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Actor Richard Jenkins: Reading 'Shape Of Water' Script Was A 'Holy Mackerel' Moment

Feb 21, 2018
Originally published on February 22, 2018 10:23 am
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Our guest today, Richard Jenkins, has earned his second Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in director Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape Of Water," which earned 13 Oscar nominations, just one shy of the record. Jenkins has appeared in more than 50 films, including "Flirting With Disaster," "Step Brothers," "Burn After Reading" and "The Visitor," which earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor. He also had memorable roles in the TV series "Six Feet Under" and the HBO miniseries "Olive Kitteridge."

"The Shape of Water" is a modern fable about a mysterious, aquatic, man-like creature held in a tank at a secret government facility in the Cold War. A mute cleaning woman played by Sally Hawkins develops a relationship with the creature and dreams of smuggling him out of the building he's kept in. Jenkins plays her neighbor Giles, who's drawn into her plan to liberate the creature.

Well, Richard Jenkins, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on the film and the Oscar nomination.

RICHARD JENKINS: Thank you.

DAVIES: Just describe your character Giles, will you?

JENKINS: Giles is - it takes place in 1962, and he's - well, he's about 70 years old. I don't know how that happened. And he's an artist. He's an illustrator working for an ad company, but he's lost his job because photographs are becoming popular at that time. So he's working on a piece that he thinks might get him back in the business. And he's gay and is secretly gay as everyone was in 1962. And, you know, it's a really - it's a time of crisis in his life.

And he's best friends to Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, who is the lead in the movie, and she - and lives next door to him in an apartment. And she comes over. She's mute. He understands her sign language. They have been friends for a long time. And he plays musicals on TV - old Hollywood musicals that he loves. And he tells her about them, and she loves them, too. And they have this bond, this friendship. She takes care of him. She gives him a sandwich and some eggs every night before she goes to work. And he feels like he's the mentor and she's the student. And we come to find out it's the other way around.

DAVIES: Yeah. She works the night shift at a government facility where...

JENKINS: Right.

DAVIES: ...This aquatic creature has been captured and is being held and abused. And she hatches a plan to rescue him by smuggling him out. And I want to play a scene where she has come to ask you to help her in smuggling this creature out of this top secret government facility. She's practically frantic with desire to get this done. You are reluctant because you're involved in your own things. You're an illustrator, and you have a big meeting that day that you think will be important to you. So you're reluctant to do this.

The thing that's interesting about what we're going to hear is that it's a dialogue between two people. You're the only one who speaks because she is mute. And what we'll hear is you reacting to what she is signing. And then there comes a point in the scene where she wants you to say aloud what she is signing, and you agree to do that. And then we hear her signing. And we hear her in your voice explaining her relationship with this creature with whom she's struck this deeply emotional bond. So it's an interesting scene. Let's listen.

So this is Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins. And Richard Jenkins' character Giles speaks first, responding to this idea of getting the creature out of this facility.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SHAPE OF WATER")

JENKINS: (As Giles) Get him out. What are you talking about? No, (laughter) absolutely not because it's breaking the law. That's why - probably breaking the law just talking about it. Oh, he's alone. Oh, does this mean that whenever we go to a Chinese restaurant, you want to save every fish in the tank? So what if he's alone? We're all alone. The loneliest thing you've ever - well, you just said it, right? You just said it. You called it a thing. It's a thing. It's a freak. I can understand you. Calm down. God, calm down. All right, I will repeat it to you.

What am I? I move my mouth like him. I make no sound like him. What does that make me? All that I am, all that I've ever been brought me here to him.

See, you're saying him. It's a him now. It's a - you just hit me. Elisa, let go of me.

DAVIES: And that's our guest Richard Jenkins in the film "The Shape Of Water." It's a powerful scene, and Sally Hawkins is just so magnificent in this role. You want to just tell us about shooting that scene?

JENKINS: Yeah. As I was listening to it, I'm thinking, we rehearsed that for three weeks, the two of us, on our own. And it was really interesting because it was a huge scene for the movie and for her and me. And she wanted to get the signing right. She wanted - not have to think about it. And I wanted to not get ahead of her or behind her. I wanted to know it, too.

