Richard Jenkins Biography

Actor (1947–)
Richard Jenkins is a widely respected American character actor known for TV shows and movies like 'Six Feet Under,' 'Let Me In,' 'The Visitor' and 'The Shape of Water.'

Who Is Richard Jenkins?

Born on May 4, 1947, Richard Jenkins has been seen in both minor and major character roles in movies and TV shows since the early 1980s. Some of his more memorable roles have been in Six Feet Under (2001-2005), The Visitor (2007), Burn After Reading (2008), Let Me In (2010), Olive Kitteridge (2014) and most recently, The Shape of Water (2017), in which he's been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Richard Jenkins Photo

Richard Jenkins poses for a portrait at the BAFTA Los Angeles Tea Party on January 6, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. 

An Oscar Nomination for ‘The Visitor’

Jenkins received his first Oscar nomination in 2008 at age 60 – a Best Lead Actor nomination for The Visitor (2007). In the movie, he played a lonely college professor in late middle age who traveled to New York for a conference and found a young immigrant couple living in the apartment he still kept there. Jenkins didn’t win; the winner that year was Sean Penn for the lead role in Milk.

‘The Shape of Water’

Ten years later, in 2018, at age 70, Jenkins received his second Oscar nomination – a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the 2017 film The Shape of Water. Once again, he played a lonely man – a single, gay man who was understandably closeted given the movie’s 1962 time frame.

In the movie, the Jenkins’ character – Giles – was an artist who lived next-door to the character played by Sally Hawkins – Elisa Esposito. She was a mute who communicated only in sign language. Hawkins was also nominated for an Oscar (for Best Lead Actress) for the movie, which received a total of 13 nominations – the most of any movie in 2007.

Jenkins was also nominated for a Golden Globe award (his first) for The Shape of Water. He did not win, however, at the awards ceremony held in January 2018. Sam Rockwell won in the category for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

‘Step Brothers’

Though Jenkins earned two Oscar nominations for dramatic roles, the versatile actor is just as comfortable in movie comedies. His best-known comic film is the 2008 hit, Step Brothers, starring John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell as battling step-siblings. Jenkins starred as the father of one of them – the Reilly character, Dale Doback.

In the movie, Jenkins’ character, Dr. Robert Doback, meets and marries a divorcee played by Mary Steenburgen who is the mother of Ferrell’s character, Brennan Huff. When the two marry and move in together, the two grown sons also move into the same house and take an instant disliking to each other.

From ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ to ‘LBJ’

Other films on Jenkins’ long list of roles in comedies, dramas and action films include Silverado (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Little Nikita (1988), Sea of Love (1989), It Could Happen to You (1994), How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Flirting With Disaster (1996), Me, Myself & Irene (2000), Fun with Dick and Jane (2005), Burn After Reading (2008) Eat Pray Love (2010), Jack Reacher (2012), White House Down (2013), LBJ (2016) and others.

‘Six Feet Under’

After nearly two decades of character work primarily in movies, the role many would consider to be Jenkins’ breakthrough came on TV, in the HBO series Six Feet Under. The critically acclaimed series, which ran from 2001 to 2005, was about a family-owned funeral home that was taken over by two brothers, Nate and David Fisher (played by Peter Krause and Michael C. Hall, respectively), following the sudden death of their father, Nathaniel Fisher.

Jenkins played Nathaniel, who was seen often on the show, but only in flashbacks and dreams (or hallucinations) in which he would “visit” his family members, including both of his sons and his widow, Ruth, played by Frances Conroy.

‘Olive Kitteridge’

Jenkins won an Emmy Award in 2015 for his first and so far only Emmy-nominated role. The award was for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for the four-part HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Elizabeth Strout. 

The Olive Kitteridge miniseries and book told the story of a Maine couple's 25 years of marriage. Jenkins played the husband, Henry Kitteridge – co-starring with Frances McDormand, who played the title role of Olive. McDormand had optioned the book herself and was the driving force behind the making of the miniseries.

‘Berlin Station’

Jenkins’ most recent TV role is Steven Frost, a fugitive from the CIA, in the Epix series about Berlin-based spies, Berlin Station.

Illinois Native and Long-time Rhode Island Resident

Richard Dale Jenkins grew up in DeKalb, Ill., and earned a degree in drama at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill. After college, he moved to Rhode Island and has lived there for most of his life. He and his wife, Sharon, were married on Aug. 23, 1969, and have two children, a son and a daughter. They reside in the community of Cumberland, R.I., a suburb north of Providence.

Plays: ‘True West,’ ‘American Buffalo,’ ‘Waiting for Godot’

Jenkins was a member of the Trinity Repertory Company (also known as Trinity Rep), a leading theater company in Providence established in 1963, for 15 years. In the 1970s and ’80s, he appeared in a number of the company’s productions, including Of Mice and Men (adapted from the novel by its author, John Steinbeck, True West (by Sam Shepard), American Buffalo (David Mamet) and Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett). Jenkins was the company’s artistic director for four years.

Jenkins Sums Up His Career: ‘A Bunch of Dumb Accidents’

In interviews, Jenkins admits that he had no master plan for mastering the profession of acting. “I’m 70 years old,” he said in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2017. “And I look back on my life, and it’s just a bunch of dumb accidents that happened.”

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