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The wonderful Richard Jenkins on having “one of those faces” and his new movie, The Visitor (which is, might we say, fantastic)
First of all, congratulations, because it’s a wonderful movie, and it’s a wonderful role ... As soon as I saw that you were [the lead], it was like, “That’s great,” you know, “That’s awesome. I love that guy.”
“They finally gave that guy something to do.” [Laughs.]
Well, it’s true!
It’s absolutely true, yes.
But I mean, you’re such a fixture, and I can’t imagine — even a casual viewer would recognize you. So, I was wondering what the experience is like for you, when someone recognizes you on the street.
Well, it’s usually, “What have I seen you in?” you know, “What have you done?” And if you name a movie, they’ll go, “No, I didn’t see that …” [Laughs.] … but, um, it’s — people are really nice. People are great … Somebody said to me the other day, “Oh,” he said, “My father told me to tell you that he enjoyed you in Hannah and Her Sisters.”
I had, like, four lines in Hannah and Her Sisters. In fact, my father — it was one of my first movies — my father reached down to get his popcorn and said, “I missed half your performance.”
But, it’s, so, it’s weird — you know, it’s, yeah. Once in a while you’ll hear something like that.
Right before I came here, I rewatched the dinner scene from I Heart Huckabees.
Which is one of my favorite movies, and that — oh, my gosh.
“God gave us oil!” [Laughs.]
Yeah! Exactly, yeah. And you’re going, “What happened to the cat?” … And he’s sort of, in a way, is kind of the opposite of this character —
— in terms of his trust of the American government, I guess. Or, at least, the way it ends up.
Yeah, right. [Laughs.]
And, I don’t know, I heard that the production was kind of troubled — I was just wondering …
Well, I was only there a day, one day. When I worked, it was great. It was a huge scene, and we, you know, and David’s out there, you know he — David — is so talented. So talented ... But I remember, we were rehearsing ... and he turned to me: “How about a beard? You wanna have a beard?” I said, “Sure.” He says, “OK, let’s get him a beard!” Of course, the makeup people are like, “What? We gotta have a — ? Nobody told us about … ”
That wasn’t a real … ?
No, no. That was a beard they made. It was great, wasn’t it?
But he just on the spur of the moment just said, “How ’bout a beard?”
I wanted to talk about how you got into contact with the director of The Visitor, how it came to you.
It came to me because [Thomas McCarthy] — well, we have the same agent … I met him at a couple ... I just briefly met him. And [I] loved The Station Agent, you know … and then he called me up, we were in L.A., both making a movie … he says, “Do you want to go get something to eat?” ... I said, “Yeah, okay.” So, we went out for dinner and just kind of talked. And then my agent said, “He’s writing something,” you know … and it never really got specific, and then he called me, said, “I wrote this script, can I send it to you?” He did, and he said, “Do you want to do it?” And I said, “What are you, crazy? You kiddin’ me? You want me to do this?” And I’ve told this [story] many times, and I know I’m going to see it in many — I hate repeating myself, but you can’t, after a while —
— but I said, “Nobody’s gonna give you money to do this movie with me in it.” And he said, “That wasn’t my question. My question is: Do you want to do it? I’ll take care of the other — ” I said, “Absolutely.” He said, “OK, let’s —” and that’s true, that’s absolutely true. And so, “grateful” is not a big enough word [laughs] word. It was like one of those moments, you know, that you just — hear about. But, but you don’t think is ever going to happen to you.
And it turned out so well. And I mean, you can’t picture anybody else in the role. And I think that’s what [McCarthy] said.
Well, he, yeah, he said, “Well, I wrote it with you in mind.” And he wrote it with Hiam [Abbass] in mind, too. He had seen her in a lot of film, and loved her. And, you know ... you read things and you go, “Can I bring something to this?” And, God, you read this, and you go “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah, I can.” •