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NYFF: J.K. Simmons Holds Court, Boosts Supporting Actor Bid

"I guess I was a professional musician. I got paid tens of dollars," J.K. Simmons shrugged, getting the first of many big laughs at the press conference for Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. He was being grilled about his music background (he studied classical music in college) and what he brought to his big big role in this crowdpleasing drama. Whiplash is about the sweaty bloody foul-mouthed, humiliating and combative relationship of Andrew, a talented drummer (Miles Teller) and his sadistic mentor, Professor Fletcher (Simmons).

The movie is muscularly directed by Chazelle, like he's got as much to prove as Andrew (he'll direct another music related film next) and edited for maximum razzle-dazzle as if syncopated to the double time jazz rhythm -- or any other rhythm, really, that Fletcher demands during grueling rehearsals. Often stopping the action to scream "Not my tempo!" 

Whiplash than sometimes gives off the illusion that it's directed from within, as if the film is continually queued by, responding to, or enraged at Fletcher's barked orders, precise time signature hand movements, and threatening in-your-face closeups. The illusion than is that Professor Fletcher is demanding the movie conform to him, rather than the movie inviting him to be its antagonist.  

At the press conference the 59 year old actor was also the star of the show. In this case he had no competition for the spotlight. Miles Teller wasn't there and the film's young director was stuck in traffic allowing J.K. the bulk of the press conference to himself. Though his face is familiar from a long career of well received supporting roles he doesn't usually get this much of the screen (or stage as it were) all to himself. He took the opportunity to keep the press laughing, faux-mock his young co-star for being too busy "working" to be there with him, and for not making the short with him which was used to raise interest and funding for the movie (the short, which was a huge hit at Sundance in 2013, co-starred Johnny Simmons, no relation, who J.K. complimented adding that his take on the Andrew character was much different than Teller's work). J.K. reserved most of the good-natured teasing for his director who he continually referred to as an "adolescent" or "child". When the 29 year old director arrived toward the end of the event, and the questions began to flow his way, Simmons burst out laughing when a reporter began his question with the formal "Mister Chazelle..." 

A true scene stealer, that J.K. Simmons.

J.K., Damien, and Miles on set

It was deeply moving for me to work with musicians of that calibre and relive that part of my youth after having taken so many left turns in my career. It was really fun to work with musicians every day at work and/or scream at people which are two of my favorite things."

But for all his joking he managed to slip in thoughtful responses to questions, emotional hooks, and admitting that he wasn't sure how to unpack some of the provocative questions the movie raises about teaching and pushing people to greatness. This juggling act should serve him well in the quest for Oscar gold. The crowd was stunned to hear that they shot this tense intimate movie in just 19 days, a tiny blip in the amount of time they've spent promoting it since. As you'll recall the film premiered to rapturous response at Sundance 2014 and finally hits theaters in select cities on October 10th. Count on J.K. Simmons to spend the first two months of 2015 on red carpets and with cameras trained tightly to his face on Oscar night.

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Reader Comments (16)

So... Lock? Sure thing? Threat to win? Tell us more Nathaniel :)

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay

I saw Whiplash last night and if JK doesn't win Best Supporting Actor for this (a slight case of category fraud), Sony Pictures Classics needs to go back to school. They've nabbed Oscars in the past with lesser potential, both in terms of quality and awards "narrative." Then again, SPC also has Foxcatcher, Love Is Strange, Mr. Turner and Still Alice to wrangle in this category, so...

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I'm rooting for him. He already deserved a nom for Juno.

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Paul, can you think of an example where SPC won oscars with less narrative/quality? Because they've fumbled a lot of campaigns.

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Upon closer inspection, Arkaan, SPC's fumbles are indeed numerous (and irritating) and the wins are actually pretty solid. I can only put JK's performance here above Indochine, The Counterfeiters and the Midnight in Paris screenplay as far as quality/narrative goes. And it's also as strong a turn as Marcia Gay Harden's was. But this is all just my opinion. (I also happen to prefer this performance to two of the last five ones that won the Best Actor Oscar. As unpleasant a character as it is, I can't wait to watch the film again.)

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw


I'm curious about which 2 Lead Actor Oscars you think were inferior to him?

McConaughey, Dujardin or Firth? I imagine Day-Lewis and Bridges are safe.

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay


DDL was definitely safe. As an actor, I don't feel compelled to revisit MM's or JB's performances (or the films). Didn't hate 'em, but I didn't adore them or feel there's a lot to study in them.

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Hmm OK.

I found it interesting because there were two lead performances who won Supporting statues that in their respective year I'd swap them for the winner (Bale and Ledger).

So that's why I asked :)

I'm not a big fan of either McConaughey or Dujardin's winning performances. I recognise talent and craft in them but... meh. Even Firth won for a lesser performance, considering the one he gave the year before.

Bridges I find OK. Day-Lewis undeniable, for me. He was great. And I hated Lincoln so that's something.

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay

As time passes, I remember fewer and fewer of Lincoln's details, but the performance remains extremely vivid.

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I love whiplash and Simmons and teller in it. They're great parts and an excellent two-hander. Torn between Simmons and ruffalo for supporting actor win myself right now. Ruffalo is small supporting and Simmons is a bigger supporting role.

September 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Yes, don't want to deny Teller his due, he is outstanding, just don't see him in Oscar contention (unfortunately). Nathaniel described the direction as "muscular," which is *exactly* the word I had in mind for JK's performance. Applies just as well to Teller's.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

good thing for Miles Teller that this movie is being well recieved, because Two Night Stand is getting trashed (which I feel really good about because I can't stand Miles Teller--- his cocky swagger which he displays in every movie is incredibly annoying. Only Robert Downey Jr. can make cocky charming, amirite Ansel Elgort?)

But I feel bad for Analeigh Tipton, having to endure a Two Night Stand with Teller, because she deserves so much better. She deserved better in Lucy, too--- shame on you Luc Besson!

(Note: Miles Teller was quite moving in Rabbit Hole).

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

I honestly believe JK Simmons has a 99% chance of a nomination for Supporting Actor.

The reviews have been great and the Academy like to honour character actors that have had a distinguished career in film and tv.

Whether he wins or not is another question.

Duvall has a LOT of support - especially from the rightwing conservatives in the Academy and if Channing Tatum is relegated to supporting - well I think the best Simmons can do is to get a nomination.

My prediction is that he has a VERY GOOD chance of securing a SuppAct nomination.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

I like J.K. Simmons and always perk up when he comes onscreen. I think better of the filmmakers too, that they were smart enough to hire him.

I haven't seen Whiplash yet, but there have been a few dissenters. The local Toronto mag on TIFF said "Whiplash: Bullying works. One star."

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

adri, that four-word review, while pithy, misses the point, and it's one that's worthy of a thorough discussion.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul: yes, it sounds like it's come at the end of a discussion that the reader isn't privy to. Even so, I didn't take it as lessening my interest in J.K. Simmons work and hoping for the best for him.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

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