J.K. Simmons talks Whiplash, filming in Detroit this summer, at benefit breakfast

Rhonda Walker (WDIV) interviews J.K. Simmons
I was very fortunate to attend a Q&A and "meet and greet" event with J.K. Simmons yesterday at the MotorCity Casino. He was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the Tigers game later that day, but took some time out for charity - the Neighborhood Service Organization - and to do a sit-down with WDIV's Rhonda Walker.

Ironically, J.K. was in a movie ABOUT the Tigers, called For the Love of the Game, also starring Kevin Costner. I've added that and also HBO's TV show Oz, in which he also starred, to my viewing list now after hearing him talk about both of them.

Some quotes that I found interesting:

Rhonda Walker: "It's been kind of a whirlwind for you, I'd imagine, once you played that pivotal role in Whiplash. It's probably felt a little like whiplash - going through the awards season, going on that stage time after time.

J.K. Simmons: "It's definitely been a heightened level of attention and awareness and opportunities that it brings professionally, and personally as well - the chance to be a guy to bring attention to things like the NSO. [More] work opportunities - one of the things that you mentioned that's coming up with me is working with Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who's a young guy from the Detroit area and we hope to be shooting for a few weeks this summer on that movie [Kong]. That was part of his pitch to me when we met for the first time, the beginning of the movie before we go to the mysterious island will be set in Detroit and we will shoot in Detroit for Detroit."

RW: You have been acting for a long time, between working on Broadway and starting your career in film and TV. Has there been any role that was one of your favorites to play; and/or, how does your intense character in Whiplash compare?

JKS: There's a lot of highlights, in terms of enjoying the work. Certainly Whiplash was one of them, although maybe not the nicest role I've ever played. [laughter]

It was a great piece of writing and it was one of those films where it all really came together ... so that was a real highlight. Another, one of my very first films, was For the Love of the Game, having grown up here and been a Tigers fan. To get to play the manager of the Tigers - although, I'm actually the same age as Costner, and he got to play the pitcher!

Audience Question: What was your inspiration to begin acting?

JKS: I did a couple of little parts in plays in school. I think my first part was as Tweedledum in "Alice in Foodland," a play we did in health class. Then in college I studied music - I thought I might want to be Leonard Bernstein when I grew up - and I had an opportunity to be a music director in summer theater. This was after we moved to Montana, my dad was teaching music at the University of Montana at a place called the Big Forks Summer Playhouse. They asked me to go there, and once I got there, they asked me to play the lead in the musical, and that was the beginning of falling in love with acting.

AQ: The scenes with Miles Teller in Whiplash had such a fierce intensity. When filming those scenes, with your abusive tirades, how did you and Miles diffuse that tension before and after the takes? And, was this the most uncomfortable role you've ever taken on?

JKS: Playing Vern on Oz was the most uncomfortable for a lot of reasons. Being butt-naked on HBO ... but also playing a character ... before Oz, my career had been all in the theater, almost 20 years. For my first role to be a character who was in the Aryan brotherhood in a maximum security prison, it was one who was pretty far from who I am or what I can relate to. [It was] a little hard to shake that guy off sometimes and go home to my wife, who was performing in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway ... kind of a little different from the land of Oz ... but yes, [Whiplash] was an uncomfortable character to play.

In the case of Miles and myself, we settled into a rhythm of being goofballs. Miles is much more of an "alpha male" than his character in the movie, so after a take of me berating him, he'd kind of stand up and assert himself a little bit. We really just goofed around and had a good time, he's a talented and trained young actor and a smart kid and a generous actor, a guy who really knows how to listen ... I use the metaphor of "throwing the ball back and forth."

More about the NSO:
Since 1955, Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) has been reaching out to people across metropolitan Detroit by strengthening and empowering neighborhoods, supporting families and helping people in need. Over the years, the scope and variety of services offered have grown into a network of sophisticated, vertically integrated programs that have received local, statewide and national recognition. For more information about NSO, visit www.nso-mi.org.

What's your favorite J.K. Simmons role/movie, and why? 
For me, it has to be Whiplash, but Juno is a close second. 

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