NOT CHASING RICHARD JENKINS
Let’s start with a roll call. How many Academy Award nominees for Best Actor live in my small town in Rhode Island? Answer? One, Richard Jenkins.
So, when I see him at the produce section of our local supermarket am I supposed to pretend he’s just the guy stocking the shelves? He wouldn’t know me if I kicked him in the shins to get his attention. (I won’t do this, Richard.) It just intrigues me that this highly acclaimed actor has chosen to stay in Rhode Island despite all of his Hollywood success.
Sure, his early career included a fifteen year stint at Trinity Square Rep Theater in the 1970’s and 80’s and his talented wife still does choreography for some of their shows. Plus, Jenkins returned as Trinity’s Director in 1990 and saved the troupe from near extinction brought upon it by the previous Director’s penchant for cutting edge avant garde work and her total misreading of the Rhode Island audience. However, common sense says that to be a working screen actor means living in either New York or California. Jenkins, apparently, likes to be an outlier. I gather he must enjoy his privacy.
My first real notice of him came in the 1987 film “The Witches of Eastwick” an adaptation of a John Updike novel. Jenkins’ role as a milquetoast husband who eventually succumbs with murderous rage inflected upon his wife was a small masterpiece. It also showcased one of the actor’s greatest strengths, the portrayal of the “slow burn”.
Several years after the release of “The Witches of Eastwick” I found myself standing next to Mr. Jenkins behind the baseball backstop as our sons played a Little League game. “Witches” is an odd movie starring Jack Nicholson as Daryl Von Horne a mad near Satanic seducer who could, seemingly on demand, call on the fury of Mother Nature. While Richard and I watched the young players scurry around the field the sky above us became more and more threatening. Wow, I thought, what a perfect line I have for an icebreaker with this actor.
“If these clouds get any more ominous, I’m looking for Daryl Von Horne.” I would say.
Richard’s head would first warily turn towards me then his face would break into a smile at my witticism. Instead, just before I delivered my bon mot, the heavens erupted. Torrential rain and a clap of thunder sent all the parents and kiddies scrambling towards their sundry SUVs and mini-vans. My inquiries about Updike, Nicholson, Michelle Pfieffer, Cher and Susan Sarandon went unasked.
Several years later Richard was leaving the dry cleaners as I was entering. I had recently watched him in “The Visitor” the role which earned him his nomination for best leading actor in 2008. This time I did not hesitate.
“Loved ‘The Visitor’ and I tell everyone they have to see it.” I blurted.
Perhaps as a defensive mechanism Richard shifted the plastic sheathed assortment of clean shirts from one hand to the other.
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” he quietly replied.
O.K., no harm, no foul. He seemed truly grateful, but wary of drawing the attention of others still in the store. My compliment was sincere. Jenkins’ transformation in the movie from a stilted, bored widowed college professor into an enraged citizen playing an African djembe drum on a New York subway platform as a protest to injustice is amazing.
In the past several years his career has continued to flourish. He starred in the quirky tv show “Six Feet Under” as the ghost father who visits his family to dispense advice and sarcasm. He has now had roles in sixty films showing a wide range of acting skills. To me his comedic talent is best seen in 2005’s “Fun With Dick & Jane” in a scene where Jenkins’ character a corrupt, often drunk, businessman, Frank Bascombe, describes the failing company’s financial schemes to a disbelieving Jim Carrey. His verbalization and hand pantomiming of where the “profits” really went is just hilarious.
While I still occasionally saw him running errands in town, a regular guy just like you and me, I managed to stifle my “fandom”. Until recently. I mean we were practically handling the same carrot in the vegetable bin!
“Enjoy your work, Richard.” I offered.
He nodded and smiled.
“ I love what David Denby said about you in The New Yorker, ‘…Richard Jenkins did what he always does, take his part in a movie and make it the best part of the movie’. “, I ventured using part of the critic’s review of 2011’s “Friends With Benefits” for my intended compliment.
“I truly appreciate that.” Jenkins graciously replied.
I walked away with my carrots.
Well, now I’ve intruded upon him two times in about two and a half decades. That’s enough.
The man deserves his privacy. That’s why the photo accompanying this article is not of Richard Jenkins. It is me. I am not a celebrity, so feel free to stop me and we can talk about sports, politics and my writing.
Oh, and Richard, if you are reading this, I’m working on a script that I think would be PERFECT for you.
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