He said in the beginning, "I was a god-awful actor. When I walked on the stage for the first rehearsal, it was just like, 'I am acting now!' You know? And I wish that were an exaggeration. It's really not!"
He kept at it, and in the 1980s he was one more struggling actor trying to make it in New York City.
"I got very intimately acquainted with cockroaches and things of that nature as I camped in a variety of hell holes," he said.
His big break came in 1992. The Broadway revival of "Guys and Dolls" was one of the biggest shows in town, and every actor wanted in.
He was cast as Benny Southstreet, "which is obviously a very supporting character, but gets to sing three of the great songs and have a good time," he said.
Simmons also had a good time playing Captain Hook in "Peter Pan."
"And two months, three months after I joined, this little cutie joined playing Tiger Lily," Simmons said.
That "little cutie," Michelle Schumacher, came to "Peter Pan" after a long run in "Cats."
They married in 1996, and now have a son and a daughter.
Blackstone asked, "Is there any of J.K. in 'Whiplash'?"
"Certainly the discipline," said Michelle. "I mean, he's a good guy. It shows what a great actor he is -- not to pump your ego up any more!"
"Keep goin'. This is gold!" said J.K.
It was during his time on "Law & Order" (where he was referred to as "One-Take Jake") that Hollywood directors began to take notice, because while he was playing a gentle psychiatrist, he was at the very same time portraying a violent neo-Nazi in the HBO series, "Oz."
It was, he said, "the beginning of people perceiving me as a versatile actor on camera."
He caught the eye of director Sam Raimi, who let him show off his comedic talents as the tough-talking editor in the blockbuster "Spider-Man." Simmons was establishing himself as a dependable character actor. The roles came pouring in after that.
Blackstone asked, "What is this term, 'character actor'?"
"I think it just means you're not that good looking," Simmons laughed. "You're not Clooney or Pitt.
"I think it gives you credit for having some versatility and some range, and are able to play a variety of characters."
Characters like a tobacco lobbyist in "Thank You for Smoking," which started a long relationship with writer director Jason Reitman. Simmons has been in every one of Reitman's films.
"You're his muse?" Blackstone asked.
"He has referred to me as such, yes," Simmons replied.
Reitman explained, "He is a lucky charm. I can't imagine making a movie without him."
Simmons was the understanding father in Reitm
an's "Juno," and a guy getting laid off in "Up In the Air."
"What makes J.K. unique is that he can be the third or fourth guy in the room and do that real workman's job, but at the same time, given the opportunity, he can carry a scene," said Reitman. "And in 'Whiplash,' he carries the movie."
Michelle Schumacher said, "I joke he's a 37-year overnight success story. I mean, he's been a working actor almost his whole life."
Now 60, Simmons is enjoying what his family calls the "whiplash effect."
And in a couple of weeks it may be: J.K. Simmons, Oscar-winner for Best Supporting Actor.
For more info:
- "Whiplash" (Sony Pictures Classics)