For comedians, it’s Lyle the Intern from Late Night with David Letterman. For college students, it’s Liam McPoyle from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For older TV viewers, it’s Lloyd Lowery from Breakout Kings. And for movie buffs, it could be Armstrong in Date Night, Crash in Herbie: Fully Loaded or any character Jimmi Simpson ’98 has portrayed in films over the past decade. Passersby recognize the face, but seldom call out his name … and that’s OK with Simpson.
“They come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you’re that guy …’ ” Simpson says. “Then they ask what I was in.”
IT’S NO WONDER PEOPLE RECOGNIZE SIMPSON.
His impressive list of credits ranges from summer stock at Williamstown Theatre Festival to Broadway and TV to films. When he started out, inspecting incoming vehicles at the dock of Newark, N.J., during the day and pursuing acting at night, he gave himself 10 years to make it. He realized he’d beaten his own deadline half a dozen years ago when income from his acting roles paid all of his bills. “What a great year, to be fortunate enough to get by on acting, this fanciful career,” he says.
CALL OF THE STAGE
Originally a business major, Simpson admits he wasn’t a motivated student in high school or his early college years. He signed up for an Introduction to Theatre class at the end of his sophomore year, thinking it would be easy: a mass lecture class he could skip whenever he pleased. And that’s what he did until theatre arts faculty member Karen Anselm, who he calls “one of the greatest teachers in the world,” told him he could pass the course only if he worked hard on the final. “The final was the first time I put my heart and soul into it,” he recalls. And he loved it. “I spent my junior and senior years as a theatre major. “I worked hard the last couple years of college,” he says. Outside of class, he appeared in BU Players productions, including his “sick role” of John Wilkes Booth in Assassins, directed by the late Michael Collins, his mentor and friend.
Simpson’s previous acting experience was one role in a community theatre production, but he’d grown up in a household with an appreciation of the arts. His parents encouraged him and his two older brothers to do “whatever makes you happy,” he says. They supported his acting aspirations, including the move from his home state of New Jersey to New York, where he could concentrate on theatrical roles.
“When I got to New York, I had no expectations,” Simpson recalls. “I had access to Lower Eastside productions which I would do for free to see if I could be really good in those. I didn’t plan.”
Between acting jobs, he and other struggling actors worked on their own projects, forming friendships that remain strong today. “It’s solidifying having nothing together,” he says. “I can’t remember a single night I was sitting alone in that tiny, fish-smelling apartment. I had a $500 camcorder and it was an outlet that made us feel like we were creating.”
Simpson met his first agent by chance. Professional performers led master classes during his four- summer internship with Williamstown (Mass.) Theatre Festival, and Simpson took advantage of the opportunity to learn. One summer, with no intentions of a career in stand-up, he took a class taught by a comedian. His one-and-only stand-up routine was seen by the comedian’s agent, who signed him.
“If you’re working, you’re in the top 1 percent of actors,” Simpson says. “Making it and not making it is sadly arbitrary. An agent can get you into auditions. It’s about networking, doing little shows, doing summer stock. There’s quite an element of luck.”
A “lucky” acting role in the 2002 mini-series, Rose Red introduced Simpson to his wife, actress Melanie Lynskey, best known as Rose in TV’s Two and a Half Men.
“I was in Seattle six months and, the last month, we became good friends. Back in New York, I couldn’t stop thinking of her. Then 9/11 happened and as I watched (the scene at the World Trade Centers) from my roof, she sent a message: “Are you OK?” That simple message was all Simpson needed to pursue a relationship that, he says, “just clicked.”
Married for nearly five years, Simpson says their acting commitments often keep them apart. “We constantly miss each other,” he says.
TWO SIDES OF A CAREER
Simpson considers himself “nerdy,” a personality trait of some characters he’s portrayed. “But I stopped trying to ‘do’ nerd. It’s more about how to play this guy. For me, what’s worked the most is finding the person within. It’s about communicating on a human level.
“I enjoy playing really articulate people,” he adds, “and I love being around people who know more than me. I really love knowledge and information.”
An avid reader since he was 7 years old, Simpson turned to writing to fill gaps between acting jobs early in his career, basing some characters on people he has known. “A screenplay I wrote a few years ago has a pizza joint as a centerpiece,” says the actor, who worked at Bloomsburg’s Napoli Pizza, known as “Naps,” for three years. “A couple of the characters are strongly inspired in the best way by people I worked with.”
Today, in addition to acting, he writes TV pilots and screenplays and is working toward getting them produced. He plans to direct these projects, each one featuring a role for his wife.
Simpson believes it’s important for an actor to stay grounded, work hard and remain committed. “I’m constantly stunned that I’m still working,” he says. “Everything is temporary.” •
Bonnie Martin is editor of Bloomsburg: The University Magazine
WHERE HAVE YOU SEEN ACTOR JIMMI SIMPSON ’98? PERHAPS…
The Farnsworth Invention
The Invention of Lying
The Mother of Invention
A Quiet Little Marriage
Itty Bitty Titty Committee
Herbie: Fully Loaded D.E.B.S. Loser
The Big Bang Psych
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
My Name Is Earl