J.K. Simmons on What It Takes to Play One of Boston's Finest

The actions of Sergeant Jeff Pugliese could have been pulled from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel: an off-duty sergeant speeding in a Chrysler minivan to assist his fellow officers in a gunfight with the dangerous fugitives behind the Boston Marathon bombing. Of course, the events were very much real, and as you might expect, the soft-spoken Pugliese was reluctant about giving his story to Hollywood, nervous that it would be turned into a “fictitious mess.” He was won over by Peter Berg’s commitment: “I was there on set for all of it,” Pugliese says. “Though it was strange to see that night reenacted, they did it justice.” 

Thanks to his participation, J.K. Simmons, who plays Pugliese in the movie Patriot's Day (out now), was able to get an in-depth look at his character, jumping in a patrol car for ride-alongs and visiting a local gun range to familiarize himself with the officer’s service weapon. “I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with it, and able to reload without looking down,” says Pugliese. “J.K. is an excellent study.” That research may come in handy again, as Simmons is taking on another police role, playing Commissioner Gordon in Ben Affleck’s standalone Batman movie. We caught up with Simmons to discuss Patriot’s Day, the DC universe, and his secret to the super-ripped photo that broke the Internet last year – three trainers.

Pete Berg is known for movies based on real-life events, but it is your first go around. How does this experience differ from others?

There is something special about these roles, because when you work in Hollywood there is a lot of insulation, and you spend a lot of time with the same kinds of people. Being able to hang out with guys like Jeff, who have their boots on the ground, it can reconnect you to reality.

You have played a few police officers in your career. Is there anything that you have learned about what kind of person has what it takes for that job?

I can’t really put a finger on it. People go into the police or the military for a lot of different reasons. They get this training and experience, but I think until the shit hits the fan you can’t really know how you are going to react. Of course they aren’t all the same, but I was blown away that while this played out Jeff managed to stay cool, calm, and collected. Getting to play a real hero like Jeff was a lot of responsibility, but also [gave me] a lot of gratification.

How much time did you get to spend with Jeff and did it change your opinion of officers at all?

I have always had respect for people in the uniform. In my youth I was a bit of a knucklehead, and had some authority issues, so I had a couple run-ins, but nothing serious. For this movie the timing worked out for me because Jeff was actually on leave with a bad shoulder, so he didn’t need to work his shifts. I got the chance to go to the range with him about nine times, using the service weapon that he did. That training was all really helpful.

Speaking of training, you have inspired a lot of people to get into the gym, after a particularly ripped photo of you went viral.

[Laughs] That is awesome. If that is inspiring old farts to get back in the gym, or anyone, that is a great thing.

But really, what are you doing to get there?

I have a trainer named Dana Perri who I work out with often, along with Aaron Williamson. Both of them have me pushing some heavy metal around. In that photo I wasn’t actually using too much weight, because I was using a device called the “Arm Blaster,” which was apparently developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, actually. It helps to isolate the muscles. So I was probably only curling 100 pounds. Dana has a cardio fitness class called SHIFT, which is what started to get me back into shape. Sometimes I’ll go there with the whole family.

Do you like to try new regimes?

It is best to mix it up. I stay open to other training methods. When we were filming in Boston and I asked Pete Berg about where I should go, he gave me the address for a great boxing gym in Southie. I walked over and got hooked. Now I have a guy, Ricky Quiles, whose gym I can bike to, so I go there and try not to get hit in the face.

You get to play a police officer in the Justice League. How has it felt to step into that world, and getting to work with Ben Affleck?

I am haven't seen the first Batman draft just yet, but I hear I am going to get a look at it pretty soon. I was just introduced in Justice League and there wasn’t much to do, because the cast was so big. But the character is so iconic. There is the nine-year-old kid inside of all of us that comes out when Big Ben is on the set with the cowl on.

Patriot’s Day is now in theaters.