Every time Jimmi Simpson gets a new role, his father poses the same question: “Are you playing another a–hole?” Then his mother frets: “Don’t the people in Hollywood know that you’re a nice boy?”
Who could blame them? The 40-year-old Hackettstown native has made a career of playing characters most of us would cross the street to avoid, including obnoxious Lyle the Intern on The Late Show With David Letterman; creepy, bathrobe-wearing Liam McPoyle on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; and guinea pig-loving computer hacker Gavin Orsay in House of Cards. But they have nothing on murderous Soldier, his character on SundanceTV’s drama Hap and Leonard, which debuts March 2. “Soldier is about the nuttiest psychopath I’ve played yet,” Simpson says. “I get to fully take the cork out.”
Simpson, whose mom still lives in the house he grew up in, swears there was nothing in his childhood that led him to such twisted roles. “It was really great. Hackettstown had everything. I had woods in my backyard, which is where I spent most of my time as a kid,” he says. “I skateboarded. I was heavy into chorus.” At Hackettstown High, he took one drama class “and it didn’t quite make sense to me,” Simpson says. However, after “falling into a theater class” his sophomore year at Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg University, he was smitten.
Though he now lives in Los Angeles, Simpson, who is amicably divorced from actress Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men), brought a bit of New Jersey with him to the West Coast. He frequently hosts barbecues inspired by those he fondly remembers from Garden State summer nights. “I call them ‘Jersey style,’” he says. “It’s beer in a tub of ice, and laughter and camaraderie. Everyone’s welcome. I like to carve out my own little corner of Jersey wherever I go.”