But when we shot it, it was nothing like we had rehearsed it, and - which was great. It was terrific. You heard me say, you hit me. There's one moment in the scene where I look at my watch, which wasn't in the scene. I just looked at my watch 'cause I wanted to get out of there. And she gave me a swat. She smacked my hand. And so that's - you know, it just came alive that day. It was really fun.

DAVIES: I've read that when you go into a role, you try not to make too many decisions about how you're going to do a scene. You get ready and then let it happen.

JENKINS: I try to, yeah. It doesn't always work that way, but that's the goal - is to just be present. You know, and just whatever comes at you, deal with it, and roll with it. You know, let it hit you. And that's always the best. For me, when I'm watching something - when I see that, when I see - you know, when the camera's there, the most important thing is you just have to be there. You have to be alive and present.

DAVIES: Gosh, you know, it strikes me that it would take enormous confidence to do that. When I picture, like, there's a crew of - what? - 40 people all being paid while you - while they're waiting for you to get something that we can use - there must've been some point in your career where you realize that you could do that.

JENKINS: Well, there was a point in my career where I bored myself to death. I just (laughter) was like, if this is it, if I - I got to stop doing this because if I'm boring myself, God knows what the audience is thinking.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

JENKINS: You know, the - so you say - you know, what's that saying? You do what you do till you can't do it anymore, and then you do something else. And that's where I was as an actor. I just - I couldn't keep doing what I was doing. So I knew better, but I just refused to 'cause it's scary. It's kind of scary...

DAVIES: Yeah.

JENKINS: ...Just to let it go, you know? But you find that - when it's working - that it's effortless. And it's fun. And it's joyous. And it's not like you stumble around for 20 takes. I mean, that's not - you know, you have to know what it is you're saying, what you're talking about. You certainly thought about it a ton. But when it comes time to do it, you just try to let it go.

DAVIES: Do you remember a role or an occasion when you tried this and - oh, my heavens, yes?

JENKINS: Yeah. It was a play. It was "American Buffalo" by David Mamet. And we were doing it at the Annenberg Theater in Philadelphia. And there was an actor named Peter Garrity (ph) - wonderful actor - was playing Bobby, and I was playing Teach - Teacher Cole. And I said to Peter - I said, you know, Peter, this play may be five hours tonight, but I just - I'm not going to do it the same way. He said, what are you going to do? I said, I don't know. And he said, OK, sounds good to me.

(LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: And off we went. And it was just a joy. The play just came alive for all of us. It was different. It wasn't set in stone. And that was kind of the first time where I just kind of jumped off the cliff.

DAVIES: You know, some people when they take on a role like to know or invent a backstory for their character. And I read that Guillermo del Toro I guess gives everybody a backstory about their character and is secret. Did you get that for Giles, and did it help?

JENKINS: I did, yeah, yeah. He - and he said, you can use it or not. And I (laughter) - he said you're not going to use it, are you?

(LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: I said, I don't think so. And after I lost the Golden Globe, he sent me an email, said, if you had used the backstory, you might have won.

(LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: But I just feel that - I don't want to make decisions like that. I - and if it's not in the script, if it's not in the text, it means it's not in the movie. And if it's not in the movie, it's not helpful to me. It's just - it's confusing. And, you know - but it's not that it isn't helpful. It's - you see Guillermo's mind in the way he was writing this character. But I don't make decisions like that, you know? That stuff - that kind of stuff really isn't important to me.

DAVIES: Coming back to when you were talking about how there came a point when you were bored. Can you take us back to that time? Do you remember when you felt bored - a role - what it felt like?

JENKINS: I don't remember the specific role, but I remember being outside of myself looking at me doing what I was doing. That's the feeling I got. And I thought, you know, what am I doing? What's the point of this profession to me? I mean, is this what it means to me just to do this thing night after night without feeling life?

And I went back to an old acting coach I had. Harold Guskin was his name. He wasn't an old man. He was just a coach I had worked with for a year. And I went back to what he taught me. And I just said, OK. Let's try this. And he basically said quit trying to hide who you are. You're the only thing you have. And I just refused to believe that it was enough, that it was interesting enough, that I had anything to offer.

