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If you look over J.K. Simmons’ body of work, you’ll see that he has one of the most impressive resume in Hollywood nowadays, both in the amount of projects he’s acted in and the versatility of his roles. However, upon closer inspection, you’ll also notice that he hasn’t done that many biopics, i.e. movies based on true stories. Simmons recently told me that for the most part, he’s intentionally stayed away from acting in such movies, with last November’s The Front Runner being one of the few exceptions. When I asked if there was a particular reason for this avoidance, he answered:
I’m just not a fan. I find them at their worst to be just kind of a trap. First of all, you’re telling stories that we know. And second of all, you’re almost always messing with the story in a certain way because it’s going to be from whoever’s point of view, and you’re either trying to glorify or vilify that person. Whereas with Jason [Reitman], he’s the ideal person to do a biopic like this because he, more than any director I can think of, does not want to tell the audience what to think and how to feel about something. He wants to spark debate, show all sides of an issue and all of its warts and let people draw their own conclusions.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with J.K. Simmons ahead of the home release of The Front Runner, the political thriller chronicling the collapse of Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart’s (played by Hugh Jackman) campaign after reports of an extramarital affair surfaced. J.K. Simmons played Hart’s campaign manager, Bill Dixon, and The Front Runner marked the latest of Simmons’ long collaboration with director Jason Reitman. But aside from joining the movie to keep working with Reitman, Simmons also felt that The Front Runner was different from other biopics because, in keeping with Reitman’s other movies, it wasn’t preaching a specific message. The moviegoer gets to interpret the events in their own way.
Aside from The Front Runner, J.K. Simmons’ other notable biopic appearances include 2013’s Jobs, where he played Arthur Rock, and 2016’s Patriots Day, where he played Sergeant Jeffrey Pugilese. And Simmons acknowledged that while he personally isn’t a big fan of biopics, there have been several he hasn’t been a part of that he’s enjoyed because they’ve taken a non-formulaic approach. In his words:
There have been many exceptions to that. I think with films that Pete Berg has made besides Patriots Day, the true life events films. Lone Survivor, for example. Captain Phillips is another great example, the Greengrass film. I think a lot of the films based on real events have been brilliantly made films, but it’s just not something I’ve been drawn to, especially the sort of ‘Oh, he started out as a small boy’ beginning to the end-whole biopic thing I just find a little tedious.
So if you’re looking for someone to lead a biopic about a historical figure’s rise to greatness throughout the decades that will inspire moviegoers, it’s unlikely J.K. Simmons will be your man. But if you are able to tell a real-life cinematic story akin to what Jason Reitman did with The Front Runner, perhaps that will catch his interest.
The Front Runner has finished its time in theaters, but you can watch it in the comfort of your own home on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD starting Tuesday, February 12. You can see J.K. Simmons on the big screen next in I’m Not Here, which opens on March 8. Be sure to look through our 2019 release schedule to learn what else is coming out this year.