As terrifying as J. K. Simmons was as white supremacist Vern Schillinger in the acclaimed HBO prison drama OZ, it’s a little hard to imagine that he got his start as a singer, graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in music. His acting career began onstage with an off-Broadway stint in the 1987 musical Birds of Paradise; following a quick rise through the ranks, he made his Broadway debut in 1990 and went on to appear in Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Das Barbecü, and as Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls.
By 1994 he had already turned to the big screen, landing roles in The Ref and The Scout that were soon followed by The First Wives Club, The Jackal, Anastasia, and Celebrity. Recognized both for his versatility and his deep voice, he caught the eye of some of the industry’s top directors – repeatedly. Sam Raimi cast him in For Love of the Game, The Gift, and the ongoing Spiderman series in the key role of newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson. He undertook the unforgettable role of Garth Pancake, an explosives ace with irritable bowel syndrome, in the Coen Brothers’ 2004 remake of The Ladykillers (and he worked with the Coens again in Burn after Reading). He appeared in Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican opposite Brad Pitt, in Joan Chen’s Autumn in New York, in Lasse Hallström’s The Cider House Rules, and alongside Sam Elliott and Joan Allen in Campbell Scott’s Off the Map. That was all prior to the sensation that was Jason Reitman’s Juno (SDFF 30) – in which Simmons “brought down the house,” to quote Roger Ebert, as Ellen Page’s father Mac MacGuff. (Simmons also appeared in Reitman’s satirical Thank You for Smoking). Simmons continues to be in high demand for the small screen as well: he’s a major player in TNT’s The Closer, as he was in the classic series Law & Order.
With that “classic gangster mug,” as then–New York Times theater critic Frank Rich called it, J. K. Simmons was born to be an amazing character actor in the tradition of Ned Sparks and Eddie Albert. But stars are made, as Simmons is proving with simultaneous muscle and grace he shows in every part he plays – and for that we at SDFF 32 are grateful.
In this podcast interview, Simmons and noted film critic Robert Denerstein discuss the works of John Cassavetes, Simmons’ long career on stage and on screen, and look back on his most memorable characters.
Want insight into some of the ugly truths about the indie biz? We’ve devised a way for you to see how filmmakers think – not as they’re taught in film school but as they must, on their feet, in the real world where circumstances shift and money changes hands.
All of our panelists were given a premise and asked to tell us how they’d approach it. We then began throwing them a variety of curve balls. How did they cope with lost financing, casting catastrophes, and other obstacles that can hold a film back on its way to the screen?
Meanwhile, the audience participated in what we’re calling “indie roulette” and voted on which panelist would ultimately get to make his or her project. Sure, it’s a game, but as it unfolds, we think you’ll gain valuable perspective on the often risky world of filmmaking.
Doctors keep them stashed in drawers, lawyers dream of selling theirs, and legions of fledgling scribes hope they’ll discover the secret to fashioning them from scratch.
We’re talking about screenplays, seen by many as gateways to a creatively satisfying and lucrative career in movies. Taking a cue from Peter Hanson’s documentary Tales from the Script, our panelists examine their calling with all its frustrations, triumphs, and rewards. They tell us about the potential gaps between script and screen. They consider the writer/director relationship, citing examples from their own experiences. Most of all, they let us know whether having the write stuff is enough to get a screenplay off your desk and into the theater.
Environmental advocacy has become a powerful cultural touchstone; as such, it is a core concern for the 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival.
SDFF 32 presented a panel discussion with the directors of So Right So Smart and Split Estate as well as local corporate leaders, who examined the ways in which environmentalism can make good business sense. Can small but responsible companies make a difference?
Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 classic Stanno Tutti Bene tells the story of a widower who, lonely during the holidays, embarks upon a tour of Italy to visit his children (all named, appropriately enough in this bittersweet melodrama, for characters from Italian operas). Everybody’s Fine Director Kirk Jones transplants the film to contemporary America – where the members of extended families, separated by long distances, have increasingly have become strangers to one another. Jones adapted the original screenplay, cowritten by Tornatore and Tonino Guerra (a collaborator of Fellini, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, and Theo Angelopolous) to explore the ways in which an impromptu train trip serves as an education for a father (Robert De Niro, in the role originally played by Marcello Mastroianni) who comes to learn more about his grown children than he ever imagined – or, perhaps, wanted to know.
In this podcast episode, Jones joins noted film critic Robert Denerstein to discuss the making of Everybody’s Fine, fatherhood, and working with De Niro.