But the thing you come to - that I came to - is that whether you think that or not, that's all you got. So you have to rely on that. Every experience has to come through a filter, through your experience. You know, you get angry. It's - you're getting angry, what makes you angry. So I was trying to copy others or be something else or be a character. It takes a long time to trust yourself enough to think that I have something to offer. And it's - we still - I still don't believe it. I still think I don't. But, you know, you know that the only chance you have is to just kind of live your life and exist on the screen.

DAVIES: Richard Jenkins stars in "The Shape Of Water" along with Sally Hawkins. He's been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "ELISA AND ZELDA")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with actor Richard Jenkins. He is nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "The Shape Of Water."

You've described how, you know, some scripts that you just know are terrific. What kind of scripts don't work? What kind of scripts do you reject?

JENKINS: Well, sometimes, I can read a great script, and I don't like the part, or I don't think I'm right for it. I mean, there are times I've read really great parts and think there's so many other actors who could do this better than me. And I just say no to it. But I look for the writing. And when you read great dialogue, if you're an actor, it's so - it's - you know it in page one, you know? And that's when you start looking at the character and turning the pages and say, oh, please don't die. Please don't die. And then you know you're in - you got something great.

You know, it's not you read it - exposition - every movie has it, you know? But if you're talking to your brother and you say, you're my brother. And do you remember when our mom died last year? And she was sick, you know, with cancer. And do you remember our uncle came over and he shot Jimmy in the arm that day?

It's like, does your brother have Alzheimer's? I mean, what - why are we having this conversation, you know? It's for the audience. It's like, in movies where you talk to the audience 90 percent of the time, it's - you kind of want to stay away from that stuff. But, you know, but to write exposition brilliantly is hard. You know, there are things the audience has to know about you. But how did they find that out? And that's when you see the skill of the writer, you know. But for an actor, that - I mean, for me, that's what I look at. Sometimes it's a great subject matter that is not as interestingly done as you would like it to be. And then sometimes it's "The Shape Of Water" where you read it and go, holy mackerel.

DAVIES: Yeah. I want to play another clip from "The Shape Of Water." This is a moment where Elisa, your neighbor who works in this government facility, has managed to smuggle this aquatic creature out of this facility and save its life. He's kind of like a man but kind of with aquatic features and fins and webbed feet and such. And he's in this huge bathtub. And this is a scene where you're sitting there while she's away. And you and this aquatic creature are kind of taking each other's measure. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SHAPE OF WATER")

JENKINS: (As Giles) Have you always been alone? Did you ever have someone? Do you know what happened to you? Do you - because I don't. I don't know what happened to me. I don't know. I look in the mirror, and the only thing I recognize are these eyes and this old man's face. You know, sometimes I think I was either born too early or too late for my life. Maybe we're both just relics.

DAVIES: And that's Richard Jenkins speaking with the aquatic creature in "The Shape Of Water." What's going on in this scene?

JENKINS: Well, it's - he's projecting a little bit. You know, this - it's interesting. Here it is. He first says to her - in the first scene we played - you played was - he's a fish in a tank. And now he's talking to him like he's her fiance. You know, it's an unbelievable arc that's happened in a very short time. You know, he's seeing himself, you know? This lonely thing could be Giles, you know? And I think that's - I think it's a beautiful scene. You know, we end up talking about ourselves when we - you know, are you like me? Have you been alone your whole life? We're both out of place. We're both misfits, you know?

DAVIES: Right. And as a gay man, he's closeted in 1962.

JENKINS: Absolutely, absolutely.

DAVIES: Right, right.

JENKINS: It's funny. He said, you know, I'm either too early or too late. It's true. You know, it's like, God, I wish I had been alive during the '30s when these musicals were going - this time and this world. At the same time, maybe if I waited 25 years, I could be who I am. It's a tough world he's in right now. He's between - he has nowhere really.

DAVIES: How do you know when you're in the hands of a good director?

