Richard Jenkins talks about Matt Reeves' harrowing vampire remake, Let Me In
Matt Reeves took on the challenge of remaking Let the Right One In, one of the most revered vampire thrillers seen in the last decade, and succeeded in creating something that wasn't just a lame carbon copy of the original. Let Me In, which was released this past October, actually stands on its own as a mercifully adept horror film about three lonely people coming to terms with their doomed fate. One of the things that separates Let Me In from other recent vampire outings is that it has crafted characters unique to the genre, and Matt Reeves cast an outstanding ensemble to bring these lost souls to life.
In the film, Richard Jenkins plays ten-year-old vampire Abby's (Chloe Moretz) protector, a Renfield-like servant who has grown tired and weary of his place at her side. It's an understated performance wrought full of pathos. Richard Jenkins doesn't say much, but he conveys the weight of his world with just one off look as it comes crashing down around him. Its one of the best performances in recent horror history, and the man brings a great deal of empathy to the overall dramatic arc of the story.
Let Me In arrives on both Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday, February 1st. In anticipation of this release, we caught up with Richard Jenkins to chat with him about his first foray into the new world of Hammer Horror Films.
Here is our conversation:
Is it a luxury as an actor to have such few lines in regards to establishing yourself on screen? Or did that make creating this character a bit more challenging for you?
Richard Jenkins: I like the fact that there was not a lot to say in this film. That is what film can do. You can tell a story in film without dialogue. And I like that. I think Matt Reeves was really able to let the camera tell the story, which is really great. No, I didn't find it a hindrance at all. Actually, it was fun.
In the original, we had no idea who your character was or what his intentions were. Here, we know who he is and what he is up to. How did that change the way you guys approached showing his plight on screen? Or did you even take into consideration that fans would be familiar with the secrets that he keeps?
Richard Jenkins: As an actor, you don't try to explain anything you do. You just live it. Hopefully the camera will capture that, and see it. It needs to make some kind of sense. It is ambiguous. It is never really completely spelled out. Which is nice. Which is fun, I think. Its good. I think of movies where the dialogue is self-explanatory. "Well, you are my brother!" Ugh. Who does that? Who are you telling that to? I think this film was quite respectful of the audience in letting them know what was going on.
Was there any concern about bringing a bit of mystery back to this character?
Richard Jenkins: Well, Matt just decided that this is who this character was, and he wanted some logic to it, since she is this age. She is courting this young boy. There is an absolute logic to this story. I shouldn't say courting. Maybe using. There is a real friendship there. And there is a real loneliness to both of those characters. They need companionship. This young girl is also looking for someone to take over my character's duties. I think there is a real logic there that Matt followed. And that added to the film, which I really liked.
The Vampire genre has really exploded in the last couple of years, and it continues to be very popular. But these other shows and movies that we see, such as Twilight, and The Vampire Diaries, and True Blood, have abandoned this concept of the Vampire's servant. Maybe, the last time we saw one was in Fright Night. The servant is quite prominent in vampire lore. Was it cool for you to come in and reestablish that particular archetype?
Richard Jenkins: If you talk to me, it's Renfield in the original Dracula. He was just a caretaker, in the sense that he didn't do Dracula's work. I am not familiar with the history of it all. Like a lot of folks are. I did see it as a choice you make in life. I saw this guy that I played as being really dedicated to what he is doing. There was a sadness about it that I liked. I wasn't aware that we were bringing back some iconic figure.
You are. And it's in a Hammer film, nonetheless. You are bringing it all back. Let Me In actually reestablishes some of the folklore that has been lost in translation, which a lot of the teens aren't aware of. Because they are immersed in these teen-oriented vampire tales.
Richard Jenkins: I have said this many times. Let Me In does not romanticize being a vampire. Twilight does. The hot guy with the girl. These people, here. This girl lives in a bathtub with a piece of cardboard over the window. It is not an existence to choose.
You talk about the sadness of the characters. For you, as an actor, those moments really come out when you have that bag on your head. And all we are seeing is that one eyeball, looking out...How is that? To act in that moment, knowing the only thing you have to give to the audience is just your one eye?
Richard Jenkins: You try not to think of it that way. Because then, that is what you end up doing. You try to give them that. You have to just deal with what is going on. You have to trust the director that the camera will see it. That he has the camera in a place that will pick that up. That is what Matt did. That is what you look for in a director. Someone who will truly trust the camera and the actor. Someone who will really film what is going on. Someone who is not impatient. I know on Cloverfield the camera was jumping all around. But this man was so patient with me. And the camera. It was really great.
You mention the camera jumping around on Cloverfield. That never happens here. And these are two distinctly different films. But they both have a very definite, distinct look that is undeniably Matt Reeves. I could tell that the man directed both movies. He has that unique artistry about him.
Richard Jenkins: I think everyone does. But Matt is an artist. I think he'd shoot me if he heard me say that out loud. I really think he has a lot to offer.
How long were you required to have that bag on your head? Did he just leave you there, in the back seat of the car for the entire duration of the shoot?
