In 2009, Richard Jenkins featured heavily in Drew Goddard's horror film (but not really a horror film), "The Cabin in the Woods." Then, nothing happened. Well, other than that MGM -- the original studio behind the film -- went bankrupt, pushing "Woods" into a state of release-date purgatory. Fortunately -- and thanks to new studio Lionsgate -- that time has past.
When I first saw "The Cabin in the Woods," because of the delays and how busy the former Oscar nominee is, I couldn't help but think, Wow, Richard Jenkins is in a really good movie. I wonder if he knows that? Thankfully, he's very aware. Though he didn't quite know for sure until he finally saw the film (as he jokes, 15 years later), along with an energetic crowd at the South By Southwest Film Festival.
In "Cabin," (written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, and out in theaters on Friday) Jenkins plays Steve, a working stiff who (along with Bradley Whitford's character, Richard) plays a role ... let's say, in the fates of five college students who spend the weekend at, yes, a cabin in the woods.
I spoke to Jenkins Wednesday morning about the long and tortured history of a movie that is next to impossible to describe without, as Jenkins puts it, "sabotaging" it, his frustration with the spoilers that he's already read about the film, and his reflections on the bizarre experience of his first film, "Silverado."
Is it weird to be discussing a movie that you filmed in 2009? Especially one that everyone seems to like?
Yeah, it's very weird. But, I'm happy to talk about it. It is weird, yeah.
When filming, were you like, "Man, people aren't going to know what hit 'em when they see this," and then it just never came out?
Well, the thing you learn over the years, you never know how things are going to turn out. Never, ever, ever. You just don't know. You just go with the script you read and the director who's directing it and just kind of jump in there. But! I remember after we had made it, there was going to be a delay because it was going to be made into 3D. And I thought, Oh, Jeeze. That doesn't sound like a great idea. So it seemed like this was never going to happen. But, you know, it's happened before. I've been in movies that have not come out for two or three years. But it's usually for a reason other than the reason that this one didn't come out. It's usually because they're not very good.
I know you've made quite a few movies since you filmed "The Cabin in the Woods." I'm guessing that in a situation like this, you just move on. But, in the case of this film, was it always in the back of your head? Like, "You know, I really do hope that this one gets released."
Well, for Drew's sake I was hoping it would come out. Because I just thought, too bad for him, he's so good. And this was his first chance at directing and I thought, what a shame Because the guy is really a terrific director. Like you said, we all moved on. We got other jobs and we did other things. But, I'm just happy for him that this is now surfacing.
Also, with you and Bradley Whitford and Chris Hemsworth -- everything's fine with your careers. But some other members of the cast, it's hard not to think that this could have been a big breakthrough for them.
You know, yes. That's exactly right. But, it is going to be a breakout movie for them. And it almost makes it more interesting because of its history.
You know ... you wait and you wait -- and it's kind of almost worth the wait. For them, I think. I think the attention the movie is getting, because of the history of it, is really helpful for these kids. And they're all terrific. And that's when I knew. When I saw this, when I saw how good those young people were and what Drew did with these kids, these stock characters ... that they wrote as stock characters. Well, actually they wrote it as "kids who became stock characters," because of whatever happens in the movie ...
I know, we have to be careful.
Yeah, we really do. But, I just thought the way he dealt with them and how good they were was a testament to not only how talented the cast is that they got, but what a terrific director he is.
When did you finally see the film?
I saw it at South By Southwest. That was my first time seeing it.
What was your reaction to finally seeing a movie that you filmed three years ago?
I thought it was extraordinary. And I thought it worked for an audience. I mean, it's really hard to get a movie to work like that for an audience for the whole thing. And I also thought, as good as the script was, this was better. You know, he really brought this script to life. And it was just really impressive.
Well, from the opening scene with you and Bradley Whitford, I remember my first reaction was, "Well, this isn't going to be what I expected."
And that's one of the reasons that I did the movie: the way Drew and Joss wrote that first scene -- which is exposition. It's water-cooler talk. But you don't need to know anything else about these guys. You know they've known each other for years -- they're friends. They're really close friends. They work together, they're confident about their jobs, they're the people everybody goes to -- and that's all you need to know. And they did it in a way that was so cool. Exposition is so hard to write. As opposed to saying, "Hey, we've been friends for 23 years, haven't we?" And you read that stuff all of the time. This was so beautifully written and I was hooked immediately as an actor. I read scripts with exposition that's just so ham-handed.