JENKINS: Well, it comes from years of doing it and knowing what you need. And I like directors that really pay attention to what you do. I worked with Mike Nichols. First time I worked with Mike Nichols, I just really loved this man. I thought he was - he did a thing with me. I was on the set for the first day. I was playing a detective in the movie "Wolf" with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. And Mike Nichols was directing it. And I played this cop. He was kind of a generic cop. And Mike Nichols says, well, what do you think about him? And I said, you know, I don't know. He doesn't seem to be really very bright to me. And he said, that's interesting.

So we were on the set the first day. And he was Mike Nichols. And I was nervous. And there was a phone on my desk. And all of a sudden, I hear from the other room Mike Nichols. He's standing - he's watching the film on the monitor. And he says my name. And he said, your mother is on line two. Well, it wasn't in the script. So it was - then the camera was rolling. So I picked the phone up. And I go, hey, Ma. What? What do you want? And there was this long pause. And I said, no, ma. You put the television on three, not the cable box. And then I said, what are we having tonight - again? Oh, OK, so anyway, I hang up the phone. And there was this long pause. And Mike Nichols said, oh, you still live with your mother? You know, this is - it was amazing. It was an amazing moment.

And I like directors who pay attention to what's going on. Some don't - some - not many. But some look for something specific in every scene. This scene - if you're angry enough in this scene, it's going to be good. And so they don't watch what's happening. They look for something specific. And if you don't watch what's happening, you don't see what's going on around you because you're only - you're not open, you know?

It's the same thing if you're acting. My character does this, this and this. And I will not do this, this and this. My character wouldn't do that. That was always my favorite thing people say. My character wouldn't do that. I said, well, it says right here in this script your character does that. So you've got to figure this out, you know. But it's - and it's the same with directors, you know? It's what you - if a director comes up to you and says I'm not buying it, that is a great direction for me because it means whatever I'm doing they don't believe it. So something's wrong.

DAVIES: Richard Jenkins has earned an Oscar nomination for his role in "The Shape Of Water." Coming up, he'll talk about some of his other films, including "Flirting With Disaster." Kevin Whitehead will review a set of recordings of jazz pianist Teddy Williams with his groups from the '30s and '40s - known, Kevin says, for their springy informality and great soloists. And Justin Chang reviews the new indie film "Golden Exits." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "THE SHAPE OF WATER")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. We're speaking with actor Richard Jenkins, who's earned an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in the film "The Shape Of Water," which has earned 13 Oscar nominations. Among Jenkins' other films are "Flirting With Disaster," "Stepbrothers," "Burn After Reading" and "The Visitor," which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

You grew up in the Midwest - DeKalb, Ill., right? - studied theater in college and then went to Providence, R.I., to act in a repertory theater there where you spent a long time - right? - 14 years.

JENKINS: Fourteen seasons, yeah.

DAVIES: Yeah. Did you see yourself developing a career in regional theater, or did you want to get in movies?

JENKINS: I always wanted to be in movies since I was - since I can remember. I didn't see a play until I was maybe 14 or 15. I went to Chicago. My parents took me to see "Bye Bye Birdie." And I was like, I couldn't believe there were kids, like, my age or a little older on stage. It was just incredible. But I grew up watching movies. And I just never - I said, how do you get into - how do you do that? That's what I want to do. So - but the theater was there, you know? That was accessible. And I auditioned and became an apprentice at Trinity Rep in Providence.

DAVIES: Right. And so while you were doing that, you eventually managed to get into movies. How did you get better? How did you get noticed? I mean, you weren't...

JENKINS: I don't know.

DAVIES: You didn't go to - you weren't living in LA - network.

JENKINS: No, no. I went out to LA for a year, and it was just not a good time. It was not going to happen. So I came back, and I went back to the theater. And there was a man there named Adrian Hall who ran it, who really - you look back at your life, and you see people who just step in and say, I think you should be doing this. This is - you know, who give you just the kind of encouragement you need to keep just going a little bit longer.

I had somebody in college named John Ficca - did the same thing to me. And Adrian Hall, who I was terrified of for the first couple of years - and I don't think he ever knew my name for the first two years. But we ended up having a relationship where he trusted me and, you know, gave me responsibility, made me kind of live up to what I wanted to be. He demanded it of me. So that was an incredible time of growth and self-discovery.

