In Conversation With... is our interview series where we talk to some of the most well-known and respected actors and filmmakers about their career, filmography, influences, what they make of the industry nowadays and everything in between.
Richard Jenkins may not be a household name, but he's starred in some of the most celebrated films of the past twenty years. Known for his authentic performances, Jenkins came to prominence as part of the cast of Six Feet Under, but has been working steadily since the early '80s, beginning with Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado.
When we spoke to Jenkins over the phone, the press tour for The Shape Of Water had only just begun and was before its sweeping victory at the Golden Globes, before Guillermo del Toro's victory at the DGAs and before the Oscars.
Where are you calling from, actually?
I've never been to Dublin!
I was going to go about two years ago, I was going to take a trip. One of my dear friends is Irish, he was going to show us around, but we never got around to it.
We were talking about this in the office, the general consensus is that Richard Jenkins has never picked a bad film.
I've done a couple! (chuckles)
So, I guess that leads into the first question - what's your criteria for picking a film?
Well, I'm an actor, I'm selfish, so I look at the character. If I like the character, if I think it's a person - it can't just be a plot device. Then I think, can I bring something to this? Do I have something to say about this? And sometimes, I don't. There's a better actor suited for this than I am. Sometimes you go, yeah, I'd like to give this a shot. That's kind of it. It's an emotional response, like anything else. You have a feeling about the script and the possibility of the movie. It's nice when there's a director like Guillermo del Toro involved, those are kinds of things, and then there was a time when I've got to send my kids to school, and I've got to work.
Even something like this, where it's quite fantastical, how do you bring authenticity to it?
Well, it's in the text. That's the clue. All the clues lie in the script. But, y'know, you try to be a person dealing with whatever you're dealing. That's what I want to see, a person - not a character. Someone who's struggling, but living their life. I don't care it's Shakespeare or a movie - I just try to be this person on screen, living their life and how they'd react to a situation or what's happening on screen.
What's a Guillermo del Toro set like?
It's fun. You're there to work, but it's a lot of fun. He makes it easy. It was a gas.
Does he like to keep you to the script or ad-lib?
A few times, not a lot. Sometimes, you don't want to let something go by that might work and it just comes out of your mouth and you don't even know you say it. I didn't know how he'd feel about it, but there were some things that I said... like, that line, "He's an interesting guy." It just came out at the time, it made sense at the time.
And it felt natural.
Yeah, he starts off in a child's mind, it's a fish in a tank. It's an it... to actually becoming her fiance! (laughs)
It's a journey, I guess.
I'm talking to you, and I just realised that my fly is down. It's been down this entire time. My fly's been down for an hour and a half. I just realised! Sorry!
You're fine, it's over the phone. I didn't have to witness any of this.
What I loved about your character, coincidentally, in the film was how humourous he was. Was that something you brought yourself?
Some was in the text, some I brought. One of the lines, when he takes the drawing to the ad agency guy and he wants them happier. I say, "Happy? He looks like he just discovered the missionary position!" You knew it was there, it was just a case of when it's appropriate. It's a part of life, we say things that are funny.
In terms of working with Sally Hawkins, she's signing and speaking her voice as it were, how did that work out?
It was really interesting. At the scene, where she makes me repeat what she's signing, I had to say what she was feeling and then, turn around and say I don't want to talk about this anymore. That was really interesting. It was a weird thing to say those things, and then think that it's all a bunch of hooey.
OK, top five films?
My top five favourite films? Man... they wouldn't be the greatest films, but films that I needed at the time. The first one I think of was Alfie, with Michael Caine. It was a time when I was thinking about becoming an actor and I saw that performance and I thought, "Oh my God, if I could do something like this..." There's a movie called Bread and Chocolate, Nino Manfredi doesn't know if he's an Italian or if he should be Swiss, and I was at a crossroads in my life and it served a purpose, y'know?
And, of course, my No.1 movie is The Shape Of Water. (laughs) Oh, they're motioning me to get off the phone. They've been doing it for the past five minutes.
We'll leave it there, thanks for talking to us.
Good talking to you, man.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more from our In Conversation interview series...