Actor J.K. Simmons is one of those fine character actors whose reputation gathers steam the older he gets.
I first notice him in Oz, as the neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger you wouldn’t want to mess with, but his varied credits have included Law & Order, The Closer, Spiderman & Whiplash.
Now he features in Counterpart, the sci-fi spy drama produced by Starz, and screening in Australia on SBS.
He stars as Howard Silk, a bureaucrat who has been working for the UN United Nations Office of Interchange in Berlin, for 30 years. Performing secret information exchanges through the glass of a clandestine cubicle, Howard is a low cog in a mysterious Pinter-like wheel.
“I don’t know what we do here,” he complains to his superior Quayle (Harry Lloyd), after being rejected for a promotion.
Frustrated at being overlooked for such loyalty, he returns to care for his wife Emily (Olivia Williams), who is in a coma after being hit by a car.
But next day at work he is hauled aside by Quayle to an interview room where Director of Counterintelligence Aldrich (Ulrich Thomsen) introduces him to a hooded man, who turns out to be Harold Prime (J.K. Simmons), his doppelgänger from a parallel universe. Mind. Blown.
“He looks exactly like me but he’s nothing like me…” a shocked Silk declares.
Indeed. Prime has all the assertiveness that Silk lacks, he is forthright, abrupt and alpha-male, but I shall refrain from explaining the science of this fiction and what Prime wants -suffice to say that Silk’s stocks have suddenly risen within the company and the two men will have to work together.
The premise of this tale by writer Justin Marks allows Simmons to show his versatility, and the advances in technology make the transitions on screen all pretty seamless. Simmons is particularly commanding as Prime but it is his mild-mannered Silk who offers more layers, at least in the opening chapter.
Berlin’s backdrop is dark and noirish even as action, such as shoot-outs, takes hold. The net effect is more Black Mirror or even Sliding Doors than James Bond, with a double bang for your buck in the acting stakes. Other notable names in the series will include Stephen Rea, Jamie Bamber, Sara Serraiocco and Aussie Ingo Rademacher.
SBS will premiere the series after the Socceroos first World Cup game (it’s hard to think of 2 more opposite genres) with the entire series available to binge at SBS On Demand.
10:30pm Saturday on SBS.