DAVIES: An agent finally saw you at a performance in New Haven, right? And you started auditioning - started in movies while I guess in your mid-30s. Is that right?

JENKINS: Yeah, my mid-30s.

DAVIES: In 1996 I think, you made "Flirting With Disaster," which I...

JENKINS: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...Think is one of my favorite comedies ever - David O. Russell and this great ensemble cast. I thought we'd listen to a scene here. I mean, you play an ATF agent, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who's in a gay relationship with your partner, who's played by Josh Brolin. And this is a scene very late in the film where, without going through all the details - it's a crazy, fun plot - but you're - you have eaten a meal that's been laced with LSD.

JENKINS: (Laughter).

DAVIES: And your character, Paul Harmon, who is this very straight-laced ATF agent who always carries his gun and badge and pulls them out in the course of the scene...

JENKINS: (Laughter).

DAVIES: ...You're taking a very unwelcome acid trip, and there's this middle-aged hippie couple that are trying to guide you through it played by Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FLIRTING WITH DISASTER")

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Tony - I need to see Tony.

LILY TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) No, I want you to...

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) I need to see...

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) I want you to tell me if you have a favorite animal.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Oh, that's so stupid.

ALAN ALDA: (As Richard Schlichting) Listen to what Mary says. She's a great guide, OK? Just listen to her.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) OK.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) What's your...

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) A dog.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) A dog - good. What is your favorite dog?

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Saint Bernard, Saint Bernard.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) Saint Bernard - good. I want you to picture a big, furry Saint Bernard curled up by the fireplace.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Can I change my mind?

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) No, no. We're going to stick with the Saint Bernard.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) I want to do a Springer Spaniel.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) No, it doesn't have to be the perfect dog.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Dalmatian.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) No, no, no - OK, Dalmatian. Now, this dog represents...

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Schnauzer.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) What?

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Schnauzer.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) Shut the [expletive] up. I am trying to help you. Do you understand me?

ALDA: (As Richard Schlichting) Hey, come on. Sweetheart, you're so good. Just relax, OK? Just take it easy now. Take it easy.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) This is felonious, and I want to make an arrest.

ALDA: (As Richard Schlichting) What? What did he say?

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) He's tripping his brains out. He doesn't know who he is.

ALDA: (As Richard Schlichting) He said arrest. What do you mean - we don't know how he is.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) He's Mel's friend Paul.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) I know exactly who I am. I'm Paul Harmon.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) Good.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) Bureau of Tobacco, Tobacco and Tobacco.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) Good. What is this, Paul?

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) That is a badge.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) What kind of badge?

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) I'm a special agent, Ma'am - 20 years in the service, graduated fourth in my class.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) Is this is a joke?

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) I don't joke about those things, Ma'am.

ALDA: (As Richard Schlichting) Damn it, I knew it was weird. I knew it. When they called up out of the blue like that, I knew it. No, you had to see your son.

TOMLIN: (As Mary Schlichting) He's kidding. He's making a joke. He's just - oh, you're not kidding.

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) I am not kidding. Now, I want you to both move over against that wall. This is an arrest. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, we will provide an attorney for you because we provide things for you people all...

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL PAN CLANGING)

JENKINS: (As Paul Harmon) That really hurt.

DAVIES: (Laughter) That - the scene ends with Agent Paul Harmon being hit over the head with a frying pan, bringing the arrest to an end.

JENKINS: (Laughter).

DAVIES: That's our guest Richard Jenkins in the film "Flirting With Disaster." There's a scene that I have remembered for two decades here of you, and I can't play it because there's not that much dialogue of you in it. But you're at a dinner. And you have this - you know, this gay relationship with your partner who - you're both agents of the ATF. And he is talking about adopting a baby, and you are very private. And you're listening to him get more and more into stuff that you do not want to be talking about, and you're attacking a dinner roll. And the...

JENKINS: (Laughter).

DAVIES: ...More private he gets, the bigger bites you take. And you end up - I don't want to talk about my business in private or something like that. I have remembered that all these years, and it made me think when you were talking earlier about how you don't like to think too much about going into a scene how you're going to do it. Did you plan on the dinner roll the whole time (laughter)?

