J.K. Simmons made his name as a tough guy on crime TV shows like Oz and Law & Order, but on The Closer, he had a different kind of force to contend with: his ex, Brenda Leigh Johnson. The whole show begins when Simmons' character Will Pope brings Brenda into the Los Angeles Police Department, only to realize that he has residual feelings for Brenda. We quickly learn the pair has a lot of history, when it's revealed that they've had an extramarital affair.
Not only that, but Brenda wanted him to end his marriage, and he wouldn't, only to later divorce his wife following an affair with yet another woman. By the time he and Brenda reunite, he's newly single from his second failed marriage, and must navigate the tension he feels with Brenda, as he brings her under his command.
This, naturally, gets in the way of Pope's ability to manage Brenda, resulting in Pope getting in Brenda's way more than maximizing her potential as "the closer" on his force.
In an interview with TV Guide, J.K. Simmons summed up the tension between Will Pope and Brenda, admitting that his character's slightly less professional when it comes to the Deputy Chief, "He's absolutely capable of [treating Brenda professionally]. But we're shooting an episode now where his concern for Brenda will affect his behavior and the way he reacts." He went on to say that in his view of the character, there was a lot more history of romantic deviance than just his affairs with Brenda and his second wife, "I'm guessing that Brenda is not Pope's only inappropriate dalliance with a partner from work. He's definitely a bit of a hound dog. I'm sure that's gotten him into hot water in the past, and if I have anything to say about it, it'll get him in trouble again."
In the course of the series, Pope is obviously protective of Brenda, standing up for her when he maybe shouldn't, and continually seeking her approval. But both characters also have to deal with jealousy, which Simmons points out when it comes to Brenda is a continual factor "despite the fact that she has no intention of being involved with him again." (Brenda's complexities on The Closer never end.)
But when it comes to Will Pope, despite his devious sub-plots, he's not a romantic, he's a professional. And Simmons also explained how Will Pope's greater ambitions influenced his character's arc on The Closer, "He's a political animal, and I don't think he sees assistant chief as the end of his career. A run for elected office is a possibility. But he's a single father now, and that tempers the extent to which he can be a workaholic."
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