Richard Jenkins On His Emmy Nomination For Playing Jeffrey Dahmer’s Dad: “An Interesting, Fascinating Human Story”

Richard Jenkins On His Emmy Nomination For Playing Jeffrey Dahmer’s Dad: “An Interesting, Fascinating Human Story”

July 13, 2023

Double Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins is celebrating the latest laurel in his distinguished career: an Emmy nomination for Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. He plays the bewildered father of the titular real life serial killer in the Netflix series produced by Ryan Murphy.

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“It’s always a surprise, a pleasant one when it happens,” Jenkins told Deadline of the nomination. “I loved working on the project and it’s nice to see it get some recognition. There’s some wonderful performances and the crew was great; the directors were terrific. Ryan Murphy — who I’m crazy about — he’s been thinking about this and working on this case for years, and I’m happy for him.”

To play the role of Lionel Dahmer, Jenkins had to imagine the unfathomable – a man realizing that the son he raised has become a monster, guilty of murdering 17 men and cannibalizing some of his victims. 

“I’m a father and I read Lionel’s book, A Father’s Story,” Jenkins said. “When Ryan called me, asked me to do [the role], and I read it, the first thing I thought was, if Jeffrey Dahmer is your son, do you stop loving him? And the answer is no, you don’t. That’s a predicament that most parents, you’re grateful you’re not in. But he’s still your son. And I think it’s just an interesting, fascinating human story.”

Jenkins added, “The horrible things that [Jeffrey Dahmer] did, I mean, how you deal with that, how do you wrestle with that? How does your brain compute that? And then you start blaming yourself, ‘It’s my fault. Did I do this to him? Was I a good father?’ That’s what I mean by he’s just so very human.”

The Dahmer miniseries, one of the most popular shows in Netflix history, scored 13 nominations overall, including acting nominations for Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer and Niecy Nash as Glenda Cleveland, a neighbor of Dahmer’s whose concerns about Jeffrey are dismissed by police.

“Evan, he’s something special, he’s just got something really special,” Jenkins said. “And Niecy Nash, that scene where he asks her to eat the sandwich, I mean, she’s really fantastic. She gives a beautiful performance, a terrifying performance. Molly Ringwald was so great to work with also [playing Lionel’s wife, Jeffrey’s stepmother]. A lot of my scenes were with her. I think she’s so terrific in this. It was a really good group all the way around.”

Jenkins won an Emmy in 2015 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie for his work on Olive Kitteridge. He’s earned a couple of Oscar nominations – for supporting actor in 2017’s The Shape of Water and lead actor for 2008’s The Visitor. Those nominations have come for his dramatic work, but he has been equally successful playing comedic parts in There’s Something About Mary, Burn After Reading and a certain beloved comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as immature, feuding step-siblings.

“It’s all life,” Jenkins commented. “Whether you’re father two gigantic children in Stepbrothers or father to a serial killer. It’s just life.”

Regarding the Dahmer series he added, “It’s a tough subject. For me, it was always a cautionary tale. I think that’s why [Lionel] wrote the book and he says so in the book that maybe this will help people see things that I didn’t see… I still think he blames himself. It’s just a sad tale all around. There’s just no happy outcome here.”

Jenkins says he took a break from acting after the Dahmer series, but he’s got a few possible roles lined up that he wasn’t ready yet to reveal. Any plans may be put on hold if the Writers Guild strike continues and actors go out on strike.

“It affects everybody, on both sides of the issue,” he said. “Actors, I think we’re in new territory here and we can’t say, ‘Oh, you’ll figure it out.’ No, because I don’t think that really works. So, I totally support the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild… I hope this all gets taken care of.”

When it does, he’ll be ready to dive into another role.

“I really still love acting. I love to do it,” Jenkins said. “When a project like this one [Dahmer] comes along, I do it.”

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