In the new espionage series Counterpart, Oscar-winner JK Simmons plays Howard Silk, a lowly bureaucrat who learns a shocking secret: a parallel dimension exists right next to ours. He talks to Dominic Corry.

What attracted you to Counterpart?

My agent has learned that I don't want to know anything about a project going in, I just want to read the script. So I started reading it, they said they wanted me to look at the part of Howard, and I'm seeing this sort of sad-sack character, and I'm really starting to empathise with him. Love the writing, it was really intelligent, deep and insightful and then the big bombshell moment comes and I jumped in my chair. Really mindblowing in the best possible way.

Your profile has risen considerably since you won the Oscar for Whiplash - how comfortable are you in the spotlight?

It's a mixed bag. Obviously, it's a very positive position to be in, for someone to want you to be the central character on a show. I look back, 10, 20, 30 years ago when I was trying to get a line on a soap opera, on anything, anywhere, and it's surreal to be in the position I'm in now. But I also have the benefit of maturity and having been around just on the planet for a long time, let alone in the business, to not have my head turned by it. If I'd had all the attention that Whiplash brought me when I was 27 years old, I can't imagine I would've handled it with any grace whatsoever.

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Is it gratifying that you no longer have to struggle to find work?

People sometimes ask, especially after Whiplash: What about all those years you were struggling? And I say: I never struggled. Struggling is a single mum working two jobs at the 7/11 and McDonald's so she can put food on the table.

Do you remember your first TV job?

Yes my first TV job was "Patrolman in park". It was a TV movie called Popeye Doyle, based on the character that Gene Hackman did in The French Connection.

If you could split into two versions of the same person, how would you take advantage of it?

I've got teenagers now, so I guess it would be nice to have my cake and eat it too. Maybe there's one guy that's having the cake and there's one guy that's eating it. One guy can have the doubly fabulous career, and the other guy can have no more concerns than being with his loved ones all the time. And I'm already having that.

Lowdown
Counterpart premieres Friday, March 9, at 8.30pm on SoHo