JENKINS: No, no. That's one of those things that just was there. And I just start eating it. And, you know, you - once you jump in there, you just keep going. Yeah, that's the nice thing about, you know - one of the nice things about film is you can do it again, you know? You can change it up.

DAVIES: I want to talk briefly about another film that probably not that many people know of, "Bone Tomahawk."

JENKINS: And...

DAVIES: It's kind of a Western horror movie almost.

JENKINS: Yeah, yeah, it is. But it - but these are not - they could've existed. They're not like creatures from another planet.

DAVIES: Right.

JENKINS: They're just a lost tribe of cannibals.

(LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: I mean, it's just - it's so crazy.

DAVIES: Truly scary people, yeah.

JENKINS: But it is a very scary movie and is beautifully done. And I love it. I loved playing this guy Chicory. I loved doing a Western. It was just a ball.

DAVIES: Yeah, I - well, I have to say, I didn't recognize you at first when you gave your first lines, which I think is always a compliment to an actor.

JENKINS: Well, a lot of people didn't - I had a friend that (laughter) - an actor who sent me a text. He goes - it's three quarters of the way through. He said, when do you come in on this?

(LAUGHTER)

JENKINS: And he had no idea it was me, so that was good. I liked that.

DAVIES: All right. Well, let's listen to a scene here. This is in the film. It's - some people have been abducted from the little town of Bright Hope in some Western territory by these cannibalistic troglodytes, these truly scary people who live in caves. And the sheriff and you, the backup deputy, and somebody else has gone to rescue them. And you've unfortunately been captured. And you're in this little jail, in this cave. And you're making nervous conversation. And you recall a flea circus that had come through Bright Hope years before. And you just kind of reminisce about it. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BONE TOMAHAWK")

JENKINS: (As Chicory) I don't know what your opinion is, but my wife said it was all a trick. Even when those brothers gave us those magnifying glasses and we saw those fleas pull that little stagecoach right into the depot or roll those cannons, those tiny little cannons onto the battlefield. She said, those fleas are dead. They're just glued to some mechanical contraption, you know, that moves on its own like a timepiece or a wind-up. Still, I thought it was real. I told her, I said, don't talk so loud. The performers will hear you. Because I don't know what kind of hearing fleas have or if they can sense kindness in a voice the way a dog can. They drink dogs' blood, so maybe. I think it was real. I believe those fleas are alive and talented.

DAVIES: Chicory from the film "Bone Tomahawk." That's our guest, Richard Jenkins. You know, your voice is different there. You're doing something different with it, aren't you?

JENKINS: Yeah, I put it up a little higher. I mean, sometimes you hear older people, it gets - it changes. The pitch changes. And I just - for some reason, I don't know why I just - every time I started to say these lines, this voice kind of came to me.

DAVIES: Yeah. He's also facing his mortal end as he's making this little - the writing is a lot of fun to listen to.

JENKINS: He's kind of talking about God, you know. It's just this amazing time in a movie to be - to talk about a flea circus, you know. Somebody tell me that that I'm not crazy, you know, that there is something more than this. Those fleas are real, please. And they do to make him feel better. They say, yeah, I think those fleas were real. That's it. Yeah. I just love this film.

DAVIES: What would winning an Oscar mean to you?

JENKINS: Gosh, you know, the truth is - and I know this sounds weird - but you try not to think about it.

DAVIES: Yeah, I could see that.

JENKINS: There's so many great performances this year. Sam Rockwell, who's so fabulous in "Three Billboards," is, you know, he's the guy this year. And, I mean, I get it. I - it's part of the deal. It would be.- It's an amazing thing to have an Oscar in your house. Oh, my gosh - I mean, incredible. To be nominated for these awards, it's humbling and it's beautiful. And, you know, to win one would be extraordinary. It would be extraordinary. But at the same time, I'm fairly realistic.

DAVIES: Well, Richard Jenkins, it's been great to have you back. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

JENKINS: Well, thanks for having me.

DAVIES: Richard Jenkins has earned an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in the film "The Shape Of Water." The awards presentation is March 4. Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new box set of recordings of jazz pianist Teddy Wilson and his groups from the '30s and '40s. This is FRESH AIR.

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