J.K. Simmons seemed destined to star in an Aaron Sorkin film and he finally does in Amazon Studios’ “Being the Ricardos.” But the two actually crossed paths years earlier.
“My first Broadway play, I was an understudy replacement in ‘A Few Good Men,’” Simmons tells Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast. Simmons played the role of the Doctor (which is not in the film version) but also had the opportunity to play the role of Col. Nathan Jessup – the role Jack Nicholson made infamous in Rob Reiner’s film version.
“It remains to this day maybe the best role I’ve ever had,” Simmons says. “Television, film, stage. It was an absolute genius piece of writing. And at this point, Aaron was just some kid from Scarsdale who miraculously got a play on Broadway.”
Simmons also appeared on “The West Wing” but it was after Sorkin had left the show. But now Simmons is a part of Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos,” which chronicles a pivotal week in the life and marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Simmons play William Frawley, who starred on “I Love Lucy” as neighbor Fred Mertz. Nina Arianda rounds out the cast as Vivian Vance, who plays Fred’s wife Ethel. Simmons talks about his experience on the project via this episode of the Awards Circuit Podcast; listen below!
When “Being the Ricardos” was announced, Simmons seemed like slam-dunk casting. But, as he points out, he doesn’t really look that much like Frawley.
“You know, considering that I’m, a blue-eyed, bald white guy of almost the exact right age, it’s remarkable how little we look alike,” Simmons notes. “Our faces… the nose is kind of in the middle. But otherwise, we don’t look that much alike. And the way we carry ourselves is very different as well, too. So, obviously that was a part of my challenge, you know, was to try and sort of inhabit my body in a different way that that the channels Bill Frawley a little bit more.”
Simmons also talks about working the awards gauntlet before, when he won pretty much every award possible for playing the abusive music teacher in 2014’s “Whiplash.” He says he did his best to enjoy the time and took advantage of the platform he was given.
“Because I did end up having so many opportunities to be up at a podium holding a trophy and giving a speech, I got to say different things that were important to me,” Simmons recalls. “And I never did write any of these speeches down, I just kind of came up with general ideas and improvised, which sometimes worked well. Sometimes much less so. As I recall, my speech at the BAFTAs was just stammering and stuttering and stupidity, which was like, ‘Oh, here I am. The idiot American up here, completely inarticulate, unaware of or incapable of speaking the English language.”
The busy actor also touches on returning to the role of J. Jonah Jameson in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Though this podcast was recorded prior to the film screening, Simmons discusses how he first came to cameo at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” at the last second.
“It was a complete surprise,” he says of being asked. “And it was very short notice – I think it was almost an afterthought on the part of the studio and [director] Jon [Watts] because the film was done. And I got a call from my wonderful agent, Stephen Hirsh saying, ‘Hey, they want to talk to you about reviving your JJJ’ and I went, ‘I would love to have that conversation.’”
Simmons also has a laugh about how a photo of him working out and looking incredibly buff went viral a few years ago – to the point that when you Google his name one of the first things that comes up is “J.K. Simmons jacked.”
“Well, that’s lovely,” Simmons says. “And I love that everybody in the universe assumed it was for Commissioner Gordon, then I was in Zack Snyder’s movie for three minutes wearing a trench coat the entire time.”
Also on this episode, our Awards Circuit Roundtable is back, as we catch up on what we watched over the holiday and share some predictions for Golden Globe winners and SAG Awards nominations.
Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.
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