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In his new film The Bachelors, Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons plays a newly widowed father grappling with depression — a role he says his life experience prepared him for.
In the film, his character picks up and moves to Los Angeles with his teenage son (played by Josh Wiggins) for a private-school teaching job after the early death of his wife. Their lives begin to transform due to two unique women (portrayed by Academy Award nominee Julie Delpy and Odeya Rush) who help them embrace life and love again.
Simmons tells The Hollywood Reporter his approach to the character was twofold: trust his director and trust himself. “I knew that Kurt [Voelker, the writer-director] had done specific research in terms of ECT [electroconvulsive therapy, which is used as part of his character’s treatment for depression] and the technical details of how things may or may not be treated and how they’re portrayed,” he says.
The actor also credits his “life experiences with grief and depression” and the experiences of people close to him who have also dealt with those issues with preparing him for the role. “As far as playing the reality of it, I felt like I had enough life experience to inform what I was doing,” he says.
For Simmons, who won his Oscar for best supporting actor for Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash in 2015, roles seem to be somewhat more plentiful post-Academy Award (he can next be seen in The Snowman and Justice League), but he says he’s always been a bit choosy. “I’ve always been pretty selective about what I decide to do — not that I’ve always made the right choices,” he says, adding, “but I think it might be more a product of I’ve been in the business a long time, and it’s hard to find something that doesn’t feel like I’m repeating myself.”
With The Bachelors, Simmons says he was drawn to several aspects of the script. “It’s a really intelligent examination of this guy and his battle with grief and depression, but it’s also really well-written from the teenage perspective and the angst and the irreverence of being a teenager,” he explains. “There’s much that’s very funny and even heartwarming about it. It’s one of those films that when I read it, it’s hard to stick in a specific genre, and I generally find that to be a good thing because that means it has levels, it has layers.”
Another central aspect of the movie, and something that greatly informs Simmons’ character’s grief, is the close and loving relationship between him and his wife, played by Kimberly Crandall and seen in flashbacks. Simmons, who has been married to actress Michelle Schumacher since 1996, says, surprisingly, his advice for a successful marriage and a successful acting career are the same, and it can be summed up with one word: “Listen. It’s a really underrated and underutilized skill, both in acting and in life in general. I think most of us think we’re listening when maybe we’re not truly listening to our scene partner or our life partner and really trying to understand a different perspective,” he explains.
Of the film, which he calls a dramedy “with some deep, dark issues, but it’s not a depressing film,” Simmons says he hopes it ultimately sparks some discussion. “I hope audiences walk away feeling that they’ve been entertained and amused and maybe enlightened a little bit and maybe even with a discussion about whether the path that Bill, my character, found himself directed toward was the right direction or whether he should have done something else,” he says. “I hope that there’s at least a little bit of a kind of debate going.”
The Bachelors opens in theaters Friday.
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