Senior Planet Talks to J.K. Simmons
One of the most prolific actors of his generation, J.K. Simmons, 67, is celebrated for his award-winning roles in Whiplash, Being the Ricardos, Juno and La La Land and has been the voice of the yellow M & M since 1996. He’s married to director/writer Michelle Schumacher, with whom he shares two adult children, Olivia and Joe.
Q: Your new series, Night Sky, sees you and Sissy Spacek as a married couple who, years ago, discovered a chamber buried in their backyard which explicably leads to a strange deserted planet. Would you personally like to go to space?
JK: If Bezos or one of those guys came and said, ‘Hey, you want to go?’ I would be interested, for sure.
Q: Do you believe in extra terrestrials?
JK: Yeah, I do. As I’ve gone back and forth wondering about that over the years, I think it’s kind of arrogant to imagine that we’re really alone. There’s a vast universe, so I hope there’s other life out there and, in the meantime, it’s a really fun, fictional topic to explore.
Want a peek? Here’s the trailer for Night Sky:
Q: You studied music at college and your dad was a music teacher. What instrument do you play at home?
JK: I do not have an instrument that I can say I am truly accomplished on. After saying, ‘Oh, I can’t follow in my father’s footsteps’, and then deciding, ‘Well, maybe I can because I do love music’, I did some rock and roll and then studied classical music and I was a singer and a conductor and a composer and took classes at the University of Montana. I basically got to the point where I could play Twinkle Twinkle on every instrument in the orchestra – and never progressed very far beyond that. My hands don’t connect to my brain and my musical heart very well. So the few times that I’ve been seen on screen playing piano like in Whiplash or Goliath, it’s actually me playing but I’ve had to do an insane amount of rehearsal to play some relatively simple piano.
Q: What prompted you to get into shape 13 years ago?
JK: My weight had gone up and down my whole life – being more fit and less fit; getting lazy and getting more motivated. And 13 years ago I did a romantic comedy called New in Town with Renee Zellweger where the director wanted me to put on weight and just be a fat piece of goo. I was already overweight, so initially I resisted but ultimately I just really went for it. I was 250 pounds of zero muscle and was uncomfortable. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy eating nothing but cheeseburgers and chocolate chip cookies and absolutely everything that I felt like stuffing into my face.
Q: Which diet eventually worked for you?
JK: After trying a variety of bad unhealthy ways to lose weight, and drastic and ultimately unsuccessful fasts, I did something novel – I listened to my wife who said maybe moderation is the key and maybe you eat less and move more and be smart and so I started working with a trainer.
And during the year that I turned 54 I lost 54 pounds in a very healthy way – I lost a pound a week by working hard and eating well. I really learned to enjoy it. I’ve gone a little up and down since then and gotten emaciated a couple of times for characters that needed to be unhealthy looking like for my wife’s film, I’m Not Here, six years ago and again for TV series Counterpart.
Q: Do you have any surprising hobbies?
JK: I wish I could come up with something brilliant and bizarre but no, I’m quite a boring person outside of work. I like to spend time with my wife and kids. In my downtime, I treasure getting together with extended family or old friends and just hanging out and watching the sunset or whatever it may be – or whatever activity that the kids are into, I’ll try get into it too. But both our kids are off in college now so we miss them.
Q: How has the empty nest hit you?
JK: There are people who were like, ‘Oh my god, this is awesome’. But my wife and I were the opposite. Once they both ended up going to college in New York, my wife was like, ‘Well, we are getting a place in New York and we’re gonna go stalk our children!’ And so we have a great setup there where they each have their own crappy little college kid starter apartments, and we have a really nice mom and dad apartment that’s only five blocks away, so they come and bring their friends and it’s a pretty great setup. You’ve just got to ask for their forgiveness – not permission.
Q: What’s your most memorable role?
JK: There are so many, but having worked with Aaron Sorkin again recently on Being the Ricardos brought back memories of the brief opportunity I had as an understudy in the original Broadway production of A Few Good Men – Aaron’s brilliant first play. I got to play Colonel Jessep with a wonderful cast including Bradley Whitford and all the other wonderful actors. It remains to this day, certainly a highlight and maybe my most memorable experience as an actor.
Q: In Night Sky you portray Franklin York, a man who is still deeply in love with his wife (Spacek) after a long marriage. Are you romantic in your own life?
JK: The grand romantic gesture was, I think, a notable absence from my own character for a lot of my life although fortunately I have a wonderful and very patient wife. So I have become more outwardly romantic in just doing little things to remind her that she is the center of my world and I do value and treasure her
Q: What’s your secret to aging with attitude?
JK: For the last 12 years, I’ve tried to keep fit and keep my energy up after, frankly, letting myself go physically for a while. Being physically active has become something that now I really enjoy and I miss it if I have a day where I don’t have an opportunity to get some exercise, be it in the gym or baseball or a bike ride, whatever it might be.
To me, that is a big part of what keeps me healthy and involved. Its also important to continue to be invested in life; your family, your kids, your friends, your spouse – and the world around us.
J.K. Simmons stars in Amazon Prime Video’s 8-part drama series, Night Sky, which begins streaming on May 20.
Photo: courtesy Amazon Prime Video
Gill Pringle began her career as a rock columnist for popular British newspapers, traveling the world with Madonna, U2 and Michael Jackson. Moving to Los Angeles 27 years ago, she interviews film and TV personalities for prestigious UK outlets, The Independent, The i-paper and The Sunday Times – and, of course, Senior Planet. A member of Critics Choice Association, BAFTA and AWFJ, she wrote the screenplay for 2016 Netflix family film, The 3 Tails Movie: A Mermaid Adventure. An award-winning writer, in 2021 she was honored by the Los Angeles Press Club with 1st prize at the NAEJ Awards.