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"The main goal is to make the British look really bad": JK Simmons on tipping, Christmas cheer & Oscars

The 'Whiplash' star has a festive chat with us

"The main goal is to make the British look really bad": JK Simmons on tipping, Christmas cheer & Oscars

Hi JK. You play two versions of yourself in Counterpart. How was it, working with JK Simmons?

He’s brilliant. My favourite actor to work with. I was actually drawn to the character before I knew there were two versions of him, and that added challenge has been really interesting and fun.

How does it work? Do you talk to nobody?

There were experiments with different ways of doing it – talking to the invisible man or a tennis ball on a grip stand, and that was kind of like doing a greenscreen superhero movie, which is an annoying process. But now I play the scenes with a stand-in, who does as much work as I do for no glory. It’s like playing any other ordinary scene, except I have to learn more dialogue.

You were in your forties when you became successful. How would things have gone if you’d made it younger?

I probably would have done a James Dean – I was shockingly immature in my twenties and thirties. I never had any kind of plan, but it’s really worked out brilliantly. When I was young I was happily employed more often than not, waiting tables and bartending then going off to do Shakespeare in Pittsburgh or a musical in Buffalo. It was a really good continued education, so by the time I was in front of the camera I knew what I was doing.

Were you a good waiter?

I was not. I was reasonably personable and charming but not particularly organised. I mostly worked at places where you pooled tips, and I’m not sure I was carrying my weight. One of the places I always make a point of visiting when I’m in NY is the site of my last waiting job, Joe Allen restaurant in the theatre district. 

Are you always extra nice to waiters, then?

My wife and I met as theatre actors and we both spent a lot of time waiting tables, so both of us are extravagant tippers, especially in Europe. We tip as though we’re in the States, so European waiters are big fans of ours. The main goal is to make the British look really bad.

You were born in 1955. This year has been quite a panicked, scary one, but how does this era compare with times you’ve lived through?

Living through the hardcore Cold War, the divisiveness of the Vietnam era and explosiveness of the civil-rights movement in the Sixties gives me a perspective that makes me a little less prone to running around screaming that the sky is falling. Not to minimise any of the dreadful things that are happening in the world, but I’m of the somewhat optimistic and hopeful opinion that this too shall pass.

Simmons as the terrifying Terence Fletcher in 2014’s Whiplash

Where do you keep your Oscar?

For a long time during that awards season, someone seemed to be handing me a trophy every week, and they all ended up on the mini-fridge in our bathroom after we came home and collapsed. Eventually we thought we should find a spot more befitting to them. The Oscar is now on a bookshelf surrounded by pictures of friends and family.

Hang on, you have a fridge in your bathroom?

A mini-fridge! It’s only mini. We have a very large bathroom. It has two sinks and space for a mini-fridge.

This might sound stupid, but what do you keep in a bathroom fridge?

Water, ice, soda and occasionally leftovers. We got in the habit over the years of having picnics in the bedroom with the kids, eating and watching SpongeBob Squarepants or whatever.

A few years ago, a picture of you looking extremely ripped basically broke the internet. What happened there?

It was mostly just a really good picture, taken by a pal after I’d spent an hour on the Arnold Schwarzenegger Arm Blaster, pumping blood into my muscles. I’d lost a bunch of weight for a film so I was really lean but trying to beef up again – people assumed it was for a Batman movie or something, but really it was my own ageing male ego wanting to stave off old age and maintain some virility. And I had a long beard at the time, so my friend’s kid dubbed me ‘Shredded Santa’.

As Shredded Santa, do you have any tips for ShortList readers on having the best Christmas they possibly can?

This isn’t anything Earth-shattering or new, but it really is better to give than to receive, and the most joyous time of the season is the effort, thought and preparation that goes into what you’re going to give people.

Counterpart is available Sundays on STARZPLAY on Amazon Prime channels

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