It did feel like a conversation that two people who have known each other for a long time would have.
Not, "Here's how I know you."
My favorite is, "You're my brother." He knows you're his brother, OK!
Or, "Come on, sis."
Yeah [Laughs]. And, "We haven't done this in, oh, ten years." I mean, sometimes those things happen. You'll call somebody "sis," but it's just where they come in the movie. "OK, I know why that's there." And there's none of that in this. That's what's so smart about it.
Past that first scene in the script, when you first read it, were you at all like, "Good luck pulling that off." Where you at all wary?
Well, the guy who wrote it wanted to direct it. And you want to go, "OK, buddy, you've put yourself in this mess. Now get yourself out of it." So, the next day, after I read the script, I called my agent and said, "Yeah, this I want to do." And I just loved the way Drew works. He's just really smart. He's a born director.
Now, after all of this time, is it nice to see the critical praise? I've seen people use words like "game changer" thrown around. Which you don't hear often with movies that have been delayed this long.
[Laughs] As Drew says, "Are you sure you didn't see 'The Godfather'?" I'm really happy for Drew and those kids. As you brought up, I think it's really great for everyone involved. But, I think for Drew, it would have been a shame if the world hadn't seen his directorial debut. And, you know, Joss is doing OK [laughs]...
Yeah, he has a movie coming out next month, I've heard.
This is how generous Joss is: He and Drew wrote this together and he said, "Drew, you direct it." It's so generous. Well, I guess that's why Joss has a huge following. And not just people watching what he does, but the people who work with him adore him.
I'm going to ask this delicately. Are you happy with your final scene? it's more important than Bradley's, but maybe not quite as glorious.
Heh, well, yeah. Actually, I am. And I think he changed a line right at the very end.
Oh? What was it?
Yeah, I think so. But it's been 15 years, I think, since we did this. But I think I say to her, "It's you." Which I really liked. I liked saying that. But, yeah, I did. And I was happy with it, I was. I thought it was cool. I love the way we met [laughs].
Yeah, it doesn't get more memorable than that.
Here's the problem I'm having with this movie. People who know that I've seen it are asking me what it's about. And I don't know what to tell them. What are you saying?
Nobody knows. I have not told anybody. Look, if I can keep it quiet since 2009, or whenever we made it -- and I haven't told anybody. Because I think it's a disservice to the movie. I think it's a disservice to the experience of the movie. And I'm in it and if I'm telling people what it's all about, I'm sabotaging myself. I try not to, you know? And people say, "Well, I have to know more about it before I go see it." And I say, "Eh, OK, then don't go see it." It just takes away the fun. Even now, I read stuff that's giving away much too much.
Yeah, there are a couple of spoiler heavy reviews already out there.
Yeah, yeah. I know.
Something I've wondered: Your first movie was "Silverado." Looking back, how do you feel about that shoot? It seems like a very "Welcome to Hollywood" type film.
Oh, God, I have vivid memories of that. I was on the movie for seven weeks and I worked two days. I was on a cover set, so you have to be there so, when the weather's bad, they will go to your scene as a backup so they don't lose a day of filming. And, so, they wouldn't let me go home -- and I didn't know what a cover set was. So I was staying at a hotel in Sante Fe for seven weeks and everyone would go to work and I didn't go anywhere. I didn't have a car; it was my first movie -- it was really bizarre. Really bizarre. People would say, "Who are you?" And I'd say, "I'm in the movie." "Who do you play?" I'd say, "I pay Kelly." They'd say, "Who?"
"You'll see when the movie comes out."
I saw Josh Radnor's next movie, "Liberal Arts," at Sundance. You've now done both of his films. Did you see any growth with him as a director between the two films?
I just thought "Liberal Arts" was a huge leap. Yeah. Oh my gosh. I mean, now you can't wait for his next film. Yeah, I thought "Liberal Arts" was terrific. And it was not what I expected, I have to tell you. It's more lyrical, it spoke in a film language that I didn't see when I made it. it was just really beautifully done.
I agree. I thought "happythankyoumoreplease" was fine, but "Liberal Arts" really is on a different level.
It is! It really is.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter