The Verge: Johnny Simmons

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Amid the roar of hype, gossip and Michael Bay takedowns surrounding Jennifer's Body, listen for the sound of a star being born. Or maybe not "born"; Johnny Simmons is 22, after all, and has already played the son of Steve Carell (Evan Almighty) and Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan (The Greatest) in the four years since he moved to Hollywood from his hometown of Dallas. But those and his other major parts in Hotel for Dogs and The Spirit didn't quite prepare him for the spotlight that is Jennifer's Body. He co-stars as Chip Dove, the boyfriend of Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried) and putative prey of Needy's demon-possessed BFF Jennifer Check (Megan Fox).

Simmons supplies a sort of Rosetta Stone for understanding both Needy and Jennifer, free of exaggeration and rarely raising his voice above a murmur while processing their evolving roles in each other's lives. Previously, in this year's as-yet-undistributed Sundance gem The Greatest, he played the younger brother of a popular high-schooler who dies in a car crash. Simmons dynamically surfs the aftermath with Brosnan, Sarandon and An Education's breakout star Carey Mulligan, turning in one of the fest's most revelatory (and woefully underseen) performances. And you'll see him next year in Edgar Wright's eagerly awaited adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Movieline recently caught up with Simmons to discuss these films and more, including the pros and cons of kissing Megan Fox, nerves on the Scott Pilgrim set, and how to tell your mother you've shot your first sex scene.

So this is a pretty big week for you: Toronto, then Jennifer's Body opens wide. How are you feeling?

I'm really in the same state I've been in since I found out I got it or even got a callback for it: Just in shock, pretty much. I didn't expect to get the movie whatsoever, and I got in the car after my audition to go on a snowboarding trip to Colorado. I got one day of snowboarding in, they called me back, and then I found out I got it. Now that it's being received somewhat well and people are into it, it's a pretty good feeling. Kind of surprising.

I remember first seeing you in The Spirit and then following you from there--

Did you see The Greatest?

Yes I did.

Did you like it?

I liked parts of it. You and Carey Mulligan were pretty extraordinary.

Did you cry?

I did not cry. But you did.

Aww. I'm so freaking happy when I talk to people who saw The Greatest. I love that movie. It was the most intense job.

But the few roles you've had all really seem to work for you. Do you choose them or do they choose you?

It just goes back to being lucky. I think they selected me. But I really have to think about it. Hotel For Dogs was fun for my family, but it was kind of hard to get in the audition room for Jennifer's Body after that, you know? But I think the roles find me in a way. Maybe I fit into what the person thought when they were writing it? At least with The Greatest -- with Shana Feste -- I think that's what happened. I stayed up for two nights before going in for that; he's an Oxycontin addict, and also smokes a lot of weed. But I didn't really want do any drugs, so I thought the closest I could get to that would be to stay up for two and a half days and be a little reckless. I had a week off for Jennifer's Body, and I was just sitting in my hotel room. He looked shot, in a way, and I guess Shana really responded to that.

And then there's Jennifer's Body. Your first sex scene!

Yeah, my family's going to kill me.

What did you tell them?

I told my Mom and Dad not to go see it. I guess I'll get in trouble for saying that; it's not really supporting the movie. But come on. My mom especially. "Please, Mom, don't go watch me have a sex scene." I think it was eating at my conscience for a while, and I just had to tell her. How do you tell your mom that? Your mom doesn't want to know you're having sex, much less see it. So she's going to go watch me having simulated sex? And there's nothing romantic or cool about it; there's 50 people standing around, some of them are strangers, and you're basically there in your underwear trying to simulate sex. It's pretty intense.

So how did that work out with Amanda Seyfried?

Well, on Alpha Dog, she had one. That's what I was telling her on that day: "OK, so you've done this before." I'm freaking nervous! Amanda's the pro. I didn't want to make it awkward for her. And whenever I get nervous I get quiet and sort of introverted. I just wasn't saying much that day. But I didn't want to make her uncomfortable. Except how do you not do that when you're thrusting? I don't know. But we managed our way through it, and she still likes me, so...

That's a fascinating sequence, though. The whole movie is about the conflation of sex and death -- never more than when it crosscuts between Chip and Needy in bed while Jennifer devours another conquest.

I really tried not to focus on the death part. I think Chip's the light of the movie, so I tried to stay away from it. There's no animosity toward Needy; there's enough crazy behavior going on elsewhere in the movie. He was the good side of it. But it is insane. I remember thinking that when I was reading it. But one of the great things about the way Diablo writes; she mixes all kinds of things: horror, comedy, love story.

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How would you describe the phenomenon of working with Megan Fox, with whom your character is also intimate?

She's really cool. [Pause] I got to kiss Megan Fox. It wasn't a bad set-up, for sure. Everybody likes to give props for that.

Were you nervous?

Ahhh... [Pauses again] I think so. I can't remember. I know I was freaking cold. We shot that at 6 in the morning. But this is what's cool about Megan: Some people get their stand-ins to say their lines off-camera, and you don't even act with the actor you're in the scene with. And there's a scene where we're talking, and she's crying off-camera. The performance she could have saved for the camera, she used on me. And then she did it again for the camera. So for a huge megastar like Megan, I think that says a lot about her.

She can definitely act.

She really can. Everybody likes to give her crap about that, but she's pretty damn good. She had plenty of stories about Michael Bay, which now she's apparently starting to talk about. But she's really good; she gives a lot. As does Amanda. I couldn't have been surrounded by a better crew and cast. Just the personalities, the care, the interest, the passion... There were no egos. It was really a good thing to learn.

And next up is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. How did that go?

It was five and a half months; I just got back from Toronto two weeks ago. That was another ridiculously lucky situation. It's Edgar Wright, who I'm freaking obsessed with, and Michael Cera, who's a genius. Jason Schwartzman... I mean, all these people who you look up to and admire their work, and all of the sudden you're sitting next to them on a movie that's really, really good. And now I have a comic-book character, which is crazy.

Are you still susceptible to being star-struck?

I didn't talk for the first month and a half. I get shy. I think that's in any situation. Michael and I play guitar, but Mark Webber and Alison Pill had never played instruments before, so we all learned and got to know each other over that first month. But I just basically sat there. It's like, "OK, when are they gonna find out they screwed up and cast Logan Lerman or whoever?" It's sort of ridiculous. It's not insecurity, I just know there are so many talented people out there who are really good. I'm really lucky to be here. ♦



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