In the ’90s, Richard Jenkins jumped onto this writer’s horror radar when he appeared briefly in the 1994 Jack Nicholson vehicle Wolf. Jenkins’ part was small. He played a detective who was often on the receiving end of Michelle Pfeiffer’s sassiness Later, he co-starred in Flirting With Disaster, exercising his comedic chops as a cop who trips balls on Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda’s acid. Needless to say, his performance left and impression and I knew he’d be one to watch.
Since then, he has been well utilized: Six Feet Under, Step Brothers, Burn After Reading, Let Me In and, more recently, The Cabin in the Woods, hitting DVD and Blu-ray this week.
Shock was more than thrilled to get the chance to speak to Jenkins about the film and his time on set playing opposite Bradley Whitford. The two are truly a large part of Cabin‘s success and what they bring to the table – as the story’s “puppet masters” (if you want to call them that) – is nothing short of hilarious.
Shock Till You Drop: You don’t do horror all that much, so what prompted you to turn the first page of Cabin’s script when it was sent to you?
Richard Jenkins: Well, I wasn’t really interested, but my agent said I should read it because it was good. I read it that night and the next day I said I wanted to do it. [laughs] “I’ll do this, this is great.” I liked it from the beginning. I understood it, it was funny, it was a serious movie in an unserious way.
Shock: Did you consider yourself educated enough in the world of horror to get all of the references?
Jenkins: The newer horror movies I haven’t seen, but I understood it right away. There are certain archetypes in all of these movies and they all do the same thing. I understood looking behind it all and saying “This is why it happens.” It was beyond clever. And I loved the way it was written and dealt with exposition and the way our characters were introduced, Bradley and my characters. It wasn’t just information, it was a look into their lives. I don’t know enough about horror, but I know everything changes. You look at what I grew up with, like the Universal monsters, they were different, but they were the same stories. Then that changed and we got The Blob and Them. Everything morphs and changes, these things last as long as they can then horror moves on.
Shock: About your characters, are you an actor who fleshes out every aspect of their role with a back story?
Jenkins: No, my goodness. If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the screen. [laughs] I don’t care about it, really. It’s just confusing and doesn’t really help. You know our characters our friends with invites to each other’s houses and you know he’s got children. Little details spell out who the character is. Smart things. You know they have a long history and respect each other. Drew and Joss wrote it so well.
Shock: You and Bradley spend a lot of time in that control room, set the scene for our readers, how much fun did you two have on set?
Jenkins: It was a blast. Looking at all of those buttons. “Drew, what does this button do? You have to be more specific!” [laughs] And he would always have an answer, or make something up. It was a lot of fun. Three weeks of fun. They filmed the kids first and then brought me and Bradley in for three weeks in that control room.
Shock: The b-roll on the Blu-ray showcased some of the improv you two did on set. Drew allowed a bit of freedom for you two to explore the banter your characters have?
Jenkins: Yeah, yeah he did. Drew was really open and let things go. He’d let you do your work. He was encouraging and smart. Joss, meanwhile, surprised me. He’s so smart, you spend ten minutes with him and you go “Oh, I’m above my pay grade here.” He’s just a really smart guy and generous. Generous with his time and he let Drew direct this movie. He was there if Drew needed him, but Joss did a great job as a producer. They’re very close friends and remain that way, so they’re a real team. Joss was doing all of the second unit stuff with the creatures and he would show up to our set with blood all over him every day. Shoes were always full of blood. Then you’d walk out on the lot and there’d be all of these creatures having a cup of coffee.
Shock: Out of the creatures they created, what was the most impressive for you to see in the flesh?
Jenkins: The ballerina. Just the mouth… When I saw that, I thought it was great. [laughs]