Idol Chatter

RichardJenkinsinTheVisitorf.jpgHow does a long-time-clean-square-white character actor get selected to play one of the most complex roles to come down the pike in a long time? Such is the crazy business of movie-making, especially when it comes to movies where faith is involved and specifically when the character is the embodiment of it.
Book club ladies, cultural readers, and spiritually interested people everywhere were no doubt pleased with the news that Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” was being made into a movie. And the decision to put Julia Roberts in the lead role has seemed delightfully perfect, much like Tom Hanks as Dr. Robert Langdon in “The Da Vinci Code” and the upcoming “Angels & Demons.” There are just certain movie roles that demand that kind of big star–and this is one of them.
But as universally as she’s been lauded as a great choice–earlier this year he won the Beliefnet Film Award for Best Spiritual Performance of the Year for “The Visitor”–the selection of Richard Jenkins as the sexy Brazilian guy Gilbert speaks about in her novel just doesn’t seem as spot on.
Jenkins’ career has certainly taken off since his Oscar nomination. He currently has six films in some form of pre- or post-production, including “Waiting for Forever” and “Norman” for this year.

“Richard Jenkins will become the embodiment of ‘Pray’ in Sony Pictures’ adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love,” stated the Hollywood Reporter in its post on the topic. It went on to explain that he’ll “play the man Julia Roberts’ character meets when she visits an Ashram in India.”
Perhaps his casting is designed to broaden the movie’s appeal and create a brand that isn’t so Eastern. Or perhaps he’s meant to contextualize the film for the Americas. Or perhaps he’s got a side to him that will play well as this character. Maybe special effects and make-up–combined with his relative anonymity until now–will help to shield his personal and a universal “Pray” character will emerge. But whatever the strategy is, my bride and some of her book club friends certainly don’t get it.
I remember, though, when Michael Keaton was cast as “Batman” in the 80’s reincarnation of the character. It made no sense to me, but he certainly shined in the role, much more so than Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or even (in my view) Christian Bale.
I hope the same is true for Jenkins, because an inspired book like this can have a lot to say to an audience in need of a credible character who will help us all more deeply consider the spiritual side of life.
Richard Jenkins at

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