With an uncanny ability to go from understated to over-the-top, seemingly with the flip of a switch, actor J.K. Simmons became an ever-present fixture in film and on television via a tireless work ethic and nuanced performances. Although his early interest was primarily in musical composition, Simmons made a name for himself in the theater, not only as a vocalist, but as an actor of merit. After a run of shows on Broadway and in touring productions, Simmons began making small appearances in films like "The Ref" (1994) and "The Scout" (1994). The talented actor was also landing parts on various television series, most notably two recurring, diametrically-opposed characters appearing simultaneously on two different shows. On the brutal prison drama "OZ" (HBO, 1997-2003), Simmons played a white supremacist with frightening authenticity, while on "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010) he was the embodiment of empathy and rationality as state psychiatrist Dr. Emil Skoda. Steadily gaining prominence in a variety of feature film work, Simmons landed the plum role of cantankerous tabloid editor J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" (2002), earning high marks from legions of comic book fans. In addition to reprising the part for "Spider-Man" sequels, Simmons was seemingly everywhere, popping up in the features "Thank You for Smoking" (2006), "Juno" (2007) and "Burn After Reading" (2008). Transcending the category of character actor, Simmons became a welcome addition to any cast, ensuring a performance that was often affecting, frequently surprising, and always memorable. He unexpectedly made the move to mainstream star when his powerful performance in the drama "Whiplash" (2014) won him Best Supporting Actor awards at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Following that career high point, Simmons continued working steadily in films ranging from family-friendly animated hit "Zootopia" (2016) to tense Boston Marathon bombing drama "Patriots Day" (2016).
Born Jonathan Kimble Simmons on Jan. 1, 1955 in Detroit, MI to parents Donald and Patricia, "J.K." exhibited musical ability at an early age. When he enrolled at Ohio State University, it was with the intention of becoming a composer, but before long Simmons began to focus on performance, particularly in musical theater. After transferring, he earned a music degree from the University of Montana and embarked on a career in musicals that included stints at Montana's Bigfork Summer Theatre and the Seattle Repertory in Washington. After touring in the stage musical "Doonesbury" (1984), Simmons headed east in the mid-1980s and eventually made his NYC stage debut in the off-Broadway musical "Birds of Paradise" (1987). Before long, Simmons was demonstrating an acting prowess that equaled his vocal skills, allowing him to climb through the theatrical ranks rather quickly. Simmons made his Broadway debut in the forgettable "A Change in the Heir" (1990), but fared better the following year in the dual roles of Captain Hook and Mr. Darling opposite Cathy Rigby in the Broadway and touring revivals of the musical "Peter Pan" (1991). A featured role as Benny Southstreet in the acclaimed, long-running revival of "Guys and Dolls" (1992) was immediately followed by stints in Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" (1993), and a multi-character role in the parody "Das Barbecu" (1994).
Although he had landed a small role in the made-for-television movie "Popeye Doyle" (NBC, 1986), it was nearly 10 years later when Simmons began to make the transition from stage to screen in earnest. He made his feature debut with a turn in the Dennis Leary comedy "The Ref" (1994), and played an assistant coach in "The Scout" (1994), an Albert Brooks baseball comedy. It was also at this juncture that Simmons made an appearance in an episode of the long-running procedural "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010), a performance that would reap long-term returns for the actor. More guest spots on episodic television followed; one of them as a white supremacist on "Homicide: Life on the Streets" (NBC, 1992-99). Simmons' chilling portrayal as the self-righteous hate monger made an indelible impression on audiences and producers alike. Presumably, his performance was noticed by series creator Tom Fontana as well, who went on to cast Simmons as Aryan brotherhood leader Vern Schillinger on the cable series "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003). In the role of Vern, Simmons created a truly multidimensional villain. A man driven equally by hate and a desire to protect those closest to him, Simmons imbued Vern with a humanity that made even his most heinous acts plausible. Oddly enough, 1997 also marked Simmons' return to "Law & Order" and the start of his recurring role as state psychiatrist Dr. Emil Skoda. The polar opposite of Vern, Skoda was a calming influence, well-grounded and level-headed, the epitome of a healer. Simmons' ability to breathe life into both of these characters - practically simultaneously - was a true testament to the actor's talent.
