(Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
What’s better than watching J.K. Simmons take on a juicy role? J.K. Simmons taking on two juicy roles. In the new sci-fi espionage thriller Counterpart, premiering January 21 on Starz, he plays Howard Silk, a low-level U.S. government operative in Berlin who finds out he must work with his doppelgänger in a parallel dimension to prevent a catastrophe. The Grosse Pointe, Michigan, native, 62, will spend the show’s premiere night with his filmmaker wife, Michelle, and two kids (Joe, 19, and Olivia, 16) watching it in their Los Angeles home.
After about 180 movies and TV shows, Counterpart is your first starring role in a TV series. What took so long?
I’m fortunate in my career that I’ve done a real variety of roles, and it’s great to be able to mix it up. After Oz came out [Simmons played a white supremacist inmate], my agent got tons of calls for me to play the Nazi bad guy of the week. After [playing an abusive band conductor in] Whiplash, I got offers to play the awful guy who berates everybody. I thought Counterpart was a smart and interesting character piece and spy thriller. I was on board very early on, before I even realized that I would be playing two characters.
Which of the two Howards is more like yourself in real life?
One of the things that the show examines thematically is that they’re both the real you. At first, I identified more with the kinder, gentler Howard. He’s just a lovely character. The other Howard is more of an alpha, but he isn’t necessarily a bad guy. You root for both.
Dual roles in an action thriller seems physically demanding as well?
Yeah, it’s nice to have a special reason to get to the gym. I used to carry around an extra 50 pounds. I was working on [the TV series] The Closer at the time, and I asked the writer to include an episode where my character looks in the mirror and says “Oh, I’m fat.” And then six episodes later, [someone says], “Hey, chief, looks like you’ve lost 20 pounds!” That helped get me motivated. I’m not going to let my health slide again.
How do you spend a typical Sunday?
My Sunday doesn’t start until noon because I sleep in as much as possible. That goes for my entire family because we’re all night owls. Then my wife and I will exercise together and get a nice brunchy thing. I like turkey and avocado with eggs. Then we take a nap. Depending on how busy the kids are in their social world, we’ll gather together and watch a movie in the evening. I’ve seen the fourth Harry Potter film about 19 times. It’s all pretty low-key.
Do you watch much TV?
I don’t watch much except sports. During baseball season, my go-to TV is the Detroit Tigers. I try to DVR most of the games and watch them when I’m on the exercise bike. Growing up in Detroit, my folks would take us to the old Tiger Stadium on Sunday mornings and catch a ballgame. One of the big treats of being a recognizable face now is that I get to stand on the field and talk to the team. I’ve met [Hall of Famer] Al Kaline. I used to sit in the outfield cheap seats hoping he’d give me a home run ball! That’s really cool.
Where do you keep your Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Whiplash?
It’s on a bookshelf on the second floor of the house, nestled among photos of the kids and pieces of art. It’s not exactly hidden in the closet but it’s not sitting in the front window for public display either. But honestly, some of the awards are in the closet! We don’t want to turn the house into a shrine.
Do you have an all-time favorite part?