the first films he did was alongside one of his idols Sidney Poitier. Simmons grew up loving Poitier’s work and worked with him in the 1997 film “The Jackal.” While the 63-year-old has been in countless noteworthy movies since like “La La Land,” “Whiplash” and “Spider-Man,” the Academy Award winner will never forget the time he spent with Poitier.
Simmons returns to the screen this weekend in a new show called “Counterpart,” a spy thriller where he plays two different versions of a UN employee named Howard Silk. Silk discovers that the agency he works for is hiding a gateway to a parallel universe.
Simmons spoke with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about his career, the new show and the lessons he still carries with him from his days on Broadway.
DJ Sixsmith: “Counterpart” looks like a really interesting show. Why did you decide to get involved with the project?
J.K. Simmons: The script. I was getting a lot of scripts at that time and this one jumped out at me, even before I got to the part where there are two Howards. I was already intrigued by the world Justin Marks was creating, his writing and the character. As usual, that’s the drawing card. We then set up a meeting, got together and we ended up having over a year and a half between our first meeting and going into production as things evolved. That was a great luxury for him and for me. We had all the scripts written before we started production.
DS: You mentioned how there are two versions of Howard Silk. What are the challenges of playing two versions of one character?
JS: The creative challenges for Justin and myself are how to differentiate and how to keep things real, subtle and believable. Logistically, we had to figure out how to shoot those scenes and co-existing was an ongoing challenge. We ironed out some wrinkles as the first season moved along.
DS: Taking a step back for a moment, who were some actors that inspired you early in your career?
JS: I got to work with one of them early in my film career. I got to work with Sidney Poitier. I remember the first grown up movie my parents took us to see when we were kids was “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” It was a real surreal experience when I got to work with him in 1996. It was really just a year into my film and TV career after I did theater for almost 20 years.
DS: Speaking of your time on the stage, what was the most important lesson you learned during that 20 year period of your career?
JS: I learned a lot of basic concepts. A lot of it was just living life as a grown up. Responsibility, teamwork and carrying your weight were a few of the lessons. There were also a lot of technical things that I learned as I went along in theater. Some of them transferred to film and television and some of them you need to adjust as you make that transition.
DS: You’ve played a lot of different types of characters during your career. How do you prepare for a role?
JS: 90% of it is reading the script from the perspective of your character and then in this case, reading the script from the perspective of your other character. You need to have a thorough understanding of what’s on the page and how you want to portray it.
DS: What do you want people to think about when they watch the premiere of “Counterpart” this weekend?
JS: I think there are a lot of things that are really interesting about “Counterpart.” On the surface, it’s a really smart and complex spy thriller. It’s the traditional espionage spy thriller that will keep people thinking and guessing. It has interesting characters with good guys and bad guys and then you add the whole metaphysical concept of the portal into another world. That more than doubles the intrigue and the interest for audiences.
DS: What are the proudest moments of your career?
JS: I’ve been involved in a lot of things on stage and on small and large screens that I’m proud of when I look back on. The thing that I enjoy and really continue to enjoy is collaborating with really smart people and having a good time creating.