J.K. Simmons Interview: ‘Defending Jacob’
“It’s very intelligent and well done and thought-provoking,” says J.K. Simmons, who inhabits a key role in the Apple TV+ limited series “Defending Jacob,” which is now streaming the firstthree episodes. But he also adds, “Yeah, difficult subject mater.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Based on a novel by William Landay, the plot revolves around Jacob, a 14-year-old boy (Jaeden Martell) who lives in a well-off Boston suburb and is accused of stabbing a classmate to death. Complicating matters is that his father, Andy (Chris Evans), is the town’s assistant district attorney. Complicating matters even further is that his grandfather (Simmons) has been serving time in jail for a very long time. His crime? Raping and stabbing a community college student and hiding her body in a boarded-up row house. Up until now, Jacob and his mom (Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey”) have not known of his existence.
Simmons’ character comes bearing an alliterative and well-earned nickname, Bloody Billy Barber. “He is totally innocent, of course,” says the actor who plays him. “But some people seem to think he committed some gruesome murder at some time in his life. He’s not the most savory character. Certainly, bearded Chris Evans, who basically is a lazy guy who doesn’t like to shave — let’s be honest — when his character comes to visit me, it’s sort of a last resort for him. We have long since parted ways and it’s not exactly a cuddly father-son relationship.”
Why drew Simmons, who previously played an even more chilling criminal, white-supremacist Vernon Schillinger, on HBO’s “Oz” for six seasons, to play Bloody Billy? “Part of the draw for me was there is some ambiguity. He is a pretty awful guy who has done despicable things. But, as is the case, usually in the best, most interesting writing I’ve find, it’s not a black and white world. He’s not a 100% evil character. We do see hints of humanity from him.”
He goes on to say, “The draw initially was that I knew Chris and Michelle Dockery were involved. I knew Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) was directing and I had a great experience with him previously (on the Starz series “Counterpart”) and I thought the material was really dramatic. … It was a really interesting combination of a family drama, a legal drama, a thriller. And, yeah, the character was a guy who kind of comes in and just provides a little spice, off and on, beginning in the third episode of eight.”
Simmons goes on to speak about his Oscar-winning supporting role as the sadistic music teacher in “Whiplash” — which Gold Derby users picked as to top supporting actor role in a film from the last decade — and how drummers react when they encounter him. He also talks about another series he is involved with — Season 4 of Billy Bob Thornton‘s Amazon Prime legal drama “Goliath”– that was in the middle of production when the coronavirus epidemic shut it down.
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