J.K. Simmons returns as a spy and his ‘Counterpart’

Oscar winner starts Season 2 of Starz fantasy-espionage series

J.K. Simmons stars in Season 2 of “Counterpart” starting Sunday on Starz.

Playing two variations of a character, sometimes in the same scene, is a great acting challenge … and J.K. Simmons is ready for it again.

The “Whiplash” Oscar winner returns as both low-level United Nations employee Howard Silk and his alternate-universe doppelganger, a skilled field agent – now trapped in each other’s worlds — as Season 2 of the Starz fantasy-espionage drama “Counterpart” starts Sunday, Dec. 9. The more time each man spends in the other’s existence, the more he assumes the other’s traits, so Simmons constantly must moderate his performance. Or make that, “performances.”

“As an actor, it’s just like playing two different guys,” Simmons explains. “There’s a different psychology and a different emotional life to them, but the technical challenges are the main thing. It’s a little more homework than you’re used to, needing to prepare a scene from two different perspectives as you’re working with the director and the cinematographer and the other actors.”

J.K. Simmons stars in Season 2 of “Counterpart” starting Sunday on Starz.

Simmons expected it, though, after reading “Counterpart” creator and executive producer Justin Marks’ pilot. “My agent has learned that when he’s presenting anything to me, I just want a script … and I read this not knowing I was going to be playing two versions of the same guy. Then on Page 20 or so, when the big reveal happened, I was completely blown away in a way I wish audiences could experience, but couldn’t because we had to promote the show (as what it was).”

Among new “Counterpart” cast additions is James Cromwell (“Babe”), making for a match of character-acting veterans in moments he shares with Simmons. “The casting process can be long and arduous,” Simmons reflects, “and I was so excited when James agreed to join us. He carries a significant load, certainly in the scenes we have together, so I was almost like a spectator a lot of the time.”

This holiday season is bountiful for Simmons, since he also works again for director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air”) in the film “The Front Runner,” about the presidential bid of Sen. Gary Hart (played by Hugh Jackman). “It was a great shoot and a great time,” says Simmons. “As usual with Jason, it’s a really interesting and entertaining and thought-provoking and just well-put-together movie.”

For any new jobs on his resume (also including next year’s “Veronica Mars” revival on Hulu), Simmons has retained one he’s had for years, appearing in commercials for Farmers Insurance.

“When the campaign came along, I thought it was clever and fun,” he recalls, “and I was confident enough that I suddenly wouldn’t be perceived differently as an actor from it. Honestly, probably more people see those than any of my other projects.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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