Richard Jenkins has proved himself once again to be a versatile actor, transitioning fluidly between comedy and drama, television and film. Born in DeKalb, Illinois, Jenkins studied drama at Wesleyan University and went on to Indiana State College for graduate school. After school, his second home for almost thirty years was the Trinity Repertory Theater in Rhode Island, where he studied under the acting coach Harold Guskin and eventually became artistic director. Since the mid-1970s, Jenkins has appeared in films and television, beginning with a broadcast of Trinity Repertory Theater in 1974. From then on, Jenkins worked on television shows and films such as The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Little Nikita (1988), and Sea of Love (1989).
He graduated to bigger roles with David O. Russell’s comedy Flirting with Disaster (1996), playing a DEA agent in love with his partner alongside Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda, George Segal and Josh Brolin. After that he appeared in more and more comedies, such as There’s Something About Mary (1999), Me, Myself and Irene (2000) and Say It Isn’t So (2001) as Sally Field’s husband. Jenkins is also a frequent collaborator of the Coen Brothers, appearing in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), and Burn After Reading (2008).
Jenkins is perhaps most famous with younger audiences for playing Nathaniel Fisher, the funeral home patriarch in the HBO series Six Feet Under (2001-2005). In 2001, the series won the Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Series. In 2015, he won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role of Henry Kitteridge in Olive Kitteridge (2014), where he played opposite Frances McDormand, also a 2017 Golden Globe nominee.
This year Richard Jenkins was seen as a Senator in two movies: in the political drama LBJ where he played a leader of the Southern opposition to the civil rights movement, Sen. Richard Russell and in the monster movie Kong: Skull Island as Senator Al Willis who funds the expedition to find the mighty Kong. In his most recent role, Jenkins plays Giles, the closeted neighbor and best friend of Sally Hawkins’s Eliza who falls in love with a fish man in Guillermo del Toro’s the fantasy-thriller The Shape of Water (2017). Jenkins effortlessly portrays a man who at first doesn't see the difference between his cat and Eliza's love interest. But through the story he changes his mind and not only helps to free the creature but also becomes entranced by its beauty and even starts to believe that the creature is a god who can treat his baldness. Jenkins is nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his performance, his first Golden Globe Award nomination.
Before seing it, Jenkins thought he understood the del Toro's fish man romance film. However, after seeing it he said, "I didn't know what it was going to be until I saw it. I thought I did. I thought I understood [del Toro]. But he was on a level that I wasn't aware of until I saw the movie." Working with the Mexican director is an experiene that Jenkins described as "incredible", and he is grateful for the opportunity to play within the confines of del Toro's vision. To the HFPA he onfessed: "At this time in my life to be able to have an experience like this is just a gift beyond words."