PASADENA, Calif. — J.K. Simmons does not seem like a man who worries a lot about the road, or roads, not taken.
A longtime character and voice actor with a background in music, he's sung on Broadway, played a neo-Nazi inmate on HBO's Oz, and won an Oscar for playing the tyrannical music teacher in Whiplash. And as the professor in the Farmers Insurance ads who recounts those crazy accidents, he's known as a man who's seen it all.
Now the 63-year-old Simmons is the star — make that stars — of Starz's intriguing Counterpart, a spy drama with a sci-fi twist that's all about the roads taken and not taken by a man who's seen very little.
In the series — which makes its official premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday after a post-Outlander preview last month — we first meet Simmons as Howard Silk, a man who's done the same low-level job for 30 years in an international agency in Berlin whose mission he can't begin to grasp. He's a man whose boss seems barely even to see him, much less consider him for the modest promotion he's seeking. Meanwhile, his wife, Emily (Olivia Williams), lies in a coma after a car accident.
Enter a decidedly more aggressive Howard — also played by Simmons — a man from a parallel universe who's crossed over and insists on speaking only to his counterpart, with life-changing results for both.
Winning an Academy Award in 2015 affected his career "significantly," Simmons said, both in the roles he's offered and in the way he's now "part of the promotional aspect" of projects. He's enjoying both, but winning "affects my life much less than it might at age 30. I've been around long enough that it doesn't turn my head."
Where once he feared being pigeonholed as the fearsome Vern Schillinger of Oz — "an absolute highlight of my career" — he now encounters fans of his "professor of insurance" who "badly mangle the jingle when they see me," he said.