Richard Jenkins: They tied it on me and I had to sleep with it for two days. No! It was my idea to put the bag on in the first place. After I did that, I thought, "hmm?" When we filmed that, we did it in a car that didn't have a roof. So they could get the camera on my face. The first time we did it, it started to snow. (Laughs) We had to cancel that day, and then come back and do it again. But he just played the scene. He had the camera there. And it was half a day.
You also wore the prosthetics in the scenes after your character is burned with acid. When you are in the hospital, and we see you at the window with Chloe, that is actually you?
Richard Jenkins: Yeah, That is me. The other scene with Elias Koteas interviewing me...they never used my face. I spent hours in make-up to do that. But you never saw me. That was my first thought when I watched it. I was in the make-up chair for six hours!
That is just time wasted. But it adds to that moment when we see him at the window. We understand the pain he has gone through for this little girl.
Richard Jenkins: That is why Matt is a terrific director. He had the option to do one or the other. And he chose the smart way. Which was not to show me until the very end.
You called Matt an artist. One of the things that always fascinates me in watching any movie is studying the art direction. Here we don't learn any of your character's background. But we see that he has a crack in the lens of his glasses. His sweater is tattered and ripped. He obviously doesn't have a lot of money. Did that help you put thought into the journey this guy has been on? What his life behind the scenes must really be like? What he has been doing to feed himself and keep going?
Richard Jenkins: Those are the choices. You take from what is there on the page, in the script. And you build the life from that. That is why I wanted my glasses to have a big crack in them. He is exactly as you said. I saw him as somebody who couldn't afford new glasses. He didn't really deal with society. This is the only thing in life that he could do. He had no money. The only money they had was the money they took from the people he killed. I wanted the audience to see that these are nomads. That these people have no roots, no money, no real life. Except for each other and what they do. The man's wardrobe was a conscious choice.
And you were lucky in that Matt gave you shoes to wear through the movie.
Richard Jenkins: (Laughs) If I had of gone barefoot, I would have been going, "Ah! My feet are freezing!" Through every shot. Then you would have seen a difference in this character. I had to keep saying to Chloe, "How can you even do that?"
In talking about Chloe's character and your character's relationship with her, it almost is reflective of the relationship that we see Kodi's mom and dad going through. Every great horror movie has a socially conscious theme or idea. What, in your own opinion, do you think this story is saying about divorce? In this time period of the 80s, and in general?
Richard Jenkins: Quite simply, it's that we all need each other. We need to be included. We need to be wanted. It is a horrible cliché, but you need to be loved. What we will do for those things is extraordinary, sometimes.
Having seen the film twice, your character's relationship with Chloe's character is a little bit more interesting to me than the relationship between her and the young boy. Because this is a truly sad relationship. The guy is still in it. He still has love for this girl, but he wants to get away from what this relationship has turned him into over the years. She is feeling the same way. This is about two people growing apart, yet still carrying about each other.
Richard Jenkins: Yes. My character also sees the writing on the wall. There were a couple of scenes that Matt didn't use. I don't know if he has included those on the DVD. But those scenes were a little too much. It made the relationship almost too clear. She is walking out of the house with the young boy, and my character is looking at Kodi Smit-McPhee as though he is going to slit his throat right there. She just shoots me a look like, "Don't you even think about it." While we were shooting that I thought it was too much. Matt saw it and thought the same thing. I think, because it wasn't in the film. But there isn't anything healthy or happy about this relationship. I wanted to know what my guy's life was like when he was twelve years old.
That would be the interesting thing to see. If they did a follow-up, I'd prefer to see that prequel as opposed to any sequel.
Richard Jenkins: You have to know that his life wasn't any good. You know that. It is reasonable to assume that it maybe mirrored Owens's life.
There had to be a couple of happy moments in there.
Richard Jenkins: With the two of them? Oh, sure. I'm sure there was.
At Comic-Con, we met you during the promotional run for this movie. And at that time, everyone on the cast and crew were not allowed to watch the original film. Have you since gone back and checked it out?
Richard Jenkins: You make me sound...(Laughs) The three kids weren't allowed to watch it. If I wanted to watch the movie, I could watch it. Matt asked me if I was going to watch it. But I said no. He said good. Because, it's unhelpful. Especially something that good. It is unhelpful, and it's the last thing I would do. But I did watch it after we finished filming.
What was your take on the original, compared to what you did in this version of the film?
Richard Jenkins: I thought the original was brilliant. Some people said that ours was shot-for-shot. I didn't see it as that. I think Matt has his own take on it. I lot of the scenes are the same. A lot of the script was the same. He liked the adaptation. But he goes at it differently. My character was certainly different. I thought the guy in the other movie was really...Oh, man. He was very interesting.
He was very dirty. And very scary.
Richard Jenkins: He was very scary. He was the banality of evil. Really. He just went about his life. And it was sad. I thought it was very sad.
Let Me In arrives on both Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday, February 1st.