Credits + Pics

Buyer's Guide

Lee Links

Ask Lee

Site Info



Time off for Good Behavior

by Lauren David Peden
Photos by James Geer
CRUNCH Magazine, Winter 2003


As anyone who watches OZ knows, J.K. Simmons and Lee Tergesen have been trading the dark side since Anakin Skywalker was just a glint in his father's eye. When Tobias Beecher (Tergesen), a mild-mannered blue-blooded lawyer convicted of DWI and vehicular manslaughter, first arrived at Oswald State Correctional Facility in 1997, neo-Nazi Vern Schillinger (Simmons) took him under his wing – and then raped him and branded a swastika on his lily-white ass. Beecher retaliated by beating Schillinger senseless and taking a crap in his face.

And that was just for starters. With enough casual violence to make Tony Soprano wince, the dastardly duo has played Byzantine cat-and-mouse games throughout OZ's six-year run, which, to the dismay of the show's ardent fans, is coming to an end next spring. Now, though, the pair are contemplating life after prison hell. We're grabbing a beer in Pravda – a Martini `n' blini bar in SoHo – after a day's filming on a sweltering soundstage in Bayonne, New Jersey, where Simmons was mightily intimidating in a sleeveless black muscle shirt, freshly shaved head and multiple (faux) tattoos. Unfortunately, I was kicked off the set by OZ writer-producer Tom Fontana before Tergesen's scene. But I did spy him wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, which, in the Land of OZ, means Beecher is either up for parole again or being arraigned on yet another criminal charge.

Tergesen has changed into a green T-shirt and jeans, Simmons into his black "gardening" T and cargo pants, and they exchange equally casual banter as we wait for service. Simmons expresses delight over his stellar SPIDER-MAN reviews (he played blustery newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson), while the quick-witted Tergesen, 37, is griping about being misquoted: "I never said that Chris Meloni was a gift to work with. That doesn't make sense. It sounds like I'm wrapping him!"

When the waitress finally arrives, it turns out neither actor is much
of a drinker. "If you wanted a drinking piece, you should've caught
us the first season," Simmons says.

"Yea, we were bad back then," says Tergesen, a self-described metal head, who first came to fame as Terry, the "I love you, man" guy in the Wayne's World movies. "Getting drunk, ripping all our clothes off in bars. But noooo – nobody cared that first season. Nobody wanted to interview us back then. You're too late!"

"I'll toss back the occasional beer now and then, but I'm an old
married man with two kids," adds the 46-year-old Simmons, who opts for an Amstel Light. "Bo-ring."

Tergesen, a young married man with no kids, has given up drinking altogether, for reasons he does not reveal. He orders sparkling water. So much for getting them buzzed and watching the sparks fly. Instead, I listen to them dissect the current season and the fate of their characters. "We've hardly worked together at all," says Simmons. "We've butted heads in one scene, but I have a feeling it's all boiling down to episodes seven and eight."

OZ being all about sin, redemption and retribution, it's obvious that
one will kill the other in the end. "I hope so!" Tergesen says.

"I assumed that would be the case," agrees Simmons. "But just
recently I've started thinking that Tom Fontana is so sick that
Schillinger might be the character that survives."

"Yeah, but then it's all going to be fake," says Tergesen. "I won't
go down."

"You know, that last episode might not be fake," warns Simmons.

"I mean, it's always real," says Tergesen, his voice rising in mock

"It's always real. I've got to imagine I kill you. I kill you!"

Maybe that explains why they don't hang out off set so much. Simmons thinks the last time they kicked it was a bowling night during the second season. "Yeah, this guy is Captain Family and Captain Work," says Tergesen sarcastically. "There was a certain amount of bonding that went on like second, third season that we don't do anymore."

A lot of it has to do with the set location in Bayonne, New Jersey –
a place that offers precious few reasons to linger. But according to
Tom Fontana, the two "adore each other" in real life. Which must be fairly helpful when you're filming scenes of multiple limb fracture, murder and (gulp!) oral sex. In fact, Tergesen claims that the only difference between OZ, famous for its full-frontal nudity, and gay porn is that "OZ doesn't have the cheesy music."

"I was asked in one interview who is the better kisser, Chris Keller
[Chris Meloni's character] or my wife," says Tergesen, "and I
said, `Chris Keller, without a doubt, because when I kiss him, I get

That affection, however, didn't extend to a vacation invitation when
Tergesen, Fontana and cast mate Dean Winters planned successive trips to Cuba and then Rome. "Even when I was single I didn't get invited," Simmons complains.

"You were never single," says Tergesen. "When were you single?"

"Well, yeah…"

"You wouldn't have gone, anyway," says Tergesen.

"Of course I wouldn't have gone with you guys," Simmons says with a look of disgust. "But you should have asked me."

