‘You Can’t Run Forever’ Exclusive Interview: J. K. Simmons – Daily Frontline

J.K. Simmons in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

Opening in theaters on May 17th is the new thriller ‘You Can’t Run Forever’, which stars Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons (‘Whiplash’) and was co-written and directed by his wife, Michelle Schumacher (‘I’m Not Here’).

The cast also includes Fernanda Urrejola (‘Blue Miracle’), Isabelle Anaya (‘Donny’s Bar Mitzvah’), Graham Patrick Martin (‘Major Crimes’), and Simmons and Schumacher’s daughter, Olivia Simmons (‘Junk Food’).

Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with J.K. Simmons about his work on ‘You Can’t Run Forever’, his first reaction to the screenplay, his approach to the character, collaborating on set with his wife, acting opposite his daughter, and working with Isabelle Anya, as well as looking back at shooting ‘The Accountant’ with Ben Affleck and teasing the upcoming sequel, ‘The Accountant 2’.

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J.K. Simmons in 'You Can't Run Forever'.

J.K. Simmons in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

Moviefone: To begin with, at what point did you get involved with this project and what was your first reaction to Michelle and Carolyn Carpenter’s screenplay?

J.K. Simmons: Well, with everything Michelle’s done, including things she’s working on now, I always prefer not to have too many conversations about the story as it’s developing and wait for a somewhat finished first draft to wrap my head around. We did talk about some of the developmental things of this story, specifically about my character and if we would ever know anything about his motivation or what drove him to what we see him doing or is he just a complete psychopath and always has been. Once she and Carolyn Carpenter, her writing partner made the decision to delve into a bit of that psychology, I found that the way that they examine where this guy is coming from to be smart, clever, surprising, interesting and revealing about him and about us as humanity on this planet. Which at the end of the day is what this movie is about, to me, is the human condition and Fernanda Urrejola’s character as the mom, how the power of her love is paramount.

J.K. Simmons in 'You Can't Run Forever'.

J.K. Simmons in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

MF: Can you talk about how the character’s backstory helped you understand Wade’s motivations?

Simmons: Yeah, and it’s always, for me, with somebody like this or other truly evil characters that I’ve played in the past, it’s necessary for me to understand. You can’t justify, but you can begin to wrap your brain around the psychology of what makes someone do such terrible things. This was very clear to me, and that’s something that I look for in any project, whether it’s a more lighthearted thing or something intense like this is just, can I believe and begin to understand where this guy is coming from?

J.K. Simmons in 'You Can't Run Forever'.

J.K. Simmons in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

MF: Can you talk about your approach to playing a character as evil and despicable as Wade?

Simmons: Well, being despicable is great. But I mean that’s such a big part of the joy and the variety of what we get to do as actors is to not be pigeonholed and not do the same thing repeatedly. I feel like most character actors, like you want to be able to exercise or exorcise, in this case, some demons. You want to be able to emphasize different aspects of who you are and who we are as a species.

Allen Leech and J.K. Simmons in 'You Can't Run Forever'.

(L to R) Allen Leech and J.K. Simmons in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

MF: Can you talk about your working relationship with Michelle on set?

Simmons: It’s beyond a kind of shorthand. I mean, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate multiple times with a lot of wonderful directors, and you do develop a mutual trust and a shorthand. In the case of Michelle, we already had the mutual trust and the mutual shorthand. Because I’m a fly on the wall every day when she’s writing for hours and we’re decompressing at night, I have a little extra awareness of the project itself. Then when you add the collaboration with our kids to the mix and with Michelle’s brother being the producer, it felt like this, especially for me, it felt like a family vacation in a way, which for Olivia and me, it was because we’re just acting and then we get to relax after that. For the producer and the director there’s never a moment’s rest, so it was a little more like a marathon for them.

'You Can't Run Forever' filmmaker Michelle Schumacher.

‘You Can’t Run Forever’ filmmaker Michelle Schumacher. Photo: Lionsgate.

MF: Is there something specific that you are looking for from a director on set?

Simmons: It varies depending on the character, depending on the sort of vibe of the movie, comedy, drama, period piece or whatever it might be. But it all comes off the page to me, if it’s not on the page, even if it’s one of those scripts where you’re going to be improvising a lot, it needs to be there on the page, at least the framework. I have learned, not that I always make the best choices, but I’ve learned not to get involved in anything that I don’t believe and understand on the page who this guy is. Then there are often conversations before production and on the day and in between takes and at lunch about specifics, little specifics of why, where, when, and how with whatever the character is. But it all starts with, in this case, Michelle and Carolyn Carpenter, what they put down on the page.

Isabelle Anaya in 'You Can't Run Forever'.

