J.K. Simmons has built one of the most impressive careers in Hollywood, with roles that show his talent in almost every genre. He’s got the uncanny ability to play humor when he needs to and be dramatically effective and he makes it all seem so seamless. Many people know him from the Spider-Man franchise, but his career goes so much further than Peter Parker’s volatile boss.
J.K. Simmons was born on Jan. 8, 1955, and his full name is Jonathan Kimble Simmons from Gross Pointe, Michigan. His mother Patricia Kimble was an administrator and his father Donald Williams Simmins was a music teacher. He went to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and the University of Montana in Missoula Montana, and earned a BA in Music. Simmons was first intent on becoming a singer, but at the University of Montana, he studied to become a performer. He’d star in Broadway shows including Peter Pan and Guys and Dolls revivals and did commercial voice-over work. In 1990, He made his primetime television debut on Law & Order as police psychiatrist Emil Skoda. and in 2002 he played J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Since then, he’s landed a plethora of other big roles and has won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Whiplash.
Without further ado, these are the best J.K. Simmons movies and TV shows.
10. La La Land
Coming off of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash Oscar success was La La Land, starring Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian. Simmons reportedly had his pick of two characters, one was Mia’s father and the other was Bill. Simmons chose Bill, Sebastian’s boss and the character who hated jazz over Mia’s father, and although he’s not onscreen for very long, his scenes are golden. In one scene, after Sebastian plays a moody song on the piano, Bill fires him, and though the delivery is harsh, his no-nonsense personality was the perfect contrast to Sebastian’s optimism.
9. The Closer
Will Pope was a stalwart professional on both the Closer and the spinoff Major Crimes and Simmons played the character expertly. Pope was the Assistant Chief and the Director, of the Office of Operations, efficiently planning field law enforcement at various levels. After Chief Delk died of a brain aneurysm, he became the Interim Chief of Police while still serving as Assistant Chief of Operations. Then, in Major Crimes, he was the official Chief of Police. Pope always tries to do what’s right, but he’s not unaware of departmental issues and tries his best to make things better, as arduous as that might be.
8. Law & Order
Simmons had a recurring role as police psychiatrist Emil Skoda Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order Criminal Intent, and he’s not your average doctor. Skoda’s methods are unusual but effective. He often insults his patients to learn if they’re truly mentally unstable or if they’re faking it. He’s also not one to hold back what he really feels and harshly calls people out when they prove to be liars. Skoda has been a major help to the New York City Police Department over the years, and there’s just no one who can play a cantankerous person like Simmons.
7. The Front Runner
The Front Runner stars Hugh Jackman as former Senator of Colorado Gary Hart who becomes the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1987. He’s on the path to success until a scandal breaks that disrupts his political aspirations and throws his life into a tailspin. Simmons plays Hart’s campaign manager Bill Dixon who tries to navigate through this crisis, and it’s a weighty responsibility. There’s a tragic aspect to the performance because these waters are dangerous and one false move and the house of cards can come tumbling down.
6. Defending Jacob
Defending Jacob starring Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery is a limited series about two parents who aren’t sure if the son they’ve raised is capable of murder. A kid has been killed at their son Jacob’s school and Jacob becomes a prime suspect. Evans’ character Andy goes down a rabbit hole and considers his son’s possible criminal behavior because his father went to prison for the murder of a 19-year-old young woman. Their scenes are rife with tension as you try to figure out who to believe. Billy is a bad guy, but his loyalty to his family adds so much complexity to the role and Simmons really shines in this one.
Invincible is one of the most successful animated series and has an amazing voice cast that brings these characters to life. The series is about teenager Mark Grayson who wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and the greatest superhero in the world Omni-Man, played by Simmons. Everything seems normal at first until the truth is peeled away and Omni-Man’s true nature is revealed. It all leads to a climactic finale that had everyone in their feelings. Simmons portrayed the unraveling of a superhero well and when it came time to deliver lines just as devastating as the final battle, it didn’t disappoint.
Juno was the quirky indie chock-full of quippy phrases starring Elliot Page as the titular character who’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Juno is a pregnant teenager and has to decide what will be best for her baby. Simmons plays Juno’s father Mac MacGuff who’s taking care of his children by himself. Mac is an endearing character who guides Juno during this difficult time as best he can. With so much turbulence happening in Juno’s life, it’s good that Mac represents some kind of firm foundation to stand on.
There are some castings that come around that seem so perfect that you can’t imagine them any other way. Simmons as the aggressive and aggravated J. Jonah Jameson is one of those castings. This role leaps off the screen to pull you into Peter Parker’s world as a photographer at the Daily Bugle, and although Jameson is quick to come down on the young man who’s doing his best at his job, it’s impossible to be mad at him. If a lesser actor attempted this high-wire act of a role, it could have all come tumbling down, but with Simmons, in control, you enjoy every second he’s on screen.
Counterpart has to be one of the most underrated sci-fi series of all time. Simmons pulls double-duty as a law-abiding and quite plain UN employee Howards who finds a gateway to a parallel dimension. This other dimension is in a cold war and the parallel version of himself is a top spy who’s a hardcore badass. It’s through each other that the two Howards can review their lives in a “road not taken” sort of way. In one life, he has an impressive career with many achievements, and in another, he found love and a family. The show is about life’s decisions while in the midst of an international spy conflict and Simmons convincingly plays both roles like a pro.
The awarded Whiplash was a resounding display of resiliency and craftsmanship in the competitive world of music. Andrew Neiman joins a demanding music conservatory and his instructor Terence Fletcher, played by Simmons, is as tough as they come. He pushes Andrew to push himself and reach soaring heights of talent, but it’s this obsession that threatens to destroy his life as he becomes consumed with being the best. Terence is both a mentor and an antagonist in this film as his methods have proven to be successful, but it’s also what’s diminishing Andrew’s spirit. The obsession for the craft is palpable and Simmons makes you believe every word he utters, making Andrew’s difficulties all the easier to understand. Simmons definitely earned his Oscar with this one.