J.K. Simmons is an Oscar-winning actor known for a wide array of films and TV projects that include ‘Law & Order,’ ‘Juno,’ ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Whiplash.’
Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1955, J.K. Simmons studied voice and composition before working for years as a stage actor, eventually making his way to Broadway. He turned to TV and film as well, with a wide range of roles in projects like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Gift, Spider-Man, Juno and Up in the Air. Having already received a Golden Globe and critics’ awards, he won the first Oscar of his career for his role as harsh jazz bandleader Fletcher in the film Whiplash.
Background and Early Training
Jonathan Kimble Simmons was born on January 9, 1955 in Detroit, Michigan. His father was a music educator and conductor, and the young Simmons initially thought he might want to go in a different direction. But during his undergraduate years at the University of Montana, Simmons realized that music was indeed one of his passions, studying conducting, voice and composition. He worked in opera and operetta productions before becoming musical director at Bigfork Summer Playhouse, where he also starred in the musical Brigadoon while developing his skills as an actor.
Wide Array of Stage, TV and Film Roles
After college, Simmons moved to Seattle, doing stage work for a time before relocating to New York in 1983 and eventually making his Broadway debut in 1990’s A Change in the Heir. Other roles followed, in Peter Pan (opposite Cathy Rigby), Guys and Dolls and Laughter on the 23rd Floor. By this time Simmons had also begun to do television work in a variety of guest spots.
Although at one point he had only imagined a stage career for himself, Simmons landed a prominent role on HBO’s prison series Oz, in which he played neo-Nazi Vern Schillinger. Though he was initially concerned about being typecast by such a monstrous part, he had little to fear, as his next major TV role was the very different one of psychiatrist Dr. Emil Skoda on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
The actor had turned his sights to the big screen as well, making his film debut in the 1994 Denis Leary comedy The Ref. Over the years, Simmons would take on a wide range of roles, handling everything from on-screen acting to commercial and animation voiceover work.
Sam Raimi and Jason Reitman
Simmons’ film roles have included the caper The Mexican (2001), the sci-fi drama The Astronaut Farmer (2006) and the thriller Rendition (2007), among many others. Two directors he’s frequently collaborated with have been Sam Raimi and Jason Reitman. Simmons worked with Raimi in the baseball romantic drama For the Love of the Game (1999) and the paranormal thriller The Gift (2000), and later became part of comic-book history with his over-the-top turn as newspaper chief J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man and its two sequels.
At the close of 2014, Simmons had been featured in all six of Reitman’s feature films. His roles included his memorable turn as a dad opposite Ellen Page and Allison Janney in the winning comedy Juno (2007) as well as parts in Up in the Air (2009; with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga) and Young Adult (2011; with Charlize Theron).
Oscar Win for 'Whiplash'
2013 and 2014 saw Simmons featured in the Reitman films Labor Day and Men, Women & Children as well as the biopic Jobs, about Apple founder Steve Jobs. The latter year also saw a major milestone in Simmons’ career with his role in Whiplash, an award-winning film directed by Damien Chazelle that tells the story of a jazz drummer’s grueling time at a conservatory. Miles Teller plays the student drummer while Simmons plays Fletcher, his instructor and bandleader whose methods of instruction are seen as unrelenting and cruel. Simmons has earned an avalanche of acclaim for the performance: Having already been honored with a slew of critics’ awards, in 2015 he earned a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in the category of supporting actor, the first Oscar nomination and win of his career.
After the success of Whiplash, Simmons became even more in demand. He appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2015's Terminator Genisys. Simmons is also set to appear in such films as the 2016 drama The Accountant with Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick.
Simmons and fellow actor Michelle Schumacher married in 1996. They have two children together.