As J.K. Simmons adds to his prolific filmography by playing William Frawley in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos,” his interview from a 2018 episode of Variety‘s “Actors on Actors” helps explain the specific reputation he’s built in Hollywood.

In conversation with Edie Falco, Simmons recalled his early days as an actor, when going on auditions was a stressful endeavor that almost caused him to misrepresent himself. Simmons is now known for projects ranging from Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film “Whiplash,” which earned him the Oscar for best supporting actor, to the Starz thriller series “Counterpart,” in which he played the leading role. That success came from a change in approach: he eventually learned that to give a good audition, he needed to learn to be himself, which allowed him to relax into his characters.

“When I got to New York, I would go to these big auditions and see — if I was auditioning to be a leading man — everybody there was Robert Redford. And I wasn’t,” he said. “And the character [roles], they were all Marty Feldman. And I wasn’t that either. I didn’t know where I fit, and I found myself always going into the room trying to be something that I thought they wanted me to be. And I think it was a big, helpful moment for me when I said, ‘What if I just walk in the room and just be this schmuck?’ And see if that’s what they’re looking for. Obviously [I would] play the character and do the scene, but that was the first time that I was able to get out of my own way and come in and just relax. Which is the magic word.”

Watch the upcoming season of Variety‘s “Actors on Actors,” presented by Amazon Studios, starting on Jan. 24.