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October 31, 2008

Richard Jenkins visits Gold Rush


Two teen-age boys in concert t-shirts, trolling Hollywood to soak up the local flavor, such as it is, couldn't believe their good fortune to be having a burger at Mel's Diner when they happened to notice an actual movie star in the joint.

They ambled over, waiting for a lull in his conversation, and then paid a we're-not-worthy-style homage.

"You were really funny in 'Burn After Reading,'" one said.

"And 'Step Brothers!'" the other one added. Whatever concern these two usually have about looking cool had been hastily tossed aside.

Richard Jenkins, who co-starred in both those films, couldn't have looked more pleased with that little slice of genuine, unfiltered fan appreciation. He thanked the kids graciously and they hit the door, texting all the while. Then the veteran actor dove back into a plate of shared fries, a giant Diet Cherry Coke and a chat with Gold Rush about his passion project, "The Visitor."

The character-based drama from newbie distributor Overture is one of the few indies to take root during a year dominated by popcorn flicks (it's brought in about $11.2 million at the boxoffice and nothing but enthusiastic reviews and word of mouth).

Now the talk is about not just the music-centric film but Jenkins himself as a potential awards magnet. Having been a working actor for nearly 40 years, Jenkins is fairly circumspect about trophies and such. The guy who's made four movies each with the Coen and Farrelly brothers, played the dearly departed patriarch on HBO's Emmy winning "Six Feet Under," and got shot to death by Brian Dennehy in his first studio film, "Silverado," thinks it's, well, kind of crass to talk about personal accolades.

Think we let him skate? Read on.

GR: You carry the curse of the character actor, don't you?

RJ: Sometimes people will say, "Hey, are you that guy?" And I say, "I don't know, I might be. Who's that guy?"

GR: "The Visitor" could help, right? Were you thinking this would be an awards-worthy movie when you were making it?

RJ: No, but I knew right away that I really wanted it to succeed. Because if it didn't, it'd be my fault. I didn't want to let (writer/director) Tom McCarthy down after he'd said, "I believe you're the guy who can play this part. You can make this guy live."

GR: So what's it like to be on the awards campaign trail?

RJ: Weird, and by that I mean strange and new. But it's temporary, I do realize that. I told my co-star Haaz (Sleiman) to enjoy it, live it, soak it up. It's amazing to be in a movie that really connects with people.

GR: You're on some critics' early Oscar lists, you know.

RJ: Early's the operative word --most of the Oscar movies haven't even come out yet! I don't think I will get nominated, and it's presumptuous to even talk about it. I'm flattered, don't get me wrong, and I'm not being coy. In any given year, there are so many great performances out there! So, yeah, come on.

Keep going to hear his withering critique of his drumming skills and the two lines that got him killed in "Silverado." 


GR: You're musical, right? That was you playing in "The Visitor."

RJ: Yes it was, but no I'm not. I played the drums as a kid for about five years, from the time I was 14. I quit because I was so bad at it. I could never get out of my head and just let go. I wasn't free with it. The funny thing is, my son plays. He took up the drums and he was better in six months than I ever was in five years. I asked him how I did in the movie, and he said, "You kept the beat, dad."

GR: If it wasn't the drumming, what made you want to work on "The Visitor?"

RJ: I've waited my entire professional life to be part of something like this. I don't think I've ever read a script I loved more. I thought it was brilliant, and I knew after the first page that I wanted to be in it.

GR: So, why'd Dennehy off you in "Silverado?"

RJ: My two lines were, "Howdy," and "You can't do that." And then, boom! But I did make the lobby card. You can see me lying there dead on the ground.

For a much livelier impression of Jenkins' work, check out "The Visitor" on DVD.


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Oscar Contenders

  • So "The Dark Knight" didn't make it into the final five after all, never mind that critical and popular support. Let's just call the comic-inspired mega-hit "The Biggest Snubee."

    Here are the best picture contenders in a race that, two weeks away from the Oscars, seems to be a foregone conclusion ("Slumdog") unless there's a come-from-behind possibility ("The Reader" anyone?)

    "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; the politically timely "Milk;" rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Slumdog Millionaire," Holocaust best-seller-based drama "The Reader," and Watergate-era biopic "Frost/Nixon."

    Could "Button" and "Slumdog" split the vote, allowing another film to take the prize? Doesn't seem likely. After having clung to "Button" for months as what we thought would be the Academy voters' top vhoice, our money's now on "Slumdog." Momentum can't be ignored.

    Watch this blog for updates, ephemera and all manner of postulating.

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  • Mmmmm, chocolate Oscar. Not every star will walk away from the 81st annual Academy Awards with a trophy, but if they hit the high-profile Governor's Ball they can have pastry chef Sherry Yard's gold-dusted candy version. Also on the menu from celeb chef Wolfgang Puck is tuna tartare in sesame miso cones, chopped Chino Farms vegetable salad with ginger soy vinaigrette, Maine lobster and caviar. Serve it up! (Getty Images)

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