Tall, dark and handsome– those words may describe actor Henry Simmons, who plays Detective Baldwin Jones on the highly watched ABC drama NYPD Blue, but they certainly don’t do him any justice. The Connecticut native, who describes himself as loyal, passionate, and fun, deeply identifies with his character on NYPD Blue. “He shares some of the characteristics that I have. He’s a strong individual who’s sensitive, very honest, chivalrous, {and} very committed to his job,” 30-something Simmons says.
However, this fraternal twin (he has a twin sister), who is an absolute sweetheart, is more than just a piece of eye candy. He went from working at a financial company to acting and producing. (He produced and starred in a four-character play titled Sure, in California this summer.) Simmons has done a little bit of everything and seems to have no regrets. “A lot of times to get to a certain level you might have to compromise,” says Simmons. “But I just cannot do something that I am not going to be proud of.”
And he should be proud. Simmons has built a sizeable following and his role on NYPD Blue {which has received a total of 82 Emmy nominations and 19 wins so far in its nearly 10-year run} has added to the cast’s diversity and allowed more positive portrayals of brothers on television.
ESSENCE.com managed to snatch Henry away from the set for a moment to discuss the new season of NYPD Blue, his sex-symbol status and what he considers his most challenging role.
Your new season starts Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 10 p.m. EST, and I hear ABC has produced a special commemoration for the show’s 10th season and 200th episode, which will air at 9 p.m. EST on the same day. Congrats! So, what can sisters expect from your character this season?

I think he is going to get involved with another woman, besides Garcelle’s character {Assistant District Attorney Valerie Haywood}. So there is going to be a little bit of conflict there. Baldwin’s got his hands full. I know they are going in that direction, I don’t know how it is going to be resolved, but I know there is going to be conflict. So I think there is going to be a bit of a {love}] triangle.

Your show broaches many serious topics. Is there always a somber tone on the set or do you clown around sometimes?

Yeah, we’re pretty loose, {but} not all the time. We take our jobs seriously. But, because of the subject matter that we deal with, we {try to}] keep each other laughing. Sometimes Esai {Morales} and I will be like little grade school kids throwing things at each other. {laughs}]. Oh, I can think of one {time specifically}. Garcelle and I had a love scene last year. And you know when you do a love scene it’s a little uncomfortable because you have so many people around and you are practically naked while you are doing this intimate scene with someone. Well, to break the ice, I guess, right in the first take as Garcelle and I moved in to embraced each other, and just as we were about to kiss, the crew had rigged a boom box and over the loudspeaker. They had Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” blasting and everyone just started laughing. It made it on to our gag reel.

TV Guide recently selected you as one of its 25 sexiest people. How does it feel to be a sex symbol?
I am glad everyone agrees with me {laughs}]. Nah, I am just kidding. I don’t know. I don’t see it honestly. I am just doing my job. I mean it’s flattering, don’t get me wrong, but I see it as more of a compliment to my parents than me. I don’t look in the mirror and say, gosh, you’re a sex symbol. I don’t do any of that stuff. But you know the thing is, when people say that type of stuff, you listen to it with a smile. But you don’t take it seriously because when you start taking that stuff seriously that’s when you become more focused on your looks and you get away from what it’s really all about-and for me its acting.

What would be the most challenging role for you to play?

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I have always dreamed about {playing} Othello. Shakespeare has so many complexities and depth. With Shakespeare there isn’t a great deal of subtlety. They {characters} verbalize exactly what they are feeling and it’s still compelling. The thing that draws me to Othello is not only the conflict that he goes through {but} the conflicts because of race and how people may look at him and jealousy. It’s timeless. There is a strong character in Othello. I just really want to do that play.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?

You know what someone told me a long time ago– if you can figure out something else you want to do besides acting then go do it. Acting is so demanding and so tough. You get rejected so often that it wears on people. So if you have a backup plan, than eventually you are going to go do it. So I can’t see myself doing anything else. This is what I love.