An Interview with JK Simmons by Dwayne Ague

Interview JK Simmons



When working in New York is there a specific direction one should take to find work?

I honestly have no idea how to pursue theatre work in NY in 2016.  When I hit town in 1983, I just went to every open call I could (I had already gotten my Equity card at Seattle Rep) and stood in the snow with everybody else.  I did enough auditions that I finally learned I should stop trying so hard to be what I thought they were looking for and I started being myself and then showing them that I could sing a couple of different styles, or that I could do drama and comedy (if given the chance).

Do you think anything in your education, training or experience helped you stick out from the rest?

I think everything helps.  Certainly I learned a lot in college and at The Bigfork Summer Playhouse, but a lot of that isn’t stuff that comes through at an audition, and a lot of what you need is just real world people skills.  Basically, how not to be a pain in the ass or a knucklehead or a Diva.  I think a lot of it comes down to who your parents raised you to be.

When did you realize your carrier took a jump?

There were a LOT of major jumps in my career, and they were pretty much all 1/2 luck and 1/2 being prepared to take advantage of it.  I got my Equity card at Seattle Rep because they need understudies who were quick learners for Side By Side By Sondheim.  I got my college degree in music, so I was the best sight reader of the guys who could sing the part.  Guys and Dolls on Broadway was another big break, and that came partly because I kept turning down smaller parts (chorus, understudy, Lt Brannigan) until Jerry Zaks, the director, finally had a little sit-down with me to try to find out if I was a total Prima Donna or not.  I told him I know how to pass the ball, but I’d already played Brannigan and I felt my chorus days were behind me (I was 35) and I felt like I had a lot to contribute.

There were other big breaks (OZ, Spiderman…) but they all had one thing in common – being prepared (through study and just life experience) and being confidant enough to have a very honest discussion with the director at the audition, even if I was saying things about the script or about myself that might not make it sound like I was the guy for the job.  Most directors just want to work with reasonable people, when it comes down to it.  There are LOTS of actors who can sing/act/dance as well as you or better, so at some point, it comes down to being a good person to work with.  (Unless of course, your singing/acting/dancing sucks, in which case you should be a producer…)

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