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Eat Pray Love - Richard Jenkins interview

Richard Jenkins in Eat Pray Love

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RICHARD Jenkins talks about playing real life character ‘Richard from Texas’ in the film adaptation of Eat Pray Love, and working in India alongside Julia Roberts.

He also talks about life since his Oscar nomination [for The Visitor] and working alongside Johnny Depp on forthcoming film The Rum Diary

Q. I gather you were a fan of the book before the idea of the film had even been suggested. Did you ever imagine you’d play Richard from Texas when it did come about?
Richard Jenkins: About a year, yes. I liked it a lot. But no I never imagined I’d be playing that character, although I loved him when I read the book. So, I jumped at it when they offered it to me.

Q. I gather you were initially reluctant to speak to the real Richard, but Ryan Murphy [writer-director] encouraged you to do so?
Richard Jenkins: Ryan said you should… He told me there was a great vibe with him. So, I called him and said: “Hi, it’s Richard Jenkins…” And he goes: “Yeah, can you call me back in about an hour… I’m cookin’ for my kids.” So, I said OK and I called him back in an hour and he said: “Ask me anything!” So, I did because he was very direct and very open. He was very cool and very funny. I told him: “Jeez, I hope I honour you.” But he was like: “Oh please! Just go and make your movie, don’t worry about me!”

Q. And you chatted for about an hour?
Richard Jenkins: Yeah. I said right before I hung up: “That was the easiest hour I ever had on the phone.” But like Ryan said there was just this good vibe about him. He was at peace. He was a man who had found peace, a man who had a lot of demons in his life, but he’d turned his life around. He died, in March [this year], but his two sons were at the premiere. And they adored him.

Q. Was that nerve-wracking, getting to meet them?
Richard Jenkins: It was… I didn’t know until we got there and then they introduced them to me. I was like: “Oh really?” The story that I tell in the movie, they didn’t know. They didn’t remember which one of them it was, they don’t remember the incident and after the story they turned to each other and said: “Was he talking about me, or was he talking about you?” They didn’t know. But it is a true story and it really did happen.

Q. It’s terrifying…
Richard Jenkins: It is terrifying but he ended up having a great relationship with both of his kids.

Q. How was actually filming in India? Did that help to inform the character as well?
Richard Jenkins: It was, it’s was really helpful… but it’s always helpful to film in the place, I think. It’s what movies can do… you can’t do it in theatre, and yet we don’t do it as much anymore. It’s all sound stages and other locations. If it takes place in an ashram in India, it’s better to be in India in an ashram because there’s no place like it and it’s hard to duplicate [smiles]. So, for me it was really worth it.

Q. Had you been to the country before?
Richard Jenkins: Yeah, I toured a play in India in 1981… Of Mice & Men. I was there for a month, in Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi and Madras, so I got to see the country. But for this I was outside of New Delhi, about 50 miles south, in an ashram, so I was in the country this time. I had never been to that part of India and it was kind of like a mid-Western farm area, except when you went into the town it was just crazy. It was amazing. We took a trip one weekend to Varanasi on the Ganges… a Hindu holy site where we saw some really amazing stuff.

Eat Pray Love, UK Premiere

Q. Julia Roberts has said that one of the great pleasures of filming the Indian segment was getting to go up against you every day. So, how was going up against her?
Richard Jenkins: [Smiles] You know, I was a little nervous. She’s formidable [laughs]. She’s no pushover, which really helped me. We got along great. She’s full of grace and sweetness and humour, and she’s a wonderful actress. I felt absolutely safe doing this movie with her and Ryan. They created a really nice atmosphere where you felt you could really do your work in. You didn’t have to think about it or second guess yourself, you were free. And that comes from her and Ryan.

But Julia is one of a kind. We were just at the San Sebastian Film Festival and they honoured her. I walk around… they’re going “Julia! Julia!” They don’t go: “Richard! Richard!” But to walk that carpet with her, and to hear the thousands of people truly loving her, and holding signs saying’ thank you for all you’ve done for me’, or ‘thank you for your movies’… I said to her: “What an amazing effect you’ve had on these people.” There are very few film stars, or actors, who have had that effect. So, for me it was a privilege actually just being at the San Sebastian festival. But they were also going crazy for Javier Bardem, who is their favourite son.

Q. How has life changed for you since your Oscar nomination for The Visitor?
Richard Jenkins: Well, it’s changed but not drastically. I’m not up for any parts that Daniel Craig gets [laughs]! I’m 63 and I’m a character actor and that’s what I’m always going to be. But it’s been great and it’s been wonderful and I got a chance to do things like this, possibly. You know, I don’t know if this would have happened without that. So, it’s been great.

Q. You also have Let Me In and The Rum Diary coming up…
Richard Jenkins: Absolutely, Let Me In is coming out in November, but I don’t know what’s going on with The Rum Diary. I haven’t talked to anyone about that yet. I’m in the dark! It was fun to do, but…

Q. So, what was it like working with Johnny Depp?
Richard Jenkins: Johnny Depp is… he’s another one – you know, I thought to myself: “Here I am sitting and talking to a guy whose best friends were Hunter S Thompson and Marlon Brando!” But he kind of went: “Yeah, well… you know….” But he’s really smart, he’s really interesting and he’s a sweetheart.

Q. You yourself have a great reputation, though. Are you aware of that? So many actors say that working alongside you can be intimidating because you’re so good… They have to raise their game.
Richard Jenkins: Really? Until they work alongside of me and then they go: “That’s it?” [Laughs aloud].

Read our review of Eat Pray Love