Nobody can be called a near-lock for a Best Actor nomination at this stage of the game. With the start of awards season being a good four months away, it’s way too early to even speculate. Except, arguably, when it comes to Richard Jenkins‘ work in The Visitor. A quiet, heart-melting lead performance by one of the finest character actors in the business, Jenkins’ Walter Vale is one of those career-lifting roles that SAG members tend to warm to, remember and single out.

The Visitor star Richard Jenkins during today’s interview at West Hollywood’s Le Pain Quotidien — Thursday, 5.1.08, 1:45 pm

Especially when the actor in question has been stand-out superb in a long run of supporting roles over the last 20-plus years. For me Jenkins began to come into his own in the mid ’90s with two lawman parts — a police detective in Mike NicholsWolf (’94) and a gay FBI agent in David O. Russell‘s Flirting With Disaster (’96). I think Jenkins’ career took off with one scene in particular — when his agent reacts to a dose of LSD that’s been put into his food. It’s the single most hilarious drug-related scene in modern cinema.
That was twelve years ago, and for my money Jenkins has hit long doubles or triples with eight performances since, not counting his work in The Visitor. I’m thinking of the psychiatrist in There’s Something About Mary, the sheriff in Scott HicksSnow Falling on Cedars, some kind of offical or investigator in Sydney Pollack‘s Random Hearts, an EPA agent in Me, Myself & Irene, an aging racist murderer in am FX feature called Sins of the Father, a divorce attorney in Intolerable Cruelty, an uncredited but hilarious part in I Heart Huckabees, and 10 episodes as Nathaniel Fisher in HBO’s Six Feet Under.
The Visitor‘s Vale is a morose 50ish college professor who goes through a spiritual wake-up by helping out a couple of illegal immigrants, and then falling in love with the Palestinian mother of one of them, a young man who teaches him how to play a native drum.
His next three features are a British horror-thriller called The Broken, Adam McKay‘s comedic Step Brothers(Sony, 7.25) with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, and the Coen brothersBurn After Reading (Focus, 9.12).
Jenkins is doing interviews to plug the recent theatrical expansion of The Visitor, which is now playing in some 300 situations. We met at lunch time at Le Pain Quotidien and spoke for over an hour. Here are two portions of that chat, totalling maybe 15 minutes — selection #1 and selection #2. We’re tallking about Burn After Reading as the first mp3 begins. We get into the Flirtiing LSD scene in the second portion.