J.K. Simmons: "I Was on 'Oz,' So Clearly I Have No Boundaries" | Drama Actor Roundtable

Simmons joined the Drama Actor Roundtable to discuss his current role on Starz's 'Counterpart,' his past work on HBO's 'Oz' and how he learned to say no.

When J.K. Simmons first got the script for Counterpart he didn't know he would be playing two characters, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "I don't want to know anything else before I read the script."

"I read the first 20 pages, and I'm falling in love with the way Justin [Marks] is telling the story of this sad-sack, lowly cog, in this Fritz Lang, awful dystopia. Then I get to page 20 and I had this moment that I wish audiences could have," where he realized that there were two different parts. "Of course [audiences] don't [have that same opportunity] because you have to market the show."

"I thought it was this domestic drama, now it's become this spy thing, and a sci-fi aspect of an alternate universe, or a parrallel-ish universe," Simmons told the Drama Actor Roundtable of the Counterpart script. "I went back and immediately read the whole thing again from beginning to end, from the point of view of the other version of Howard, the character. That dichotomy was doubly interesting."

Simmons enjoyed the world so much saying, "I would have signed up just to play that sad sack. It would have been a lot less work."

THR asked the roundtable where they draw the line as actors, and if there is anything that they will not do onscreen, to which Simmons replied,  "I was on Oz, so clearly I have no boundaries, whatsoever."

"God bless Tom Fontana," he continued, noting the show's creator. "The thing that he always bragged on about that show was that his actors were courageous. We were just a bunch of young, dumb guys. I was one of the oldest. Most of us had a theater background and here we were on HBO trying to pretend to be tough guys, everybody except Chuck Zito, who was the only actual tough guy. As directed, we just went where [Fontana] pointed us."

There was one instance when Fontana called Simmons before shooting to ask if he was OK with an episode. "There was one time in 56 episodes where Tom actually called me ahead of time to say, 'I want to know if you're OK with it.' And this was in like season four."

"I'm like, 'OK ... well, you've had me rape men, you've had me murder men, you've had me tattoo men, you've had me cruicify men, you've had somebody poop on my face,' and I said, 'What the hell do you want me to do?'"

"And he said, 'I want to do a musical episode.'"

Simmons, who earned both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his supporting role in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, also says he never used to turn down roles, telling THR, "I got an offer to do a show that I was not interested in doing, and it was the only offer I had."

"I was talking to my agent about it, sitting there across the desk from him in the office, like in the olden days, and he said, 'Well, what else are you going to do? It may not be your favorite role, but go. It's a job. Go.'"

"I went and I was miserable for eight weeks in Cleveland, if that's not redundant. I would have been happier waiting tables at Joe Allen and waiting for something better to come along. That was when I started realizing I can say no, because whether it serves my career or not, it's going to serve my happiness."

Counterpart, starring J.K. Simmons, debuted in December of 2017 on Starz. The full Emmy Roundtables air every Sunday on SundanceTV beginning June 24 and on THR.com the following Monday. The full Drama Actor Roundtable starring Matthew Rhys, J.K. Simmons, Darren Criss, Michael B. Jordan, Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman airs Sunday, July 8 on Sundance TV. Tune in to THR.com/roundtables for more roundtables featuring talent from the year’s top shows.