Most fledgling actors dream of seeking fame and fortune in New York or Los Angeles. That wasn't the case with versatile character actor J.K. Simmons, currently in "Spider-Man 2" as the gruff, fast-talking newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.
"The possibility of going to New York or Los Angeles didn't occur to me," says the 49-year-old father of two. So after graduating from the University of Montana, he decided to test the theatrical waters in Seattle.
"I went there as the big singer, leading man, musical theater guy, and my first job was as a mute character, which was great because then I was perceived more as an actor than a singer. I was in Seattle for five years before I moved to New York."
"Spider-Man 2" marks the fourth time Simmons has worked with director Sam Raimi -- they previously collaborated on "For Love of the Game," "The Gift" and the first "Spider-Man."
"I have had a mustache in all four and smoked a cigar in all four," Simmons says. "I truly think the reason I worked for him the first time in 'For Love of the Game' is that we are both big Detroit Tigers fans because we were both born there. I came into that audition wearing my Tigers shirt and my Tiger hat, just wanting to be part of the movie. He ended up hiring me for a much bigger part!"
Though recognized on the street for his flashy role as Jameson or as Dr. Emil Skoda on all three "Law & Order" series, it's his chilling performance as the vicious white supremacist Vernon Schillinger on HBO's prison drama "Oz" that is seared into the public's consciousness.
Simmons finds it "highly amusing" that fans of the gritty series are often afraid to approach him. "My parents are in town visiting right now, and they are surprised it continues two years after we stopped making new episodes of 'Oz.' "
Besides acting in front of the camera, Simmons also does commercial voice-over work -- "you don't have to shave or look like anything" -- most notably as the sweet yellow M&M in the popular candy commercials. Simmons jokes that he originally thought he was better suited to be the outgoing red M&M.
"I had this hilarious dispute with the casting director," Simmons says. "You know how actors are!"