Instead, Simmons is taking his brood to visit relatives in Illinois
and Montana (his home state) and then plans to spend a month in
Seattle, where he did repertory theater in college. "This is our
first let's-throw-the-kids-in-the-minivan-and-do-a-road-trip-
vacation," he says.

"Nice," says Tergesen.

Days off seem to follow a similar pattern. Simmons spends most of his downtime hanging out with his family in the `burbs, while Tergesen is more apt to be found on the dance floor at Centro-Fly and Vinyl in New York, where he'd gone the weekend before to check out legendary DJ Danny Tenaglia. "I used to go to Twilo a lot when Junior Vasquez was there, and now I go to Exit."

"Is that the kind of music that's been happening after Jimi Hendrix
died?" asks Simmons. "That's when I basically stopped turning on the radio or buying LPs."

"Did you dance at my wedding?" Tergesen asks him.

"Ask my wife that question," says Simmons, with a sigh. "No, I did
not dance at your wedding."

Tergesen got married August 2001 at NYC's Studio 450, with renowned DJ Randy Bettis (aka Randy B) doing the musical honors. "Lee had the coolest wedding in Manhattan history," says Simmons. "And yes, of course I left early. I hung out, I had a beer and I went home. It was a lovely ceremony."

A lovely ceremony and, as it turned out, an even better honeymoon. At the last minute they opted for a cross-country road trip instead of a European jaunt that would have concluded on September 11. They were back at their Manhattan home when the news broke. "We're sitting in our bedroom talking, and we hear some sirens, and Leslie goes, `Oh, God – that's something big,'" says Tergesen. "She feels like she's `in touch' with things. In my head, I go, `Oh, what the hell does she know? Big? It's one fucking siren.' We turn on the radio, like in a movie, just in time to hear them say, `The World Trade Center has been hit by a plane.' I turned on the television just in time to see it." He pauses for effect. "I never doubt her anymore."

Falling in love with Leslie was, according to his Web site
(leetergesen.net) one of the three defining moments in the life of
Lee Tergesen, whose first post-OZ projects are the indie film, BARK and EXTREME DATING. The other two are being cast as Rosie in POINT BREAK, his first major movie, and driving back from a New Orleans road trip just in time to be by his mother's side when she died of breast cancer in 1989.

"Jksimmons.com was closed down," Simmons counters. It was closed because the Web mistress received numerous threats and e-mail bombs from people who obviously had a hard time separating fact from fiction, Simmons from Schillinger. "I'm still not clear on whether [the threats] were from Nazis or if they thought she was promoting Nazis," says Simmons.

Simmons then recounts a story about being recognized by an
overzealous fan on a recent plane ride. "He does this unbelievable
triple take and goes, `Oh my God! J.K. Simmons! Your first name is Jonathan and your birthday is January 9.' I said, `Pal, if you know my Social Security number, I'm going to kick your ass.' It turns out the guy and his wife were big OZ and LAW & ORDER fans." (Simmons also plays shrink Dr. Emil Skoda on the NBC series, going, he says, "from psycho to psychiatrist.") Simmons looks incredulous. "I was just like, `He knew my birthday!'"

Tergesen laughs and shakes his head. "I came out of a play last year and this guy rushes up to me and he's like, `Oh my god, Lee
Tergesen!' I'm like, `Hey, how ya doing?' He says, `I just saw you in there; I went to see the play, too. Could you sign a picture?'"
Tergesen's eyes widen in horror. "He's got two pictures of me! With

"And he goes, `Can I just bother you for a picture?' and he pulls out this little disposable camera that he obviously just ran out and
bought, and I go, `No it's too much.' Him and his friend just stop
and they're like….[look of dejection]. I go, `No, I'm only kidding.'
I always like to throw a little scary shit at the people because I
think that way I'll never have a stalker."

When Tergesen departs – "I can't imagine I can't say everything I
have to say in 45 minutes and then get the fuck out of here" –
Simmons stays for dessert. "It's a good time to go," he says. Meaning OZ, not Tergesen. "But it will definitely be sad to see it end." His post-Oz projects are piling up. He recently shot several pilots, including an ABC drama called HOMEWARD BOUND with JoBeth Williams, which he just found out didn't get picked up for fall. We also discuss his big-screen career (in addition to SPIDER-MAN, Simmons has appeared in THE MEXICAN and THE GIFT and is currently shooting the Disney western HIDALGO with Viggo Mortensen and OFF THE MAP with Joan Allen), parenthood and the difficulties of being separated from his family when he's shooting on location.

"If it's less than a week, it's okay," says Simmons. "The first day
is a huge relief; you get to sleep. And the second day is fine. But
by the third day it starts to get old, and if it goes on much longer
than that I'm, like, crying. I can't do it. I just can't. I've got to
go home." And so he does.


Oz main page