JK Simmons has been on quite the roll, earning an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Being the Ricardos, reprising his iconic portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and playing a major part in one of the great new animated series of late in Invincible. It is fair to say that whatever the man has touched in the last year has turned to gold, going back and forth between thoughtful blockbusters with vastly successful awards contenders.
Aaron Sorkin’s 3x Oscar nominee Being the Ricardos sees Simmons as William Frawley, the famed actor who played a key role on the timeless sitcom I Love Lucy, both in front and behind the camera. Reuniting with Sorkin after 31 years, having worked together early on in both their careers, Simmons’ turn as the 60s star has now earned him his second Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category, following his incomparable performance in 2014’s Whiplash. We were fortunate enough to sit down with JK Simmons to discuss what it was like working back with filmmaker Aaron Sorkin in Being the Ricardos all these decades later and what to expect from some of his anticipated upcoming projects, from playing Commissioner Gordon once more in DC’s Batgirl to Invincible season 2.
To star off, how does it feel to be nominated for an Oscar for Being the Ricardos?
JK Simmons: It’s brilliant. It was a bit of a surprise to me, the nominations and my category have been really spread out this year. The Globes are different from the Critics Choice and different from the SAG and the BAFTAs. I was very happy and pleased to get the call. I was actually in Glasgow, so they didn’t even wake me up at 5 AM to tell me. It was the middle of the afternoon when I got the word!
You’ve said before that you were the only member of the cast who had a real awareness of I Love Lucy prior to filming, and had watched it when you were younger. How did that influence your performance and sort of aid the performance of others on set, perhaps?
JK Simmons: Well, that was really more me joking about being the old guy, and being the only one who was actually alive when they were making the show. I think Nina [Arianda] and Nicole [Kidman], and a lot of the other cast members, Tony [Hale] and Alia [Shawkat], especially those of us who grew up in the U.S. had watched it a lot. Javier [Bardem] maybe was one of the few who hadn’t, you know, growing up in Spain he hadn’t seen it at all. But he was also the one who was the most eager from the very beginning, once he learned about who Desi Arnaz was, and what a remarkable figure he was, he was gung-ho and was campaigning to get the part. Although I’m sure he didn’t need to campaign.
The rest of us were feeling more trepidation about the onus of playing these iconic characters. So yeah, I made jokes about “well, I’m the only one that actually knows what life on the planet was like in the 1950s.” But by the time we got to do the read through, Nicole and Nina, in particular, had been researching for months, they knew a lot more than I did.
You’ve also said that you were initially trepidatious to take on this iconic Hollywood figure. So what was it that finally swayed your mind in deciding to play William Frawley?
JK Simmons: It was Aaron [Sorkin], both personally and his genius script that convinced me. The idea of traditional biopics, in general, doesn’t appeal to me really as an actor or as an audience member. But I knew that Aaron’s would not be a typical biopic. Then, I saw the script and saw not just how brilliant it was but how… I think people praise Aaron’s intellect all the time. What I think deserves equal attention though is his heart, the heart of his writing, and the heart of the characters that he writes.
Certainly, for me, that’s a big part of what convinced me to do it and help me get over my trepidation about playing a very famous guy. I mean, it’s me playing a 60-something bald, white guy, character actor who’s kind of over things and crabby and, honestly, it wasn’t that big a stretch at the end of the day.
You just half-answered my next question, but I’m still curious to get your thoughts on the fact that this role was your first time working with Aaron Sorkin since being an understudy on the Broadway version of A Few Good Men. How was it to once again be working with his very unique style of writing and dialogue?
JK Simmons: It was a gift and we have talked before, during, and after the experience, as we cross paths now talking about [Being the Ricardos], about wanting to work together again, and I hope this is the first of many films that I get to do with him.
A Few Good Men was my first Broadway play and I joined the company during the run when it was already a successful Broadway hit, as you said, as an understudy. I had an opportunity to go on for both of the parts I was understudying, including the Colonel which is, you know, the great Jack Nicholson role in the film, and to this day it is arguably the best experience I have had as an actor on the planet. Just absolutely brilliant, and now I am doing something obviously very different with him.
What are we, 31 years later? Yeah, 1990 was A Few Good Men. Yes, I don’t intend to wait 31 more years to work with Aaron because I might be retired by then.
Moving slightly away and going from one return to another. What was it like when you got the call that DC wanted you to return as Commissioner Gordon for the upcoming Batgirl film?
JK Simmons: Well, that was quite a surprise. And I’m still not sure I understand all the various multiverse aspects of, you know, DC or Marvel…
I don’t think anyone does, really!
J.K. Simmons: Yeah, well good. I’m glad to hear somebody in the media admit that! But yeah, I was completely surprised and very happy obviously. I had a lengthy phone call sort of having the story laid out for me before I even saw a script, and it was actually way back in the middle of the summer I think that they first came to me and approached me about doing it. I just finished my part, they have several more weeks of shooting to do.
It’s much more than I got to do in my brief stint as Commissioner Gordon in Zack Snyder’s film. And really, it was fun because it was a completely different side of Commissioner Gordon. All that we saw in the little snippets of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, in either the original or in Zack’s brilliant, expanded cut, it was just Commissioner Gordon being business-like and needing Batman’s help. In this film, I think I’m allowed to say since it does center on Batgirl, we see much more of Commissioner Gordon at home.
How’s it been working with Batgirl directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah?
JK Simmons: Dude, those guys are crazy! I don’t know how they do it, and they had been shooting for four weeks or so by the time I joined. I met them via Zoom, and I was under the L track outside of my boxing gym in Chicago when we first spoke. They just bring such an energy. I’ve already compared them to a couple of like two-year-old Weimaraners, who have been pent up in the back of a station wagon all day and somebody just let them loose. The energy and the passion that they bring for making movies was a really fun energy to be around and then the fact that they also really know what they’re doing is is a nice part of the overall experience.
Going from one upcoming superhero project to another, have you had any word on the timescale or timeframe for season two of Invincible? Or has it all just been in the dark so far?
JK Simmons: Again, always wary of spoilers, but I think I’m allowed to say that we’re going back to work very soon in the recording booth. Now, the lag between us doing our first recordings and the animation being completed is obviously many months and probably more than a year, I would guess. But, yes, Invincible is getting to work in earnest and season two is imminent, I will say. There’s a nice vague term.
Finally, how did you feel about the reaction to Invincible? With the success of that and obviously, the success of Being the Ricardos and No Way Home, it’s been a very good past year for the projects you’ve been involved in.
JK Simmons: Honestly, because I didn’t know the source material before it was sent to me when I signed on to do Invincible, I was surprised at the impact that it had. It was like most animated things, in that there’s extra freedom there to explore and feel free to take really bold risks. To take the director’s vision and go really far with it in any direction because you know, ultimately, they’re going to make the choices. It was really fun, and I had some really wonderful actors to work with in Steven [Yeun] and Sandra [Oh], and a great cast as a lot of animated projects are getting these days. So I’m looking forward to getting back to work on them.