'Shape of Water' Star Richard Jenkins on Getting Cast Via Email

The Shape of Water Still Richard Jenkins - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Director Guillermo del Toro sent the Oscar nominee a message saying he wanted him for the role, and Jenkins signed on immediately.

Jenkins earned his second Oscar nomination for the role of Giles, a lonely gay artist who finds himself thrust into a dangerous plan to rescue a sensitive aquatic creature by his best friend and neighbor (played by fellow Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. The 70-year-old actor, whose career spans more than four decades, spoke to THR about what connected him to his character and what he learned from his first visit to the Oscars more than 10 years ago.

What was your first meeting with Guillermo like?

I didn’t meet with him — he sent me an email. He said, “I want you to play Giles. I hope you like it as much as I do.” I said I certainly did. When we all met in person, about three weeks before shooting, we sat around and talked and laughed. It was really important for Sally [Hawkins] and I to really become friends. It was a way to get into Guillermo’s brain, though to really get in there would take more than three weeks.

Did you have a favorite scene?

I love the scene where I’m translating for Sally on why I should help her save this creature. On that day, there was a different energy. We rehearsed it a lot, but it just felt new and alive when we shot it. I was also perplexed with how I would respond when [Giles] first saw the creature. When he sees him, it’s startling and terrifying, but then my first line is “He’s so beautiful.” It’s always fun and interesting to see what will come out when we get on set.

What do you have in common with Giles?

Well, it’s me playing him, so there’s lots of similarities (laughs). It does come from you and how you see the world and character. Insecurity, the feeling of loneliness, which is something we all understand. Giles is a guy living in the wrong times. He says it himself. I think he feels out of place and I think we all feel that way sometimes.

What excites you about attending the Oscars?

I love the effort the Academy puts into that night. I like the love. It’s for the industry. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been in that room the amount of effort that went into it. It doesn’t feel like a competition to me, it’s just a bunch of people saying they loved each other’s films.

How is your second nomination different, compared with your first?

I was complaining about something the first time and my wife told me, “If you’re going to do something, just do it, don’t complain.” The best thing about this is you get to meet a lot of different people from all over the world. I think it’s something to embrace. When you do a film, as opposed to theater, you’re not there with the audience, so this is really an opportunity to deal with people who’ve seen the film.

What performances stood out for you this year?

They weren’t nominated, but I love Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me by Your Name and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick. She was so alive and real.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.