Luaine Lee, McClatchy-Tribune Service
18 Aug 2014
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — When he was 9 years old, British actor John Simm used to perform in clubs with his dad, singing harmony, strumming the guitar, executing little bits. “I thought that was what I was going to be,” he says in a meeting room of a hotel here.
“Then I saw ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ when I was 15. James Dean mesmerized me. I didn’t know why . . I remember the very first scene he’s in the gutter and he has a monkey that you wind up. He’s playing with that monkey, and his jacket seems to glow, and I just — I don’t know what it was. Maybe I was in love with him a little bit because when I was a kid I was obsessed with Elvis. Obsessed. I think it shifted. And I was obsessed with him (Dean), I don’t know why — not for very long.”
A year later Simm left home for good. His parents divorced, a devastating blow to the teenager. “I was friends with my dad,” he shakes his head.
“We had a band together, we were pals. It was confusing. It was a big deal. I’ll never forget going home and mum had gone, and I had to take the dog and go to her house. We were really poor. It was just awful. I didn’t really think of it at the time, but I think the acting thing was like a rope that I grabbed and it pulled me out.”
He attended college near home, but stayed there all week, returning on weekends to continue in the clubs with his father. “So that was the beginning of growing up and becoming independent and looking out for myself,” says Simm, who’s wearing black jeans, a white T-shirt and a baseball cap with the letter A on it. (He has no idea what the A stands for.)
“You’re eager to know yourself in certain situations, but you have to go through those situations. They seem painful and scar. It was terrifying in the beginning, but looking back, I’m glad it happened.”
The work ethic that he established so young stood him in good stead when he began acting. Americans know him best as The Master from “Doctor Who,” as the lead in the English version of “Life on Mars” and in countless roles in shows like “Cracker,” “Crime and Punishment,” “State of Play.” But they’ll spy a new Simm when he arrives in BBC America’s paranormal “Intruders,” premiering Saturday.
Simm, 44, plays a volatile American ex-cop who has found happiness in the tranquil woods outside of Seattle — until his wife (Mira Sorvino) goes missing on a business trip and a series of seemingly unrelated mishaps begin to occur.
Married for 10 years to actress Kate Magowan, (they’ve been together for 14), Simm chuckles at the idea that marrying an actress can be difficult. “I tried the alternative before for five years,” he smiles. “It was worse. They just don’t get it. It was a long relationship.
“They’re sitting with you in the cinema, and you’ve got to kiss someone else and they’re squeezing the hand. ‘Give me a break, it’s my job. It’s not real.’ It just didn’t work. This has its own problems, but at least she understands me and is very supportive.”
Still, he was in no hurry to legalize their union, he admits. “I’m not religious; it didn’t matter. I didn’t get it. I get it now. The circle’s closed and you feel safer. I understand that. Children are a big difference. I thought, ‘Why do you need a piece of paper ?’ So it changed, and we had a non-religious ceremony, and we sang Beatles’ songs instead of hymns. We had a great, big party and I thought, ‘OK, I get it now.'”
The father of a son and a daughter, Simm says becoming a dad was a seismic experience. “Suddenly overnight it shifted my world on its axis, the whole earth changed,” he says.
“Suddenly you’re shifted from being No. 1 to being No. 2. For this being that you’ve never even met before, I would cut my throat. I would throw myself in front of a truck. That massive shift into responsibility, it just made me grow up. I was 30, and I’d spent my whole 20s pretty hedonistic and enjoying life. I thought, ‘OK, this is the leveler. And I’ve got responsibility.'”
When his son was 1 they thought he might have leukemia. “I’m not religious in any way,” he shakes his head, “but I remember praying out the window and just terrified that something terrible was going to happen to him. He’s fine now. Overnight he’s become this teenager,” he rolls his eyes. “It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.
“Suddenly he smells and he eats and sleeps and sometimes he comes and puts his head on my shoulder like a horse. He’s big. It happens so quickly. Who is this guy? We’ve got a 7 year-old daughter as well. I’m dreading those teenage years. I’m leaving that to my wife. She can deal with that. Already she’s terrifying. He’s really quiet, so I’ll deal with him. But when she’s a teenager, I’m working away.”