Henry Simmons Biography
Realized Acting Suited Him Best, Won Role on Soap Opera, Continued Working after NYPD Blue
The first thing many notice about Henry Simmons is his gorgeous face. The next thing is probably his enviable physique. Simmons, however, would like his most prominent feature to be his acting skills. Since his debut in 1997 on the soap opera Another World, he has been mesmerizing many with both his physical features and his acting. He won a recurring role on the Tuesday night hit detective series, NYPD Blue, but the producers saw his potential and his character became a regular. As Simmons' star rose, he earned film and miniseries roles, with programs such as HBO's Lackawanna Blues, USA Network's Spartacus, and the film, Taxi, starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon.
Henry Oswald Simmons II was born on July 1, 1970, in Stamford, Connecticut. In addition to his parents, Henry, Sr. and Aurelia, his family included two sisters: Wyteria and his twin, Heather. As a child Simmons loved to pretend that he was a detective on the show S.W.A.T. During one pretend session, as he chased his sister Heather, who was a robber; she locked him out of the house. Undeterred, Simmons smashed through a glass door to capture the "criminal." He required stitches and also received a stern lecture from his father.
Realized Acting Suited Him Best
Simmons' parents instilled in their children good moral values and made education a high priority. Simmons earned good grades at Stamford Catholic High School and served as captain of the basketball team. His skills on the court and his imposing 6′4″ frame helped garner him a basketball scholarship to Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire.
Though a business major, Simmons took an acting class and performed in several plays. Upon graduation from Franklin Pierce, he found work as a financial management trainee at a firm in his hometown of Stamford. After one week, he realized he did not want to become a financial manager. Simmons did some soul searching and recalled the things that brought him joy: his days of being a pretend detective, his acting class, and the plays he performed in college. His sister, Heather, encouraged him to pursue acting. His parents were dismayed, knowing that acting oftentimes did not provide a steady income. According to Jet magazine, Simmons told the New York Daily News that "I didn't choose acting for the glitz and glamour but as a way to be creative. I'm not trying to feed my ego and see my face everywhere. I get uncomfortable with an intense amount of attention. My parents drilled into me that working hard and doing your best is the only way you'll get what you want in life."
Simmons continued working as a financial management trainee, but spent his lunch breaks going to auditions. His efforts paid off, and he received a role in the 1994 film Above The Rim that starred late rap star Tupac Shakur. He soon received bit parts on a variety of shows, including New York Undercover and Saturday Night Live. He moved to New York, where he worked as a hotel doorman to pay the bills. He stayed with friends and his sister, and after joining the LaMaMa Theater, slept on a mattress in the theater's attic.
Won Role on Soap Opera
Simmons' big break came when he won a role on daytime serial, Another World. He played do-gooder lawyer Tyrone Montgomery for two years before the soap opera was cancelled. He moved to Los Angeles in 1999, after four months of auditions, Simmons received the recurring role of Detective Baldwin Jones, on the hit NYPD Blue. He told Essence magazine, "I just remember sitting there and saying to God, 'Okay, I guess this is what you had planned for me.' I was just so overcome with emotion. I didn't cry, but gosh." Once the directors saw the well-built Simmons, his character was required to remove his shirt in the first episode. Soon, new fans were tuning in to see the new character, particularly new female fans. NYPD Blue, in addition to being known for its top-notch writing, was also known for its mild nudity among its male characters. While Simmons was not one for gratuitous nudity or sex scenes, he did bare his buttocks during his first season.
Though Simmons recognized that his good looks have opened many doors for him, he would rather be known for his acting ability. He told Elayne Fluker of Essence that "I know the way someone looks is important to some extent, especially when getting parts. But I don't want to base my career on how I look. I have such passion for acting, so it has to be more than that." Although fans swooned over Simmons' physical attributes, NYPD producers saw his wide range of acting skills and appreciated the many directions his talent could take the character that he played. Soon he was offered a permanent role on the detective show. He brought to the show a calm energy and became fast friends with Andy Clapp, his on-screen partner. NYPD Blue was cancelled in 2005 after 12 seasons on the air. There was talk about a spin-off but Simmons stated to Mark Perigard of the Boston Herald, "There's a danger playing a character for so long. For me, it will be six years. I don't want to close any doors, but I think it's time for something different."
Continued Working after NYPD Blue
Though disappointed at the show's demise, Simmons quickly won roles for various other projects. He played the slave/gladiator Draba in USA Network's remake of Spartacus. He also had roles in several films including Let It Snow, Taxi, in which he played Queen Latifah's love interest, and Are We There Yet? with Ice Cube and Nia Long. He also portrayed a boxer on HBO's award-winning Lackawanna Blues which was produced by Oscar winning actress Halle Berry.
Simmons' popularity has risen with each performance. While the majority of his roles have been essentially do-gooder characters, the actor has begun winning roles of questionable characters, beginning with 2001's Let It Snow. Simmons believed that playing bad characters offered him a welcomed challenge. His upcoming projects include the comedy movie Something New with Blair Underwood and Sanaa Lathan, as well as Tyler Perry's film, Madea's Family Reunion. With his eagerness, good looks, and talent, Simmons seemed primed to have his star shine for years to come.
Above The Rim, 1994.
Let It Snow, 2001.
Lackawanna Blues, 2005.
Are We There Yet?, 2005.
Something New, 2006.
Madea's Family Reunion, 2006.
Another World, 1997–99.
NYPD Blue, 2000–05.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Vol. 62, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Boston Herald, April 18, 2004, p. 33.
Cosmopolitan, January 2001, p. 126.
Daily Variety, June 13, 2005, p. 8.
Ebony, July 2004, pp. 172-176.
Essence, November 2000, p. 132.
Jet, May 8, 2000, p. 46.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 18, 2000.
People, April 10, 2000, p. 178; May 8, 2000, p. 108.
The Record (Bergen county, NJ), October 8, 2004, p. G4.
"Henry Simmons," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.galegroup/servlet/BioRC (September 30, 2005).
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