The presence of acting powerhouse J.K. Simmons in a movie or television show is as close as you're going to get to a guarantee that it will be worth your time.
"I'm in a very luxurious position in that I get to choose what I want to do," Simmons explains. "It doesn't matter if it's a lead or a supporting role, I look for things I find creatively stimulating. If the writing is good, I'm there."
It's a process that has seen him star in everything from Broadway plays and TV smash hits through to indie blockbusters and even superhero franchises. After three decades on screen, Simmons finally took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor after his incredible performance as a militant jazz teacher in 2014's Whiplash.
And now it's led him to Counterpart. This mind-bending sci-fi thriller, now entering its second season on Sky, follows Simmons' character Howard Silk, a foot soldier for an agency that controls access to a parallel Earth in which we all have a counterpart living a separate life.
This sees Simmons portraying two separate characters — and polar opposites — interchanging between the roles with ease. It's like working on a "big feature film", he claims, "but with the advantage of having an extra 20 hours' screen time to tell one story." Perhaps this is why television scripts are attracting big-time movie star interest these days, and why Simmons says we're currently in a second golden age of television.
"There's an extreme amount of really, really compelling stuff on television. With a show like Counterpart, it's just all ideal. It's a challenge for sure, the plot and the subplots and the lies and the deceit — it's a complex world even if you're playing one character, but that's what makes it so exciting."
Critics clearly agree. Heralded as "gripping", the show debuted to rave reviews in 2017, and picked up an Emmy after its first season. For Simmons, who throughout his career has been praised for "carrying" various casts, says his shoulders have certainly felt the weight of responsibility for its success due to his dual roles and sheer amount of screen time.
Still, he adds, unless you're performing in a one-man show you wrote, directed and turned the lights on and off for, "there's no such thing as one guy carrying everything". Maybe that's why he doesn't read the reviews.
"As a guy who only became someone that the press wanted to talk to in the last decade — you know I spent the last 30-plus years toiling in relative obscurity — the process of having to get eyes on the project is new for me."
"I remember when I was Captain Hook in Peter Pan, I read, 'This Simmon's guy is not my cup of tea and I don't think he's got it.' Another paper was there the same night, loved the show and said, 'Simmons is the bee's knees.' If you let your ego be fed by reviews it's a dark rabbit-hole."
Although, keeping one's ego in check can't always be easy in the entertainment industry — particularly post-Oscar. Simmon's has much fodder for humble-bragging, including the fact that Counterpoint creator Justin Marks wrote the role of Howard Silk with him in mind.
The actor says he feels disingenuous claiming he never considers the reception of his next venture. He says he recognized Whiplash director Damien Chazelle's genius within moments of meeting him but laughs that he "naively" didn't predict the film would enjoy such massive global success.
Instead, he signed on after adhering to his long-serving modus operandi when selecting a project — just one question: is this compelling?
"You learn after bouncing around in this business that when you get the offer you are probably the seventh guy down the line. Or vice versa, when you turn something down and see it hit cinemas and think, 'Wow that's really good, why didn't I see that when I read it?'"
He says that awards hold little significance to him and that even winning the Oscar didn't change his philosphy.
"I never had any feeling of, 'Now I've reached the pinnacle, what am I going to do?' I've always been grateful that people pay me to do this and I can live in this nice house and send my kids to college. This probably sounds disingenuous too but my dream was just to do good work. Transitioning from theatre to television and film, I've always just been thinking, 'Please can I keep doing this?'"
It's hard to imagine a world in which he could not.
Who: J.K Simmons
What: The sci-fi thriller Counterpart
When: Season 2 starts next Thursday on SoHo; streaming on Neon from February 15.