Supporting roles in features, such as the Bruce Willis vehicle "The Jackal" (1997), Woody Allen's "Celebrity" (1998), and a memorable part in the acclaimed John Irving adaptation "The Cider House Rules" (1999) lent further credence to Simmons' growing reputation as a versatile, well-rounded actor. In another case of a modest performance planting the seeds for a lengthy and beneficial relationship, Simmons worked with director Sam Raimi for the first time on the Kevin Costner romantic drama "For Love of the Game" (1999). Raimi immediately cast him in his follow-up, "The Gift" (2000), a thriller in which Simmons had another small, but scene-stealing role as a small town sheriff. In "The Mexican" (2001), Simmons once again held his own alongside such megawatt stars as Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, somehow managing to make his character - Pitt's abusive boss in the mob - absolutely hilarious, and somehow, almost likable. Simmons' next role gave him full license to go completely over the top as newspaper mogul J. Jonah Jameson - the bane of Peter Parker's existence - in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" (2002). In a brilliant bit of casting, Simmons, sporting a flattop toupee and chomping a cigar, was at his abrasive best as the man out to prove that Spidey was both a fraud and a menace. With a career as a sought-after character actor shifting into overdrive, Simmons continued to keep busy with frequent television guest roles in addition to his growing body of film work. Simmons portrayed Buffalo Bill Cody in the horserace epic "Hildalgo" (2004), played a member of an inept gang of crooks in the Coen Brothers' "The Ladykillers" (2004), and reprised his role of Jameson in the equally successful sequel "Spider-Man 2" (2004).
Now a near constant presence in film and on television, Simmons had roles in director Campbell Scott's family drama "Off the Map" (2005) and Jason Reitman's satirical "Thank You for Smoking" (2006), in addition to a bevy of appearances on shows like "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06), "Numb3rs" (CBS, 2004-2010), in addition to voice work as a recurring character in the animated superhero series "Justice League Unlimited" ( Cartoon Network, 2003-06), to name a few. The busy actor also somehow found time to join the cast of Kyra Sedgwick's crime drama "The Closer" (TNT, 2005-11). Once again, Simmons reprised Jameson in "Spider-Man 3" (2007), then switched gears as a low-key, dutiful government agent in the political drama "Rendition" (2007). In the neo-noir thriller "First Snow" (2007), Simmons gave another small, but affecting performance as a soothsayer who predicts both good and bad fortune for a slick salesman (Guy Pearce). However, it was as the wonderfully pragmatic and loving father of Ellen Page in the Diablo Cody-scripted coming-of-age comedy "Juno" (2007) that the talented Simmons won over audiences that year. Simmons next reteamed with the Coen Brothers for the pitch-black comedy "Burn After Reading" (2008), starring as a hilariously exasperated CIA superior. The roles continued to roll in for Simmons in films such as the George Clooney vehicle "Up in the Air" (2009), horror comedy "Jennifer's Body" (2009), and comedies "I Love You, Man" (2009) and "Extract" (2009). Toward decades end, Simmons took on more voiceover work, including a recurring role in the animated action series "Generator Rex" (Cartoon Network, 2009-2010), and as a police dog in "Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore" (2010), as well as the voice of a prison warden unable to contain Will Ferrell's super-villain in "Megamind" (2010).
After "The Closer" came to an end in 2012, Simmons moved into sitcom work, guesting on "Parks and Recreation" (NBC 2009-15) as the mayor of Pawnee and taking a recurring role on "Men At Work" (TBS 2012-14). His first co-starring role on a situation comedy came with "Family Tools" (ABC 2013), a short-lived American adaptation of the British sitcom "White Van Man" (BBC 2011-12) about the owner of a handyman company sidelined by a heart attack (Simmons) who has to turn the business over to his hapless son (Kyle Bornheimer). This was followed by the better-received but still short-lived "Growing Up Fisher" (NBC 2014), in which he played a blind lawyer who refused to tell most people about his disability. Following those two sitcoms, Simmons returned to the big screen with a powerful performance in the drama "Whiplash" (2014), in which he played the unforgiving instructor of a gifted young drumming prodigy. His critically-acclaimed role in the film won him Best Supporting Actor at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards in early 2015.
