It was never McCarthy’s goal to “resurrect the career of Richard Jenkins,” he says. “It was a calculated gamble. I knew Richard would deliver, and it would benefit the movie in a fabulous way. He’s built up so much goodwill in Hollywood, and it’s a pleasure to see a guy you really like turn out a great performance.”
The rest of the industry seems to agree with McCarthy’s assessment of Jenkins’s unsentimental, reserved star turn. Oscar buzz has surrounded him since the movie’s premiere at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, though Jenkins is hesitant to acknowledge the chatter. “I didn’t say it, you said it,” he quietly admonishes when talk turns to the possibility of a statuette. “I didn’t get in the business for the awards.” The idea of being celebrated by his peers, he demurs, “is flattering, but there are so many movies in the fall and so many performances.” And while he admits that the film has made him more “visible,” he points out that this doesn’t mean he’ll ever headline a superhero blockbuster or grace the cover of GQ. “I can be on the cover of AARP,” he says, laughing. “It’s not like I’m going to be the next James Dean. I am who I am. I was always curious what it would be like to carry a film, and I’m grateful that I got to do it.”
Overall, life for Jenkins hasn’t changed much. He still shops at Costco and has no plans to trade Providence for Beverly Hills. He tried making a go of L.A. in 1975, he says, after his daughter, who is now an actress living in New York, was born. (His son is an accountant in Boston.) But, he remembers, “I couldn’t get anywhere. I didn’t know anything. I was so broke, I had to borrow gas money from my uncle in San Bernardino to get home to Rhode Island. ”
Now Jenkins finds himself in the coterie of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers, even if his roles remain more under the radar than above the title. He appears in many projects from the Farrelly brothers, who grew up on the street where Jenkins now lives, and regularly works with Joel and Ethan Coen. (He is the goofy manager of a gym in their new black comedy, Burn After Reading.) Lately he has been welcomed into the Judd Apatow family, with a turn as the patriarch of Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers. “I’m the oldest guy in the movie now,” Jenkins says. On the set of Step Brothers, Ferrell and Adam McKay, the movie’s director, were so impressed by Jenkins’s wide array of acting experiences that they asked him to star in a few comic shorts for their Web site Funny or Die. The result is “Hollywood Tales With Richard Jenkins,” which parodies the kind of actor’s actor who thinks he knows everything there is to know about the business they call show. “One day I’m in craft service having lox with Cher...” Jenkins says in one video, before launching into a crackpot story about Michelle Pfeiffer’s daughter, an affair and a gun.