Actor JK Simmons Builds His Biceps and His Brand on Instagram

Hollywood actors flaunt their body transformations on Instagram for fun and profit.

Jun 13 2016, 2:30pm

Hercules, the original Instagram muscle fiend. Image: Marie Lan-Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons

Last week, Academy Award-winning actor JK Simmons blew up our Instagram feeds with some candid photos of his extremely vascular biceps. Simmons, who looked plenty fit in the snug black t-shirt he wore throughout the course of his breakout performance in Whiplash, obviously needed the world to know he was dead serious about his role as Commissioner Gordon in the upcoming Justice League movie.

JK Simmons throwing down in the gym. Image: aaronvwilliamson/Instagram

Once upon a time, this sort of publicity wasn't necessary or even particularly desirable. Action heroes came in two distinct strains. The first variety, comprised of perennial muscleheads such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme, stayed huge year-round and slummed it in R-rated slugfests. The second group, a diverse cast of characters running the gamut from Robin Hood's Kevin Costner to big-screen Batman Michael Keaton, looked little different than the Joe Sixpacks who were expected to watch their films.

A subtle shift toward verisimilitude in super heroic roles, with an accompanying convergence in these two types of leading man, began with diminutive Tobey Maguire's transformation into Spider-Man. Maguire's portrayal of that character in three early-2000s films, now long-forgotten yet noteworthy at the time, saw him packing on mass and definition in a way that Keaton and Costner never had. However, Maguire's transformation, chronicled in the pages of the fitness magazines adorning supermarket check-out lines, now pales in comparison to the extreme makeovers achieved by the likes of The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke, current Superman Henry Cavill, and the entire cast of 300.

Even so, it was only through the arrival of social media—Instagram, in particular—that Simmons and others gained total control of their striking new selves. Actors and actresses no longer need to wait for the intervention of kindly editors at Muscle & Fitness; instead, they can choose their filter and post a few hot shots of their brand-new bodies.

"I believe the definition of definition is reinvention," wrote former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins in a 1993 Details essay linking physical fitness with personal rebirth. For Rollins, weightlifting was the ticket from post-punk notoriety to full-blown pop stardom, as his beefier early-90s physique helped him land acting roles and likely contributed to a brief career revival on MTV.

But Rollins, like Maguire, was small potatoes physically when compared to today's enhanced hunks—not to mention reliant on the mainstream media, including publications such as Details, to promote his reinvigorated brand.

However, for actors like Chris Pratt, who segued into super heroics with some Instagrammed underwear shots and wisecracks about cutting back on beer, the marketing of one's best self begins squarely at home.

"There's something exciting about unveiling the before-and-after, and everybody using Instagram who follows you and looks at you gets to share in that," Pittsburgh-based physique athlete Douglas Alexander told Motherboard. Alexander, who recently uploaded an image of his own radical two-month body transformation, added that social media has democratized this process by levelling the playing field.

"J.K. Simmons isn't competing with a couple [International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness] pros who monopolize the fitness magazine covers," he explained. "He's putting himself alongside people like Matt Ogus, Dana Linn Bailey, Tiana G... every fit person on the internet who is fighting for money and attention. If his pictures hit, there's this sense that he did everything himself. That's way better marketing, way more impressive and real-seeming—even if the pictures are filtered and angled, which they always are."

It remains debatable whether the improved musculature of Pratt and Simmons makes much of a difference in how they portray comic book characters not largely defined by their definition. What isn't open for debate, however, is the effectiveness of Instagram at reminding us that they landed these roles in the first place.