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A FAMILIAR FACE WITH NEWFOUND FAME.

Byline: GREG HERNANDEZ

J.K. Simmons isn't a household name, but you could say he's something of a household face. Everybody recognizes him from something.

Maybe it's the egotistical newspaper editor in the "Spider-Man" movies, or the assistant police chief on TNT's "The Closer" or the sadistic prison inmate on HBO's "OZ." He is currently riding high with the success of the heartwarming comedy "Juno" in which he plays the wisecracking but ultimately supportive father of a pregnant teenage girl.

After years of steady work, J.K. finds himself juggling a hit show and hit movies and thinks it's all happening at the perfect time.

"You know, if I had any kind of success in my 20s I'm sure I'd be in rehab or dead by now -- certainly divorced and a deadbeat dad," he said when we spoke recently.

"So the way it's worked out has really been ideal for me. At age 52 1/2, I think I'm old enough to handle it now."

While the "Spider-Man" movies are always expected to be mega international successes, "Juno" is a surprise box office hit that should be on its way to the $100 million mark in domestic box office grosses. J.K. said he's really not that surprised.

"I knew based on (director) Jason (Reitman's) success with his first film that it would get a reasonable amount of attention and the more we worked on it, the more I thought this was going to be a really special movie," he said. "I'm just really pleased that a lot of people are seeing it."

A lot of people see "The Closer" each week with the police drama consistently the highest-rated show on basic cable the past three seasons. J.K.'s character is the superior of star Kyra Sedgwick's Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson with whom he once was involved romantically.

"She's a doll," he said of Sedgwick, with whom he is eager to get back to work, post-writer's strike.

"We'll be back doing some more before long -- knock wood. It's been a great, great ride and hopefully we'll get all the writers' issues resolved and we'll get back to work."

Most actors would have had a harder time shaking off the lasting image of prison inmate Vernon Schillinger, who J.K. played on "Oz." The actor was aware of this even before he joined the series.

"I almost talked my way out of that job when they were offering it to me and I had no reason to do that because I had done nothing on television or film," he recalled.

"But I had a sort of premonition that it could become iconic and sort of define my career, so every bad guy Nazi I was offered after that I just said, 'No, no, no.' And then I got lucky and got some offers to do some different kinds of things."

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Photo:

(color) Allison Janney, left, Ellen Page and J.K. Simmons starred in "Juno," winner of the Best Comedy Movie award at the 13th annual Critics' Choice Awards at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Jan. 7.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 14, 2008
Words:525
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