Maintaining the work ethic of a character actor even after his Oscar win, Simmons continued working steadily, appearing in science-fiction action reboot "Terminator Genisys" (2015), indie comedy-drama "The Meddler" (2015) and philosophical Greek drama "Worlds Apart" (2015). His burgeoning sideline in voice roles included parts in animated hits "Kung Fu Panda 3" (2016) and "Zootopia" (2016), as well as the English-language dub of French animated feature "April and the Extraordinary World" (2015). Simmons also co-starred in "Whiplash" director Damien Chazelle's follow-up, romantic comedy-drama "La La Land" (2016), the Ben Affleck-starring thriller "The Accountant" (2016) and Peter Berg's story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, "Patriots Day" (2016).
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Appeared with Bigfork Summer Theatre in Bigfork, MT
Toured in musical "Doonesbury," playing roles of B.D. and Roland
Made TV debut in movie pilot "Popeye Doyle"
Made NYC stage debut in off-Broadway musical "Birds of Paradise"
Made Broadway debut in "A Change in the Heir"
Played Captain Hook in Broadway and touring revival of "Peter Pan"
Had featured role as Benny Southstreet in revival of "Guys and Dolls"; periodically reprised role through 1995
Featured in PBS documentary "Guys and Dolls Off the Record," about the recording of cast album of Broadway revival
Co-starred in Neil Simon's play "Laughter on the 23rd Floor"
First appearance on NBC's "Law & Order," playing a cameraman who catches crimes committed on tape
Played an assistant coach in baseball-themed comedy "The Scout"
Made feature film debut in comedy "The Ref"
Gave memorable performance as a white supremacist on an episode of NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street"
Lent voice to animated feature "Anastasia"
Played recurring role on NBC's "Law & Order" as police psychiatrist Dr. Emil Skoda
Joined cast of gritty HBO prison drama "Oz" as Schillinger, the calm but brutal leader of local Aryan brotherhood
Landed small role in Woody Allen's "Celebrity"
Played the team manager in baseball feature "For Love of the Game"; first collaboration with director Sam Raimi
Had small role as a top-notch surgeon in romantic melodrama "Autumn in New York"
Re-teamed with director Sam Raimi to play the skeptical town sheriff in "The Gift"
Portrayed Dr. Skoda on episodes of spin-off series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
Played a sleazy Hollywood type in comedy "Hit and Runaway"
Played the mentor and confidant of Brad Pitt's bumbling con artist in "The Mexican"
Re-teamed with Raimi to play J. Jonah Jameson in live-action adaptation of "Spider-Man"
Reprised role as Peter Parker's editor-in-chief for Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2"
Co-starred in the Coen brothers' film "The Ladykillers"
Cast as Kyra Sedgwick's superior officer Assistant Chief Will Pope on TNT's "The Closer"
Appeared in Los Angeles-set crime film "Harsh Times," written and directed by David Ayer
Cast as Aaron Eckhart's boss in Jason Reitman's satirical comedy "Thank You for Smoking"
Appeared in acclaimed HBO film "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"
Once again played Parker's editor J. Jonah Jameson in "Spider-Man 3"
Played title character's father in Jason Reitman's "Juno," scripted by Diablo Cody
Played a CIA Superior in the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading"
Featured in dark comedy "Jennifer's Body," written by Diablo Cody
Co-starred opposite Jason Bateman in Mike Judge's "Extract"
Landed supporting role in Jason Reitman directed "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney
Lent voice to character of Warden in animated feature "Megamind"
Acted opposite Charlize Theron in "Young Adult," written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman
Acted in crime drama in "Contraband" opposite Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale
Cast alongside Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana in romantic drama "The Words"
Co-starred with Keri Russell in sci-fi thriller "Dark Skies"
Played a ruthless music instructor in the Academy Award nominated "Whiplash"
Joined the cast of "Gravity Falls"
Won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in "Whiplash"
Voiced the role of Kai in "Kung Fu Panda 3"
Re-teamed with "Whiplash" director Damien Chazelle in "La La Land"
Appeared alongside Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick in the crime drama "The Accountant"
Appeared in Tomas Alfredson's abysmal crime drama "The Snowman"
Played commissioner Gordon in Warner's "Justice League"
Appeared in testosterone-heavy ensemble comedy "Father Figures"
Co-starred with Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan in historical drama "Patriots Day"
Led the cast of "I'm Not Here'
Began starring on sci-fi drama "Counterpart"
Played a supporting role in Jason Reitman's historical biodrama "The Front Runner"