Veteran actor Richard Jenkins scored above-title billing — and an Oscar nod — for 2008’s The Visitor. But he’s made a career out of memorable supporting parts like the one he plays in this month’s Eat Pray Love.
“I’ve gotten to live a lot of different lives as an actor, and it’s never mattered to me how big or small the roles are. They just have to be interesting,” says Jenkins, 63. “I’m a character actor. That’s what I am, whether I like it or not. And I do like it.” Oftentimes, it’s Jenkins’ work that lingers in audiences’ memories long after the theater lights have come up, even if he was only on-screen for 15 minutes. His secret for giving full body to these characters only briefly seen? “You use the pages you’ve got,” he says. “That’s where all of the hints come from. That’s where every secret lives.”
Jenkins insists on staying focused on the jobs at hand, refusing to attach himself too closely to any single film’s rise or fall. This, he says, is the toughest part of his job. “Expectations will always crush you, whether you’re acting or just living your life. You kind of have to roll with it, which is always easier said than done,” he says. “When [you’re doing a movie], you really think it has a chance at being fabulous. That’s why we do what we do. But you have to get that out of your head. You cannot go around thinking your work is going to be good. It’s awfully nice when people say it is, though.”
Jenkins filmed in India for a few weeks for his turn in Eat Pray Love, a privilege he first enjoyed in 1981 as part of an acting troupe sent to share American theater with the country. “Some people go to India to have spiritual awakenings. I have an alarm clock for my awakenings,” he cracks. “But it was an amazing experience. There is a harmony there that’s pretty impressive. It all seems to work, and if you go with the flow in India, you really enjoy yourself.”
Back in the States, Jenkins is not only going with the flow, he’s riding the wave. In addition to Eat Pray Love, Jenkins will soon star in Let Me In, a remake of the Swedish cult hit Let the Right One In, and he has several more films coming down the line — the spoils, in part, of his Oscar nomination. “I’m kind of everywhere these days,” he says. “That’s what people say to me, and some of them say it with disdain. [Laughs] ‘God, every time I turn on the television, there you are,’ they say to me. And I’m, like, ‘I’m sorry. I’m just trying to pay the bills here.’ ”