Before naming his most beloved movies, J.K. Simmons stipulates a key caveat. "I'm only going to do films that I'm not in," he says. "I could list some of mine among my favorite films—and they certainly are—but that seems both self-serving and unfair."
Simmons has been working for nearly four decades and has accrued more than 200 credits, an awe-inducing résumé that spans film, television and a prolific amount of voice work. (And that's not to say anything of his tenure on Broadway.) In 2015, he was nominated for and won his first Oscar for Whiplash. Now, Simmons is a Best Supporting Actor nominee once again for his portrayal of I Love Lucy star William Frawley in Being the Ricardos.
Below, Simmons shares five of his favorite films and what each means to him.
For every reason that you might think. I think I saw it before I'd read the book, but I couldn't say for sure. It's such a beautifully made little movie. Especially for me, as a 10-year-old kid in 1965, in the heart of the civil rights movement and with growing up in a family with parents who were very active in that, the themes of the movie were significant to me. But also, I have always appreciated the book and the movie at every stage of my life for how beautifully it portrays life from the point of view of an 11-year-old kid. It's just such an impeccably acted and scripted and directed little movie.
I was in college when it came out and I was studying music—I had no intention of being an actor, I thought I would either be Leonard Bernstein or Robert Merrill, who was a very famous opera singer at the time—but I had one pal in the drama department who was in a little black box production of Cuckoo's Nest. I saw this little production at the University of Montana and was just blown away. And then the movie came out and I was like, "Oh, I'm not going to see the movie. I'm a theater guy."
When I finally did see the movie, a year or two later when it was out on VHS or whatever, from the very beginning of the film, I was just completely sucked into that world. [Milos] Forman was able to really get what Ken Kesey was saying [in his book]. It's a brilliant ensemble cast—[Jack] Nicholson and Louise Fletcher and Brad Dourif—and one of the quintessential Nicholson roles. That's a character that I've wished that I had an opportunity to play during my theatrical career, and obviously, one of those where I now go, "Oh, well! I'm too old for it now!"
I have a 20-year-old daughter who's an acting student and just recently, my wife and I watched it with her during all of the COVID-ness, when we've all been sitting at home watching movies. I hadn't seen it for many, many years, and it's Citizen Kane. So, enough said.
I think it was kind of underappreciated when it came out. It was appreciated mostly for Sidney Poitier, who—God rest Sidney Poitier. What an awesome guy. Just a brilliant human being. But I was reading that it was like, Tracy and Hepburn doing their thing, blah blah blah, and of course, Sidney Poitier is this charismatic and wonderful young leading man. But the movie itself, I think, was underappreciated in its time. It also has a place in my heart because it was the first grown-up movie that my parents took my older sister and me to see. My recollection is that we saw it at a drive-in theater, and it was just so compelling to me at that age. And I didn't know this until years later when I had an opportunity to work with Sidney [on 1997's The Jackal], my mom was like, "Oh my god, I had a crush on Sidney Poitier my whole life!" That guy was the real deal.
Which all of my U.K. friends sort of dismiss as another little bodice-ripper period piece. But it's my wife's favorite film of all time. Obviously, there have been many adaptations of it, but it's such a beautifully cast movie, with Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy and really the whole cast. It's beautifully filmed, and my wife and I watched it once with the director commentary—which we rarely do—and Joe Wright talks about, "Oh, this scene was just because we were out of time, so I had to think of something really quick and we just knocked it out. I guess it worked out okay." So, largely as a little Valentine to my wife, I'm going to put that in there among my top five.