Richard Jenkins real live performances
New York For a long time, Richard Jenkins bothered that he didn’t look or pay off like the movie stars he grew up with. How could he, the son of a dentist from DeKalb, Illinois, rise in the same business as Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando and Spencer Tracy?
“It’s really hard to believe you’re enough. I mean, to me it was horrible,” Jenkins says. “Sometimes I still don’t. But you always come back to: ‘You’re him, my friend. That’s all you have. If that’s not enough, well. But it’s all you have.’
Fittingly, at the center of a movie called The Humans is Jenkins, an extraordinary man who made his career out of live performances that are close to the bone. Directed by Stephen Karam from his Tony Award-winning play, the film is a shocking piece led by 74-year-old Jenkins.
He plays Eric Blake, who, from Scranton, Pennsylvania, arrives with his wife, Deidre (Jane Hodeshell) and elderly mother Momo (John Squibb), at their daughter’s apartment in Chinatown for Thanksgiving dinner. Brigid (Benny Feldstein) and boyfriend Richard (Stephen Yeon) have just moved into an old basement with curvy widows looking out over an air shaft. Inside the rundown apartment, lights flash and the nearby kettle vibrates. Eric looks at the maze of pipes and holes that need to be plugged.
Their conversation with Sister Amy (Amy Schumer) reveals characters who struggle with their own brokenness. The Humans, which was released in theaters Wednesday and also aired on Showtime, oozes with the existential dread of a just-hanging family. Helplessness and guilt especially hover above Eric, an old-school bouncer who struggles to plug all of the Blakes’ leaks.
You read something and say, “Do I have anything to offer this?” Sometimes you say, ‘No, not really.’ Jenkins said in a recent interview at the Central Park South Hotel. ‘But that…I understood his response to things. When I saw it, I thought, “Oh my God, that’s beautiful I am.”
Karam makes his directorial debut with the shooting of one Pulitzer Prize finalist. For the play, which opened on Broadway in 2016, Karam made great use of his family in Scranton to craft a disturbing Chekhovian drama full of metaphor. Living in pre-war apartments and passing under painted steel beams of subway stations that looked to him like fossils, Karam felt in New York the agonizing echoes of the past.
“You feel the history. You feel like you are living a life,” Karam says.
For the movie, Karam built an incredibly accurate replica of an apartment he once lived in, right down to the graffiti in the elevator. In moving the movie “The Humans” from one stage to another, the generosity of the drama grows and intensifies it.
“Space is declining, but in some ways, I think space is remarkably resilient as well — like human bodies and humans are,” Karam says. “This family, despite all this struggle, struggle, and the breakdown of different aspects of their lives—the loss of their girlfriend, their health, a mother—is still going on. I am interested in how people turn up a gallon of paint.”
Jenkins lived in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife, Sharon, for 52 years. They went expecting to stay for a few years, but Jenkins became a member of Trinity Repertory for 14 years. “He lived there. I started doing movies. I just stayed,” says Jenkins. They had two kids. Jenkins would take the train to New York for auditions. He didn’t start landing movie and TV parts until he was 35. He was 60 when he got On his first leading role in a movie, Tom McCarthy’s “The Visitor” (one of two Oscar nominations for Jenkins; the other for Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”).
“I always say that in this profession you’re going to get attacked either when you’re young or when you’re old,” Jenkins says with a smile. “You’d better get over it.”
A few tips changed everything for him. Acting coach Harold Joskin, author of How to Stop Acting, told Jenkins, “Stop trying to hide who you are.”
“I haven’t been happy with myself as an actor forever, the way I’ve been doing it. I thought I had to either change and find out or do something else,” says Jenkins. “It’s been boring for me and I think if it’s boring for me, the audience should be really cheerful. That’s what I’ve tried to do in the last 20 or 25 years. Sometimes it’s more successful than others. Sometimes I see myself and go, ‘Why would they hire me?'” Anyone?” Then sometimes I’d go, “That’s okay.”
For Jenkins, it doesn’t matter if a part has an accent, a limp, or a killer streak—a performance that involves being comfortable in your own skin, and being yourself.
“For you to deny it and deny it, I think it’s wrong,” Jenkins says. “For me, that just doesn’t work. It came later in life for me.”
It helped make Jenkins one of the most vulnerable and human of actors — someone you feel like you know because you somehow do. Jenkins isn’t the father of John C. Reilly in “Step Brothers,” the devious patriarch of “Kajillionaire,” or the gay federal agent who takes acid and inadvertently asks “Is this a musical table?” In Flirting With Disaster. But all of these parts reflect some of Jenkins’ good nature.
In The Humans, Karam went on to speculate that Jenkins might have the proud certainty of a veteran artist only to find him curious, respectful, and generous.
“The understanding of this family was so specific that I almost stopped listening to Richard talk about his children, his life, and his understanding of the family,” Karam says. “That, to me, was kind of magic.”
In his mid-70s, Jenkins is probably in more demand than ever. He reunites with del Toro in ‘Nightmare Alley’ which will be released in December. He will play Jeffrey Dahmer’s father in an upcoming mini-series Ryan Murphy.
On film sets, Jenkins used to be the oldest person to live, he says, with the happy recent exception of 92-year-old Squibb. do not mind. He says he loves young people.
“What happens is that the older you get, the more you appreciate it. You look back at your life. I do. I live in the past,” Jenkins says. “Then you look back and say, ‘Oh my God.'” People who say that Luck has nothing to do with it, they are full (expletive). it’s huge. If I don’t do this. If I don’t. If I don’t go to that room. If I don’t do that play. It’s just one by one. IM a lucky man. This is what I am.”
Follow AP Film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.