I was asked to pick my five favorite Richard Jenkins performances with Let Me In in theaters and I thought "No problem, I love the guy." He's a gifted comedic and dramatic actor. He's one of my favorite "That guy" guys.
But to pick five roles? I realized that's actually kind of tricky.
He isn't always asked to carry the heavy load of a film which is another way of saying he rarely has a meaty role. So instead of picking five of my favorite performances, I thought it'd be more fun to just pick out some roles that stand out when I think of Richard Jenkins.
When you look at his resume, things immediately get murky. Lots of movies. Most of them you've probably seen. Others you've never heard of. Some roles still manage to stand out (his gay F.B.I. agent in Flirting With Disaster comes to mind). But others... was he really in Witches of Eastwick? I haven't seen it in ages. Silverado? It's probably been even longer since I've seen that one. The Kingdom. That wasn't too long ago. Why can't I remember? Rumor Has It? Oh yeah... I remember this one. Not a great movie. But he was good. I think. This is how it is with guys like Jenkins. They're not always cast for showy roles. They're cast to be reliable.
Others are more obvious. The father who haunts Six Feet Under. The father haunted by idiot children in Step Brothers. And, of course, one angry dad in I Heart Huckabees (Jenkins is a big reason why this is my favorite scene in the movie).
Jenkins clearly has a thing for siblings. He appears in four Farrelly Brothers films and three more by the Brothers Coen. And for my money, he's hardly been better than he was in the role of Ted; the poor, sad sap who meets an unfortunate end in Burn After Reading. "This is not acceptable at Hardbodies!"
There's Something About Mary, meanwhile, is one of my favorite things he's ever done and -- being the kind of guy he is -- he isn't in the movie for more than 90 seconds. Ben Stiller is laying on his psychiatrist's couch, pouring out his emotions. One problem. The shrink isn't there. Stiller is talking to an empty room. And then in comes Richard Jenkins after having snuck away to scarf down a hotdog or something, his dirtied napkin hanging brazenly out from the collar of his shirt. He slowly, ever stealthily sits into his unoccupied chair as Stiller drones on and on and -- after no-look sky-hooking his crumpled up napkin into the waste basket -- offers up the most perfectly confounding, torturous interjection before ending his session with a subdued, menacing laugh. 90 seconds and he killed.
Not that brevity is his greatest strength. Two performances that really stick out are The Visitor and North Country. He played a pretty cold character in North Country as Charlize Theron's disapproving father. He's superb. In fact, I'd argue his work in that film was just as powerful as his work in The Visitor. But The Visitor is his best performance and obviously the one that garnered him the most attention. He landed a Best Actor nomination and for once, "that guy" became "The Guy." It was nice that he grabbed the nomination, but it was even better to see what Jenkins could do with it. When you're Jack Nicholson and you're asked to play a jerk, you have an easier time winning over an audience because they already want to love you. You're Jack. Jenkins had to play a jerk and win over an audience of people who mostly couldn't tell you who he was.
Maybe Jenkins has a leap factor in him. Maybe Let Me In is part of the process where he graduates from That Guy status. Paul Giamatti used to be "that guy." Now he's Paul Giamatti. Tom Wilkinson, same deal. But he's turned a corner as well. Whether Jenkins is this guy or that, we're all richer having a guy like this around.
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Dre writes for Film.com weekly.