Isabelle Anaya in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

MF: Can you talk about working with actress Isabelle Anaya and were you involved in casting?

Simmons: That was Michelle, Randall (Schumacher) and the casting directors. I know that she saw a long list of young actresses, teenage actresses to play that character. She met with Isabelle twice, and I think a third time because she knew she was seeing something there that was what she wanted. If I’m remembering correctly, I think Isabel was cast before Fernanda was cast, Fernanda Urrejola who plays the mother. That ended up being a beautiful synchronicity, the casting of them, and obviously the rest of the movie too. Now my brain is already going to the casting of Olivia Simmons, our daughter in the movie, not to take away from Isabelle. She was a great find by Michelle, and she does such a wonderful job of finding the shadings of this teenage girl who’s suffering from anxiety and has endured horrible trauma in her life before this, and now this psychopath is terrorizing her on this overnight roller coaster ride of a movie. But in the case of our daughter, as they were writing that character, they were thinking it’s going to be a tiny little scene or two and had our daughter in mind. Then as the role organically became bigger, Michelle was like, “I don’t know if our sophomore in college acting student daughter, if we’re going to have to make her audition for the casting director for this.” But Olivia did the self-tape and the casting director put her at the top of the list of recommendations without attaching the name Simmons to being the director’s daughter, the director being Schumacher. She literally didn’t know that connection and said, “There’s a lot of good actors for this part, but would be my first choice, Olivia Simmons.” So, it took a lot of the onus off mom and dad in that casting.

Olivia Simmons in 'You Can't Run Forever'.

Olivia Simmons in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

MF: What was it like for you personally to have this opportunity to make a movie with your family?

Simmons: It was unbelievable. I get goosebumps talking about it. It’s one of those things and then to have our son (Joe Simmons) who was still in college at the time do the full score for the film. We knew he had the chops to do that. He had contributed to Michelle’s earlier film (‘I’m Not Here’) a little bit with some additional music and sound design, and now he’s a fully formed film composer who was able to do everything. I’ve said before, Randall, her brother was the only producer. He was doing about 11 people’s jobs. Michelle was doing four- or five-people’s jobs at least, and Joe was doing a few people’s jobs being the entire music department. Then Olivia and I were merely one person’s job each portraying somebody else. It felt like a family vacation in a way, especially because we were shooting in Missoula, Montana, which is where my last stop growing up was and where my parents retired and lived out their days. So, there’s a lot of fond memories there.

Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff in 'The Accountant.'

Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff in ‘The Accountant.’ Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures.

MF: Finally, I’m a big fan of ‘The Accountant,’ and my favorite scene was when Ben Affleck’s character had a gun to your head, and your character is begging for his life and says, “I’ve been a good dad. I’m a lousy agent, and I’ve been a weak man. But that, I didn’t screw up. That I got right.” Can you talk about shooting that scene, if you were pleased with how the first movie turned out, and what fans can expect from the upcoming sequel, ‘The Accountant 2’?

Simmons: Yeah, absolutely. That scene, that’s another one I get goosebumps about because Ben and I are both dads. Gavin O’Connor, the director is a dad. That scene, we shot so many different little shades of that scene. There were some (takes) where I was emotional, but I think in the final cut that we see in the movie, I was just blubbering about because a guy’s got a gun to my head, and this might be the end. What you’re thinking about is your kids, of course. That is such a beautiful theme in Bill Dubuque’s script and in Gavin’s and in the sequel, it’s very much so the same. There was one take in that where Chris has the gun to my head and says, “Do you have kids?” During one take Ben just said, “What are their names?” I said my kids’ names, and they were not going to keep that in the movie, but it fueled the next several takes in providing that emotion. I loved that film, love the sequel and the way that it continues in a very different way, examining the brothers, the relationship of brothers, with is fathers and brothers being the primary relationships in both of those movies. Ben and Jon (Bernthal) are so great. I can’t wait to see the second one.

What is the plot of ‘You Can’t Run Forever’?

A teenage girl (Isabelle Anaya) suffering from anxiety due to a tragic event from her past finds herself hunted through the woods by a sociopath (J. K. Simmons) on a murderous rampage.

Who is in the cast of ‘’You Can’t Run Forever’?

  • J. K. Simmons as Wade
  • Allen Leech as Eddie
  • Fernanda Urrejola as Jenny
  • Isabelle Anaya as Miranda
  • Olivia Simmons as Emily
  • Graham Patrick Martin as Deputy Dwyer
  • Max Garfin as Ben
  • Nathan Vincenti as Davis
J.K. Simmons in 'You Can't Run Forever'.

J.K. Simmons in ‘You Can’t Run Forever’. Photo: Lionsgate.

Other J.K. Simmons Movies and TV Shows:

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